Well, one thing's for sure. Bar Louie, the latest addition to Fort Worth's West 7th stretch of culinary hubbub, makes better use of the prime corner property than the former tenant, the decidedly unlucky Irish pub Delaney's.
That there's actually a large number of people in the place on a chilly Wednesday night gives it a buzzy edge over its predecessor. The newest link in the chain, which has outlets in 18 states, certainly starts underneath a rainbow of goodwill: their First One's On Us promotion offers one free small-plate appetizer and one free cocktail per person, through Christmas. Consider it an early gift. And who in recessionary America can't use a free drink and a nosh?
Especially when that stuff is like the pleasantly cheesy Truffle Butter Popcorn (normally $3.50), redolent of parmesan and parsley, and the generous plate of Hummus, Tabbouleh & Tzatziki ($8.50), served with warm pita pieces and cucumber slices.
Because the first small plate was free, we tried a bunch of them. One of our favorites was the Bavarian Pretzel Sticks ($8), a signature Louie item that had many of us scrambling for the last couple bites. The giant pretzel pieces (like the kind you get from a street vendor) were tender and tasty, but it was the trio of dipping sauces (queso, honey mustard, cinnamon butter) that really made this app a winner. The cinnamon butter was sinfully good.
Also falling into the "worth paying for even though we didn't have to" category was the Bruschetta Pomodoro ($7.50), a heaping pile of chopped tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil surrounded by crunchy parmesan crostinis. This is an app to share, because its filling, and because you want the table to share its collective garlic breath. We also ordered the Spinach & Artichoke dip ($8), which was shot full of spinach in an alfredo-style dip and served with thin tortilla chips. A sturdier chip might have been preferrable, but the dip was very solid -- rich garlic flavor and plenty of spinach and artichoke pieces to go around.
Getting something gratis is great, but that couldn't make up for the Adobo Shrimp Skewers ($10), which came out cold, or the rather lackluster and heavily breaded Crispy Calamari ($10). Other apps on the menu that we didn't try were fairly standard offerings: Bacon Cheeseburgers Sliders ($8.50), wings ($10) and chicken nachos ($11).
In terms of the larger plates which, unfortunately, weren't part of the freebie deal, the flatbreads seemed to be a good choice. There are four flatbreads available, all priced at $11, ranging from Verde Chicken (grilled chicken, salsa verde, onion, cilanto, jalapeno, queso fresco) and Buffalo Chicken (grilled chicken, green onion, blue cheese, provolone, mozzarella, smoked onion ranch, buffalo sauce) to Roasted Vegetable (spinach and artichoke sauce, tomato, mushrooms, basil, onion, provolone, mozzarella) and Italian Beef (beef, giardiniera, spicy alfredo, pepper jack, cheddar). We tried the Buffalo Chicken and it was a flavorful mini-pizza of sorts, hardly a revolutionary take on the form but quite satisfying.
The "bar" part of Bar Louie may be the most important element, and there certainly is a wide range of cocktails to choose from. We stuck with the signature martinis mostly, because, well, the first one was free. The Strawberry Fizz was our favorite -- a sweet and bubbly concoction with Skyy vodka, Razzmatazz, champagne and strawberry puree. The Clover was another hit, a combination of Hennessy, Makers Mark, Avave Nectar, fresh lemon and orange juice. And if you want something really sweet, try the Tickled Pink, with its pomegranate syrup, mango puree, Sprite and X-Rated Fusion Liqueur.
After the holidays, we'll be back to try some of the other menu items like the Sesame Tuna sandwich ($12), the Baked Mac & Cheese ($10) and the Voodoo Chicken ($12). And to check out the rooftop patio with fire pit. Will it be the same if the first drinks aren't free? Probably not, but Bar Louie has definitely made a good first impression. The free app and martini promotion was a savvy introduction to Fort Worth and a real attention-getter in the crowded West 7th marketplace. It has certainly packed the house during the first couple of weeks, and let the public know that Bar Louie is a distinctive step-up from Delaney's.