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Review: Tim Love's Woodshed Smokehouse

Woodshed Smokehouse 3201 Riverfront Dr. Fort Worth 817-877-4545 woodshedsmokehouse.com

Hours: 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily Signature dish: Ramen Entree cost: $7-$18 Essentials: Major credit cards; full bar; smoke-free; wheelchair-accessible. Good to know: Three-hour wait on weekends Recommended for: Lovers of smoke

Posted 2:36pm on Thursday, Mar. 15, 2012

As the restaurant world reduces itself to a simpleton formula of burgers versus tacos, Woodshed Smokehouse busts out with a brave and highly original vision. The new restaurant from celebrated Fort Worth chef and Food Network regular Tim Love, Woodshed has ideas, innovation and complexity.

Dubbed a quasi-barbecue joint, its story is more complicated -- from its prized location on the Trinity River to its unique approach to cooking.

Love serves as much cerebral fodder as he does food on your plate. For the grill gear heads, he has three smokers, two rotisseries and two grills, and a lumberjack's haul of wood, all different kinds -- mesquite, hickory, oak and pecan.

Supposedly, each burns at a different temperature and is deployed for this dish and that. Everything is cooked by fire, which feels ancient and modern at the same time.

That crisscross of primitive and sophisticated is echoed in the decor. Designed by Bennett Benner Pettit, the restaurant is outfitted with corrugated steel and wood, including piles of logs trimmed so precisely that they look like art installations. Shaped like an L, the restaurant encloses a patio that takes up half of its footprint, with picnic tables overlooking the Trinity Trail.

You get your first clue that Woodshed is no ordinary eatery as soon as you enter the lobby, where large display windows open into the kitchen. A hulking animal carcass rotates on a spit; it could be goat, wild boar, lamb, pig or bird. Behind it, kitchen staffers dart about. It's better than any TV cooking show.

Calling Woodshed a barbecue joint makes it feel approachable, but the menu is bold and creative, with trendy Asian dishes such as ramen noodles next to the hamburger ($11), chopped beef sandwich ($8) and pork ribs by the pound ($10).

The ribs were tender with shaggy black crusts, but it seemed almost silly to order them when there were other more adventurous choices.

Ramen ($15) is supposed to be cheap eats, but this high-priced version excelled. Served with a domed cover, the bowl of steaming beefy broth held luxurious ingredients: crusty pulled pork with pink smoke ring, carrot, green onion, chewy-soft noodles and a quail egg you poke to release the runny yolk and make the whole thing richer.

Bourbon & Coke banh mi ($9) had good, flavorful ingredients in plentiful supply, but its deconstructed state would disappoint those seeking the classic Vietnamese sandwich. All the components -- pulled pork and pickled onion, carrot and jalapeño -- were piled in a heap. Rice came on the side, with house-made tortillas and camp bread filling in for the crisp baguette that's traditionally used. The tortillas were soft, but the camp bread was like a thick, stiff pita, not practical for rolling into a sandwich.

Much of the food begged to be shared. Brisket-stuffed piquillo peppers ($9) were four little red globes, not too spicy and sloppy-good, filled with soft shredded brisket and scattered with cotija cheese. Acorn squash ($8) came in long golden shanks, dusted with red pepper, drizzled with smoky hollandaise sauce and sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds -- so good you may not want to share.

There's even a "dining with friends" section where four people can order a shared entree, such as 16-hour smoked beef shin with sides for $75.

Vegetables are the surprise at Woodshed: Dishes such as whole smoked cauliflower head ($8) with olive oil, lemon and chile arbol, or kale salad ($8) with celery greens, guanciale (a spicy sausage spread) and smoked pumpkin seeds, make it clear that Love treats vegetables with the same creativity and respect that he gives meat.

Starters such as the camp bread and tortillas with pit master fat ($4) served on a slab of wood, smoked almonds with chile salt ($4) and marinated olives ($4) were cheap and easy, but mostly cunning in that they persuade you to pay for something you usually get for free.

Without reservations, you'll face a three-hour wait for the dining room on weekends. The patio is open, but if the weather is bad, your only option is a single community table for walk-ins in the bar. There's no eating at the bar itself, which is invariably jammed with TCU students.

Woodshed is in sync with the current craft-beer craze, with a variety of brews from Texas and beyond, plus wine on tap. Oddly, they're served not in glass but in plastic cups. Love brags that they are using the more expensive compostable plastic, as required by the landlords; there's always a story. For the Woodshed, that story might just be a thriller.

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