Ambush Grill -N- Bar is a down-to-earth burger and sandwich joint with a rock-star spirit.
Opened in April, the Crowley restaurant is owned by bassist-turned-restaurateur Ricky Hughes, who, back in the tie-dyed '70s, was a member of a progressive country-rock trio called Country Thunder. During a gig somewhere near Wichita Falls, Hughes was dubbed "Ferocious Ambush" -- an oddly pugnacious stage name for today's ever-smiling and chortling Hughes.
But the name stuck, and the 58-year-old Hughes has spent much of the past 30 years drifting in and out of the local food trade -- as head of the Ferocious Ambush chili team, the now-defunct Ferocious Ambush Roadhouse in Rendon and just recently the Ambush Grill -N- Bar in nearby Crowley.
Though the restaurant is a mere 2,000 square feet, its 26-foot ceiling lends it a much airier quality. A slew of vintage photos of Hughes and his fellow Country Thunder bandmates and his award-winning chili cook-off team on the walls give it a gallerylike feel.
While under the gaze of one of those old pictures, it's worth ferreting out among the usual-suspect starters of fried pickles and nachos the sublimely porky pig wings ($8.49). These pork riblets are tender and juicy, and combust with flavor when dipped into a barbecue sauce humming with sweet-sour notes.
The Lone Star State should consider adding images of Ambush's green-chile cheeseburger and beanie burger to its well-known "everything's bigger in Texas" slogan. There is nothing timid about these half-pound extravaganzas, each as multileveled with ingredients as a big-city parking garage.
The green-chile cheeseburger ($8.39) shows off Hughes' deft touch with Hatch green chiles. Two great strips of smoked chiles form the canopy just beneath the burger's bun, lending the whole thing crunch and the subtlest of smoky spice.
But even that hulking cheeseburger must bow to the behemoth beanie burger ($8.99). Wearing more layers than a Mount Everest climber, the beanie burger sports cheddar cheese, jalapeños, tomato, lettuce and the oh-so-homespun crunch of Fritos. And the entire burg-architecture sits on a foundation of unctuously creamy refried beans. A highly flexible jaw and plenty of napkins, or a knife and fork, are required to tackle this one.
A bit like following Jerry Lee Lewis after he has just lit his piano on fire, Ambush's steak on garlic sandwich ($8.99) still holds its own in the wake of the beanie burger. The garlicky bread infuses the Philly-cheesesteak cut of tender beef with great flavor, and its greaselessly prepared sides of tater tots or onion rings pop into the mouth with alarming ease.
Hughes will tell you that he first started cooking seriously because his wife couldn't stand the kitchen's heat. Years later, he's still married, and is still the same "ferocious" musician-burger-maestro he has been for more than three decades.