When Billy Miner's Saloon closed two years ago, it was the end of an era in Sundance Square. For 27 years, this reliable bar-restaurant had been a go-to for downtown workers in search of a quick burger, and for the nightlife crowd looking for late-night grub and a beer. More than the burgers, it was Billy Miner's old-school charm that helped establish it as an unpretentious beachhead in a neighborhood where trendier places came and went.
Now the Saloon has re-opened with new ownership on Fort Worth's north side, in a space that was previously Costa Azul. It's a brave move, especially when you consider that Zippy's made the same migration to Main Street last year, only to subsequently close; sometimes you just can't take the magic with you.
But restaurateur Dante Martinez seems determined to try and has done his best at re-creating the trademarks that made Billy Miner's what it was.
The new space is considerably smaller, but with a few notable Billy Miner's relics, including the bin of peanuts-in-the-shell and the snack-bar-style menu board displaying a modest lineup of eats. The photos of vintage Fort Worth that once graced the walls at Billy Miner's are gone, replaced by neon beer signs and mirrors; but there are a few sepia-tone photos, including one of Billy Miner himself, the Old West bandit after whom the joint was named. There's a long bar adorned with flat-screen TVs.
One significant addition is an expansive outdoor patio, a covered space with wooden picnic benches that looks out on Main Street and provides more than half the restaurant's seating. But one thing the new Billy Miner's did not seem to have on this hot summer night was robust air-conditioning; the thermostat near us registered a steamy 87 degrees.
The small menu is almost identical, featuring a burger, turkey burger, hot dog, french fries, onion rings and nachos. You order at the counter and they bring the food to your table. You then hit the toppings bar and add whatever you want from a selection of sliced tomatoes, lettuce, mayo, salsa, pickles and onions, both red and white. Nachos ($3.25) are serve-yourself, too: You get a bowl of chips and help yourself to two kinds of melted queso, regular or spiked with jalapeño. If you feel like ladling some of that on your french fries as well, so be it.
Burgers come in three sizes -- a thoughtful option if you don't want to eat a hulking heap of meat: 4-ounce ($2.99), 6-ounce ($3.99) or 8-ounce ($4.99). The burger comes on a white bun, but you can get it on wheat, and you can order bacon, mushrooms or grilled onions. The patties look hand-formed; they run on the thin side, with glistening, dark edges, and are sufficiently thick enough to show some pink in the center when ordered medium-rare.
We liked the turkey burger, served on a wheat bun, better than the regular beef. It sported attractive grill marks and had a grilled, peppery flavor to match, with an appealing chewiness.
The hot dog ($2.80) was a fat one, slashed with score marks and served in a better-than-average bun. It's a better deal than the chili dog ($4.59), which is served with a small plastic-foam container of meat-only chili on the side.
French fries ($2.29) were big crinkle-cut wedges, soft inside and slightly crisp on the edge -- an accurate duplication of the original Billy Miner's fries. Onion rings ($3.20) were fantastic, with the thin rings of onion tightly bound in a crust that was crisp with almost-burnt edges. The menu is rounded out with a couple of salads, a $14 steak sandwich and banana pudding for dessert.
There's cold beer on tap, and among Martinez's smart moves was bringing along manager Destiny Lewis from the downtown location, who adds a sense of continuity. If only nostalgia were edible -- we'd be asking for an order of that, too.