On most days, Sansom Park is less than a 10-minute drive north of downtown Fort Worth, but this is one enclave that still has a nostalgic, small-town-Texas feel.
And some of the restaurants capture that vibe, too.
Along this stretch of Jacksboro Highway across the way from a hardware store lies the popular El Paseo restaurant, and right nearby, a new entry has set the table for a little competition: Iron Spurs Bar & Grill, a steakhouse with Southwestern flair and fare.
Clearly, this is not the first rodeo for the man behind Iron Spurs. In fact, Juan Jaramillo worked for many years catering at Reata at the Rodeo, when he wasn't busy just being the chef at the downtown mainstay. His stated aim with Iron Spurs is to offer steakhouse-level cuisine at a more accessible price point.
I'll cut to the chase, just like a true cowgirl would: Iron Spurs leaves much to be desired, especially if you're looking for a good steak, like we were one recent evening.
The setting is a bit bucolic, since Iron Spurs appears to have saved the vestiges of its predecessor, Williams Ranch House, right down to the stained glass windows, yellow walls and old-timey candelabras. To eat here seems a bit like a trip down memory lane. For us, the atmosphere conjured some memorable experiences along Texas highways, like a family favorite, Sam's in Fairfield.
And there were some notable high points to our meal. Our appetizer, grilled shrimp with serrano-cheese grits ($9.99), was a well-played portion of five chargrilled shrimp crowned with a lovely julienned carrot and cucumber slaw, atop a bed of the creamy porridge. Served with a plastic cup of habanero barbecue sauce (which was more Tabasco than anything else), the dish was an enjoyable take on what has become a grain du jour on many a restaurant menu.
The avocado salad ($9.99) shined, too: Just a simple take on the ubiquitous Caesar, it had welcome panache with house-made avocado dressing, crispy romaine leaves and avocado slices on top. The salad (which is available with chicken, steak or shrimp) had a nice zing, thanks to the lemony dressing.
And now, for the hungry-man portion of the evening. First, the 14-ounce Grilled New York Steak ($16.99), which, unfortunately, was a befuddling mess. Cooked slightly under our medium-rare request, the outside was well seared. But after just one bite, we nearly gave up eating it -- it was tough and chewy with little detectable seasoning. For the grits, we substituted mashed potatoes, which were simple and sort of underwhelming. The plate's other veggie, the green beans, were crisp and thankfully not too butter-loaded -- a nice, light element to an otherwise heavy platter. (On a subsequent lunch visit, we tried the grilled rib-eye, $12.99, and it was disappointing, too. The steak, cooked to a reddish-pink medium, had little flavor to speak of beyond the char of the crisscrossed grill marks.).
We also tried the Iron Spur "Build Your Own" hamburger. But whatever way we built it, we were still met with an approximately 1/3-pound slug of meat that was clearly pre-formed. Ugh. It's fair to say we're spoiled with the endless parade of places in DFW that do burgers right (grinding meat fresh and, when possible, using local garnishes), all of which made this iteration seem very ordinary.
We'd heard good things about our final dish, the chicken and waffles ($11.99). Unusually prepared, the dish featured a pre-cut chicken breast, which was juicy, nicely fried and seasoned. The meat, splayed inside two Belgian-esque waffles, came with a side of sweet potato fries, which had virtually no seasoning. And the bland waffles lacked the buttery, pastrylike quality I was hoping for.
Perhaps Iron Spurs needs more time to find its footing. It certainly has the chefly pedigree to produce quality steaks and creative dishes. But at least on our two visits, the kitchen isn't quite living up to expectations.