Max’s Wine Dive is a study in contradictions, and that seems to be exactly how the 7-year-old Houston concept likes it.
The popular bar-and-comfort-food restaurant, which has a Dallas location on McKinney Avenue and recently opened in Fort Worth’s West 7th district, has won legions of fans for its fried chicken and champagne pairings — not to mention the mini-chain’s plethora of wines (by the glass, bottle and case) that can be quaffed amid shabby-chic dining rooms alighted by bright, open-air kitchens.
The food is where it’s at here … or is it the drink?
One thing’s for sure. Whether you choose to hit up the new Max’s in Fort Worth for the food or beverages (or both), you’ll likely be satisfied. And if you commit to a full meal of cheffed-up comfort food, well, you might go home stuffed — the menu here walks the line between decadent and deliriously rich.
Take the pan borracho, one of the restaurant’s more cultish dishes, a shareable plate ($11) that starts with a simple enough base of sourdough bread. But, this being Max’s Wine Dive, the baguette is then baked in a white wine custard, mixed with prosciutto, thyme and not one but three cheeses (Gruyere, Parmigiano-Reggiano and provolone), yielding a savory, salty bread pudding. Our dinner was off to an indulgent start.
With nearly 30 wines available by the glass, evenly split between red and white, and beaucoup bubbly options, visit the restaurant on a night when you’re feeling inordinately decisive. I was happy to mull the menu with a glass of the 2010 Retrospect cabernet sauvignon ($12.75); on another visit, I chose the 2008 Navarro Alegoria malbec ($13.75), a slightly more full-bodied wine that could stand up to the boffo meal at bay.
The left side of the menu features shared plates and entrees for which Max’s is well known. The right showcases chef Stefon Rishel’s creations, many of which are seasonal offerings, like the impressive pumpkin pappardelle ($18) and spot-on blackened diver scallops ($22) atop fried green tomatoes. The Hot and Cold Caesar salad ($9) showed promise with its charred romaine, shaved Parm and large croutons. The latter had a crispy crust that gave way to a doughy interior. A nice surprise, but the underdressed leaves were too wilted to make much of an impression at our table.
Speaking of surprises — there are none when you order the restaurant’s vaunted fried chicken entree ($16), consisting of three pieces (breast, leg and thigh) that are crunchy, juicy and every other adjective you’d ascribe to great fried chicken. It’s served with collard greens, fluffy skinless mashed potatoes and Texas toast.
We also could not resist ordering the shrimp and grits ($19), a generous bowl of shrimp that showcased grits that emphasized the dish’s, um … grit. These were not of the creamy school, but they were pleasurable enough.
The fried egg sandwich ($14.50) is an insanely large entree consisting of three over-easy eggs drizzled with truffle oil, applewood-smoked bacon, Gruyere and black-truffle aioli all wedged between sourdough bread and served with truffle chips. To thoroughly enjoy this creation, you must a) be trying to make weight for your next wrestling match, b) own stock in truffle oil or c) be hung over. Sadly, I was none of the above.
On another visit, we took our collective calorie counts down a notch and enjoyed small plates like the pork-stuffed piquillo peppers ($12) and the Gulf Coast fonduta ($16). The peppers were smoky and spicy tamale-like endeavors, wisely juxtaposed with microgreens. As for the fonduta — well, who can find fault with a bowl of shrimp and smoked redfish swimming in melted Gruyere?
Service was well-intentioned but a bit slow on our visits. It can also skew a shade too familiar for a place that has entrees hovering around $25. But I suppose that’s all part of the contradiction at the heart of Max’s: It’s an upscale restaurant and a down-home dive. It’s fried chicken and champagne.
Most of all, it’s a distinctive new dining experience in Fort Worth, where it’s best to arrive hungry and thirsty.