Some restaurants come out of the gate with a trendy menu, celebrity bartender or kitschy dish. Little Red Wasp is not that restaurant. The strength of this casual new downtown Fort Worth spot lies in the way it does everything well, without splash or hype.
Whether it’s the well-executed lineup of American basics, attentive service or crisp atmosphere, LRW is a smooth operator, taking care of business with a quiet, capable polish.
It’s located barely a block from older sibling Grace, the fine-dining spot from restaurateur Adam Jones and chef Blaine Staniford. But its menu is simpler than that of Grace, featuring items such as a Cobb salad or spaghetti and meatballs.
The selection tops out with a New York strip steak for $36, but with Capital Grille on one side and Del Frisco’s on the other, Little Red Wasp smartly goes for a lower-priced, more casual niche. With a trio of entree salads, a half-dozen sandwiches and a handful of entrees, the menu has just a little bit of something for everyone.
Starters consist of two kinds of chips and dip. One is good for the chips, the other for the dip. House-made potato chips ($6) were crunchy and good — too good, maybe, for their accompanying house-made ranch dip. Queso ($8) was rich and spicy, but the tortilla chips were brought in — one of the only items not made in-house.
Sandwiches include a statuesque $10 burger and a sloppy-but-satisfying $11 hot dog, featuring an Angus beef frank from 44 Farms topped with house-made chili, cheddar cheese, relish and mustard.
But the bestseller is the Reuben ($13), a classic sandwich here with a twist. It had tangy, flavorful corned beef, shaved nice and thin, with melted Swiss cheese on toasted buttered rye bread flecked with caraway seeds. But in place of the standard sauerkraut, LRW substituted coleslaw in a creamy dressing. It gave the sandwich some appreciated personality and crunch, even if we felt a twinge of sauerkraut longing.
On weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., that corned beef surfaces on the brunch menu in a corned beef hash ($19) with sunny-side eggs and potatoes. Though the prices are not at steakhouse level, sandwiches range from $10 to $19, and do not come with sides; fries are $4.
One of the best deals was the potato-crusted fish ($18). One night, it was grouper: a generously thick fillet enclosed in a crust of pulverized potato chips. The crust was both shaggy and crunchy, a pleasing counterpoint to the almost-fluffy white fish. It came with an equally generous portion of fresh spinach, glistening with butter and just barely cooked so the greens still had some structure.
Spaghetti and meatballs ($16) were another bargain, with three oversize meatballs sitting atop a bowl of spaghetti in a comforting red tomato sauce. Other entree options include short ribs ($26) with mashed potatoes and broccolini, and chicken ($22) with couscous.
The restaurant’s glass entryway serves as a reminder that it’s on the ground floor of the Oncor office building. But terracotta blocks and colorfully striped fabric on the booths warm up the space. A bar sits along the wall, dispensing local beers and shaking up concoctions such as the Little Red Wasp ($9), a martini-like twist on the margarita with tequila, red pepper puree and jalapeño honey. The check is delivered on a sweet little wooden clipboard, and water is served in a civilized manner, without straws or ice.
All that’s left is dessert, which includes a sundae, a tart and doughnut holes ($5), served in a steel dish lined with parchment paper. Coated with cinnamon sugar and served piping hot, the doughnut bites were fabricated, said our savvy server, from biscuit dough. One bite in and we could see layers — the kind that brought to mind the trendy treat known as cronuts. Way to sneak one in, Little Red Wasp.