Restaurateur Shannon Wynne helped launch downtown Fort Worth as an entertainment destination back in the ’90s when he opened 8.0 Restaurant and Bar and Flying Saucer Draught Emporium.
Now, as Sundance Square emerges from a grand renovation, he’s back again, lending a hand with a new gastropub called Bird Café, taking over the old Flying Saucer space across from Bass Hall. (Flying Saucer moved into the former 8.0 location.)
With its comfortable yet elegant atmosphere, gourmet-leaning menu and selection of craft beers, Bird fits neatly into the Wynne fold — more sophisticated than the Saucer but without veering into stuffiness.
Bird most resembles Meddlesome Moth, the gastropub Wynne opened with partner Keith Schlabs in Dallas’ Design District in 2010. Overseen by chef David McMillan, their menus are identical, with an appealing collection of shared plates, fancy bar snacks and pub classics. All craving categories are covered, from meal-seeker options such as steak with french fries to lighter options including salad and soup.
McMillan, a California native who once had his own restaurant in Colleyville called 62 Main, joined the Moth in 2012. With a long background that includes hotel tenures and stints abroad, he has proven to be a good fit for what the Moth — and Bird Café — need: a level of consistency in the kitchen and an expansion of the menu that hits some gourmand buttons.
And voilà: The first item on the menu is a salad with roasted beets ($11), with goat cheese, toasted walnuts and drizzled honey. There are bacon “lollipops” ($12) on a stick and deviled eggs ($7) — all items that have just enough foodie personality to intrigue, but without becoming overwrought.
The signature item has always been the Moth balls ($9), about five to six balls of ricotta in a butter sauce with fried sage, dusted with Parmesan. These soft little balls were easy to pop in the mouth, and the rich, herbal combination of butter and sage was a classic. Pair that with sweet pea guacamole ($11), a fresh twist on guacamole that included a puree of green peas mixed with avocado.
There are classic pub dishes such as bangers and mash ($14) and mussels ($13) in four flavor options, including Belgian with lemon and white wine, and the popular Thai with coconut milk and red curry.
There are also two wonderful potpies ($13), steak and rabbit, served in a beautifully golden-brown crust. The rabbit had tender pieces of meat in a cream sauce with collard greens and shiitake mushrooms. Once cut open, a plume of fragrant steam puffed out. The crust offered textural contrasts, staying crisp on the outside while chewy and saturated by the filling within. It had an excellent crust-to-filling ratio, with enough filling to enhance each bite of crust.
Cod and chips ($14) were an elegant rendition, with three long, thin filets in a thick, crunchy crust, and a generous mound of golden-brown fries, some with skins still on. Cutting into the fish revealed a shiny white filet that separated neatly into thick flakes, with a crunchy coat of beer-battered crust clinging to each bite.
Winter burrata salad ($12) disappointed; we expected more than a scrabble of frisee and a few cubes of butternut squash to accompany the three medallions of creamy cheese. A side of zucchini chips ($8) was a foodie adventure that sounded more fun than it was. The zucchini was cut into long, thin strands and fried until crisp — maybe too thin, as they were both papery and greasy.
But some of the other sides were worth getting, including a stir-fry of tofu ($10) with cabbage, chiles and hearts of palm that was fresh and crunchy, hot and spicy, and a toasted mushroom farro ($10), a nubby grain dish enhanced by sliced shiitakes and nutty-tasting Grana Padano cheese.
Desserts rotate but usually include a chocolate item and a cake, like poundcake ($6) with candied citrus and meringue. While Bird has a full bar with wine, it seems silly not to get beer, given the extensive selection — another Wynne-Schlabs trademark — with treats such as the Rodenbach Grand Cru ($9), a highly ranked sour beer from Belgium.
Like many of Wynne’s restaurants, Bird has a flight theme in the name — a name that’s executed in the decor, with a series of bird-themed paintings by the late Fort Worth artists Stuart and Scott Gentling, and a bird drawing that serves as a too-subtle sign over the door. The newly bright interior dispels any memories of the dark space that was the Flying Saucer. The L-shaped space overlooks the newly remodeled Sundance Square Plaza, while becoming a part of it as well.