Adam Scott, the new No. 1 player in the world, and Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old phenom from Dallas, are the players everyone’s talking about at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial this weekend. But both of them are being overshadowed by another guy who admits he’s not much of a golfer at all.
Tim Love, the Fort Worth celebri-chef and owner of the Woodshed Smokehouse and Lonesome Dove restaurants, is playing his first Colonial as the exclusive on-course concessionaire and caterer for hospitality suites. And his presence is unmistakeable.
The signature “Chef Tim Love” logo is emblazoned on all of the 20+ concession stands, his catchphrase imploring golf fans to “ Eat, drink & live well.” The high school booster club parents running the concessions stands (Colonial is their big fund-raiser) are wearing black bibs with the Love logo on the back, as opposed to their school shirts. And Love’s stamp is all over the mushrooming corporate suites as well. (Other than Crowne Plaza’s omnipresent plum, Love’s deep blue is dominating the landscape.)
Love’s menu, which attempts to inject some Texas gourmet flavor onto the fairways at Colonial, is a bold departure from the burgers and hot dogs that have been customary at the historic golf tournament. Tamales, venison Frito pie, elk sausage and a smoked mozzarella with basil sandwich are just a few of the chefly flourishes. Gone are the frozen lemonade chiller stands, replaced on the dessert menu by chile spiked watermelon. There’s also a Plaid Jacket cocktail with cranberry and fresh pomegranate juice.
Needless to say, Love’s adventurous menu has been the subject of much on-course chatter. I’ve heard hosannas for the “best tamale ever” and one enthusiastic patron I met swore he ate every item on the menu and loved ’em all. (Judging by his breath, I think he sampled all the cocktails and beers, too.)
But Love, whose brash TV persona can be polarizing, has drawn some harsh critiques as well. A hospitality suite patron gave me an emphatic, one-word review for the food that rhymes with “ducks.” He complained that Love served the same exact menu on Thursday and Friday, which is an apparent no-no in the corporate tents. Some of the concession stands ran out of items too early, and others served refrigerated food that had been delivered a day or two earlier.
Love’s “gussied up” menu was confounding for those who just wanted something basic, and the fact that you couldn’t get a fresh-off-the-grill Love Burger at any stand caused some aggravation.
But Colonial deserves kudos for trying to upgrade its on-course cuisine, and for not being so bound by tradition that it’s unwilling to evolve. Certainly, in his first year catering at Colonial, Love took some risks with the menu and not all of them paid off. His overbearing branding was a bit too in-your face as well. But, like many of the golfers at Colonial, he can be afforded a few bogies and pars, and still make the cut.
And Love made several birdies, too.
Here’s my review of some of the on-course cuisine. Send us yours at dfw.com
The smoked pork tamales with salsa verde ($4.50 for one). This was the highlight of my first round Thursday. The decent-sized tamale had a light and slightly sweet exterior, which was balanced by the smokiness of the tender pork. The verde salsa added spice and brightness to this unlikely, but ideal golf course concession item — easy to eat while walking from tee to green.
Texas venison Frito pie ($5) was another golf-course gustatory triumph. Served in a Frito bag, tender deer meat was marinated in an earthy green chile sauce, and the salty, crunchy corn chips served as a perfect foil for the velvety venison. For 5 bucks, the meat was plentiful — we got some in each spoonful — and because the Frito pie was served in a bag, we were able to nosh on it as we walked through the Horrible Horseshoe (holes 3-5). Come to think of it, our the Horseshoe wasn’t horrible at all.
Smoked baby back ribs ($8). Eating ribs on a golf course has disaster written all over it. Even at restaurants, they’re messy and Love’s came slathered in sauce. But I tried these at the end of the day Friday, sitting at a table at the Frost Park entrance, and they were fabulous. The pork meat was delicious, tender and smoky. Rather than pick ’em up all at once and get sauce on my golf duds, I cut these babies easily with a plastic knife and picked them up one by one. And just kept eating. The sauce, semi-sweet with plenty of pepper and vinegar, was the perfect complement. Conclusion: Chef Love knows his ’cue.
Smoked mozzarella with basil pesto on a baguette ($10): There’s a lot of variety at Love’s concession stands — maybe too much — but vegetarians and anyone looking for lighter options will have to head to the concession stand between the 10th tee and 18th green. It offers hummus, turkey avocado wraps and the smoked mozzarella sandwich with tomato and basil.
This creamy and cool concoction would really hit the spot on a 90-degree day. On Friday it was cloudy and 80, but no matter.
For $10, it wasn’t a particularly large sandwich but there were ample amounts of smooth mozzarella and ripe tomatoes. We would have like a bit more basil pesto, and the pliable bread wasn’t really a baguette, but we especially liked the flecks of sun dried tomato in the bread. This sandwich was a solid par, and could be a birdie for a vegetarian stranded amid the carnivores at Colonial.
Bad-Ass Nachos ($8): Love typically backs up his culinary boasts, but these nachos — with jalapenos, cheese, creme fraiche, pico de gallo and tortilla chips — were definitely not bad-ass. In fact, they were sorta tame.
Thankfully, they weren’t as gloppy as your typical, artery-clogging stadium nachos, and the chips had nice snap to them. But this snack didn’t have the trademark Love kick or creativity we expected. Just a pile of chips, cheese and jalapenos. Meh.
The Famous Colonial Chicken Sandy ($9): Another boastful menu item that doesn’t quite deliver. We liked the buttermilk batter, but the bird we tried Thursday was tough and the bun warmed over. The serrano slaw with bell peppers, plus the butter pickles gave the sandy a kick, but for 9 bucks, it’s not gonna be famous any time soon.
Elk Sausage with Bee-Hive Cheese ($5): Served on a stick with grainy mustard and pickles, we liked the portability of this street food, but our sausage was unevenly cooked — dark in some areas, pinkish in others — and it was bit more gamey than we like. The mustard was also a little too aggressive, but the pickles were nice and crunchy.
Love Burger ($8) and Perfect Parmesan truffle fries ($6): Even though our burger didn’t come straight off the grill Saturday, it tasted fresh and was definitely a cut above a typical stadium/sporting event burger. The meat was juicy, cooked nicely to medium, and the veggies were crisp, but the American cheese was barely melted and the Love sauce (a variation on Thousand Island) overpowered the burger a bit more than we would have liked. But it was a solid par. (The 30-minute wait in line, however, was not. More on that later.)
The thick-cut fries had terrific flavor from the Parmesan and truffle oil. We only wished for a little more crunch. They came out of a warmer, not a fryer, yet they were still fresh-tasting and a good example of a basic item given a successful twist. For $6, the portion size was puny but the big burger made up for that.
Chile spiked watermelon ($5): There is a distinct lack of dessert items on the course. (I guess we’re all supposed to cool off with $6 beers and $10 cocktails?) But I was intrigued by this item, and finally decided to try it Friday. For $5 you get two hunks of watermelon with chile powder piled on top. Not necessarily my idea of “spiked,” but I liked the initial tingle of spice and heat mixed with the sweet watermelon. Our melon was mushy and pale, however, and the copious amounts of chile powder gave me coughing fits — not a good thing at a golf tournament (Quiet, Please!).
I decided to skip the second piece and offered it to a fellow patron who looked suspicious but gave it a try after I swore I was a reporter on assignment. She took a bite and offered a definitive opinion: “Yucky!”
The Plaid Jacket ($10): Grey Goose vodka is the official liquor partner of the PGA (golfer Matt Kuchar even has his own signature drink!). So Love, whose credo is to “eat, drink & live well,” helped mix up this cocktail named for Colonial’s plaid jacket, which is awarded to the winner. It’s served at the Grey Goose lounge at the 13th hole, aka the Party Hole, but this $10 cocktail, made with GG L’Orange, fresh pomegranate juice, fresh cranberry juice and simple syrup, was fairly flavorless. And small.
The winner at Colonial gets a check for $1.152 million, but this namesake drink hardly tastes like a million bucks.
Service and corporate suite snafus: Colonial galleries are pretty genial, but the complaints about long lines and screw-ups in the hospitatly suites were a hot topic Friday and Saturday. Whatever goodwill Love has built up with his elevated menu, erodes each time a suite runs out of food, which, according to several patrons I spoke with, was often.
Personally, I waited 30 minutes for a Love burger and fries Saturday at a concession stand between the 17th and 18th holes. I also heard reports of hour waits for beer at No. 13.
To be fair, crowds were bigger than I’ve seen in recent years, but it won’t matter how good the tamales and ribs are if Love can’t get that aspect of his catering corrected. Here’s hoping he’ll hit it straighter Sunday.