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TH Taste: Bring on the Smoke!

Fort Worth’s new Woodshed Smokehouse takes wood-fired fare to the next level

An open-air restaurant on the banks of the Trinity River, the Woodshed enchants diners and defies stereotypes (Photo by Kevin Stillman)

By June Naylor

In a town where iconic rib joints such as Angelo’s and Railhead have waiting lines as long as the West Texas sunset, did Fort Worth really need another marquee smokehouse? After a recent visit to celebrity chef Tim Love’s new Woodshed Smokehouse, I can assure you the answer is: you bet.

One step inside the new hotspot perched on the banks of the Trinity River, in shouting distance of TCU and the Fort Worth Zoo, and I realized this wasn’t my grandpa’s barbecue hangout. Spreading over 14,000 square feet and unfolding onto a sprawling deck and patio, the open-air restaurant and bar starts the day with espresso, breakfast tacos stuffed with the smoked meat of the day, and flaky, buttery French pastries. It begins the party at noon with live music, offers thirsty folks a stunning craft-beer assortment and wines on tap, and feeds hungry hordes a heretofore unheard-of feast of smoked meats and vegetables.

Within moments of opening in late January, the Woodshed was overrun with patrons curious about Love’s worldly menu of wood-fired foods. The fourth Fort Worth restaurant opened by Love, whose Lonesome Dove Western Bistro serves everything from rattlesnake sausage to wild boar in the historic Stockyards district, the Woodshed welcomes as many as 1,600 guests per day on busy weekends.

As it turns out, adventurous palates find flavorful gratification in smoked artichoke hearts, kale salad topped with guanciale (pig-jowl bacon), redfish en papillote, pulled goat tacos, and much more.

altOut front, beside the entrance, an orange flag bears an image of the meat you’ll see on the spit. Beef, pork, goat, lamb, venison, or game bird show up in varied preparations, but the purest experience remains eating the meat of the day doused with fresh salsas and tucked inside warm, handmade tortillas, which are crafted on-site as you watch through the kitchen window.

Restauranter-chef Tim Love oversees the preparation of the meat of the day, whether it's wild boar or game bird (Photo by Kevin Stillman)Stacks of pecan, hickory, mesquite, and oak supply the smokers, stoves, and—in cool weather—the heaters scattered over the grounds. On a recent visit, servers darted between kitchen and tables, inside and out, bearing trays laden with sharing plates of brisket-stuffed piquillo peppers and a dip of smoked Lake Michigan whitefish. Jaw-dropping sights included Love emerging from the kitchen manhandling a massive butcher block from which rose a mammoth beef shin that had been braised overnight and then smoked for 16 hours. Enough to feed an army, the tender meat fell away from the giant bone as my group sliced it at the table and then folded it up into those exquisite tortillas, along with a spoonful of borracho beans, fresh ricotta, and the tart kale salad.

Familiar choices appear on the menu as well, with the burger one of the most popular. Love calls it his triple threat, made with chopped beef brisket and prime steak blended with the sausage of the day, topped with watercress, smoked cheddar, and housemade pickles. The kitchen goes through as many as 18 briskets daily, probably because crowds gather on any day that the sun is shining. And when the weather doesn’t cooperate? The staff just pulls down the steel-and-glass garage doors that line the entire south side of the restaurant.

With lively crowds in attendance at nearly all hours, the atmosphere feels much like someone’s backyard cookout, exactly as Love intends. “I like to call it my back-porch food, because it’s stuff I’ve been doing at home for family and friends for a long time,” he says.

What appear to be fleets of cars park via valet in front, but many patrons enter the Woodshed through a gate that opens right onto the running/biking trail that lines the Trinity. Guests pop in for a beer and a bite to eat, and wind up staying for hours. On frequent Saturday mornings, there’s a five-mile charity-benefit run between the Woodshed and the Love Shack (Love’s
burger joint closer to downtown), culminating with free beer and tacos. On other Saturday mornings, a yoga or Pilates class wraps up just in time for a smoked bloody mary. (Love’s version includes three smoked ingredients: tomatoes, olives, and ice.)

Fellow restaurateur Tristan Simon notes that, of all Love’s restaurants, the Woodshed is his favorite. “It’s because of its social spirit and the fact that he has completely updated the smokehouse genre,” he says. “The light and energy of the place are seductive. On a beautiful weekend day, there is not another restaurant in DFW where I would rather be.”

Early on, clientele built easily, with customers returning frequently. Marcelle LeBlanc, who lives nearby and confesses to eating at Woodshed every week since its opening, says, “I love the sophisticat-ed food in a casual environment. And the Woodshed serves a mean cappuccino in the morning.”

Another plus: Love aims to make the Woodshed the most earth-friendly restaurant in town. Utensils and cups are biodegradable, and no beverages come in glass bottles. Perhaps most astounding, no air conditioners will be employed at the Woodshed. Instead, an impressive collection of giant fans and misters take the place of manufactured, refrigerated air. You can trust that the stylishly outfitted Woodshed will keep its customers cool in warm weather—and happily fed year round.

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