360 West 360 West March 2017 : Page 98
Milestones The iconic bovine-topped Cattlemen’s sign tells you the Old West is alive and well in the Fort Worth Stockyards. 70 Years of Sizzle Early original menus show calf fries, spare ribs and pie by the slice at 25 cents each, and a pot of Sanka for 15 cents. Below, favorites include the bone-in rib eye and loaded baked potato, with fresh yeast rolls on the side. Dining room elements remain unchanged, from the 1950s stock show championship cattle portraits to the red leather chairs and vintage glass candle holders. 98 March 2017 360westmagazine.com
The iconic bovine-topped Cattlemen’s sign tells you the Old West is alive and well in the Fort Worth Stockyards.
70 Years of Sizzle
Dining room elements remain unchanged, from the 1950s stock show championship cattle portraits to the red leather chairs and vintage glass candle holders.
Early original menus show calf fries, spare ribs and pie by the slice at 25 cents each, and a pot of Sanka for 15 cents.
Favorites include the bone-in rib eye and loaded baked potato, with fresh yeast rolls on the side.
Step inside this Stockyards landmark, and you step back in time. The steaks are still char-grilled and the baked potatoes are still loaded. There have been some updates, thanks to new owners: You’ll find fish on the menu as well as a nice wine or two. And now you can get your calf fries on a pizza.
A 1947 landmark in Fort Worth’s Stockyards, Cattlemen’s Steak House might easily have devolved into a dusty relic stuck in a bygone time. The fading portraits of stocky, short-legged cattle in the dining room are from the ‘50s; the lighting fixtures are even older. But today, you might find yourself sipping a longneck next to friendly Aussie pilots on layovers before flying back to Sydney, working cowboys catching a bite to eat before the evening rodeo, TCU fans watching the game on TV and maybe even a John Wayne impersonator.
Calf fries with a side of cream gravy never lose popularity with ranch families and working cowboys.
Credit for Cattlemen’s staying power goes to a blend of business savvy, an understanding of the public’s appetite and a highly visible location at the intersection of the two busiest streets in the Stockyards. With its name out front in can’tmiss marquee lights, the cedar-paneled building with its Wild West look sits a horseshoe’s throw from the White Elephant Saloon and shopping emporiums The Maverick and M.L. Leddy’s. The area has changed a bit since back when Jesse and Mozelle Roach opened the restaurant in the late 1940s, turning an empty cafe next to their insurance office on North Main Street into a steakhouse. Flying corn-fed beefsteaks into town twice a week, their fledgling operation grew to include Cattlemen’s locations in Dallas and Arlington, as well as the beloved Farmer’s Daughter restaurant in Fort Worth (all shuttered today).
Owners Larry Heppe and Marti Taylor carry on the Cattlemen’s traditions, while adding a few new twists of their own to the menu and wine list.
After Jesse’s 1988 death, Mozelle hung onto the original restaurant, finally selling in 1994 to frequent patron Marti Taylor, who had run restaurants in her native Michigan and continues as owner today. Marti and her husband, Bob Taylor, partnered with two Arlington restaurateurs to buy the place. They made overdue updates throughout the 400- seat restaurant, including three private dining spaces, while nurturing the vintage steakhouse vibe (think wood and brick interiors, red leather chairs, tin-panel ceiling). Customers who enjoyed picking out their cuts of beef, always kept on ice in a display area by the charcoal grill in the dining room, continue to do so. The 1940s signage and light fixtures were spruced up, although the aging cattle portraits hung on the brick walls remain dining-room staples, as do scallop-edged white paper place mats.
The new owners wisely expanded the bar, hiring popular Texas muralist Stylle Read to fill Cattlemen’s saloon walls with lively old West scenes, infusing them with local personality.
The stock show’s 1950 grand champion steer was purchased by Cattlemen’s and its popular sister restaurant, The Farmer’s Daughter, now long shuttered.
Original signage remains above dining rooms, such as the Bluebonnet, one of three private downstairs event spaces. Left, one of several murals by Texas painter Stylle Read, the one in the bar depicts owner Marti Taylor in a pink dress and hat, beating her former business partners at poker.
“I told Stylle to make me young and dressed in pink and to give me more money than the men,” says Marti, a trim redhead with a ready smile and eyes that habitually scan the room. She points out her image on the wall, where — sure enough — she’s dressed in a rosy Miss Kitty-type gown, beating her late husband and their two business partners at poker.
After Bob passed away, Marti persevered. Larry Heppe, a longtime Cattlemen’s fan, bought out her partners when he retired in 2010 from a career in manufacturing.
“I’d entertained for years at Cattlemen’s, holding all our Christmas parties and sales meetings here. I figured I’d been buying the place one steak and one cocktail at a time,” Larry drawls, with his easy, husky laugh. “Marti and I are the perfect team. I’d run a lot of plants at once and brought sales experience, so I love the business side, and she’s always great at front-of-the-house operations.”
Becoming a couple over time, the two explore a mutual love of food while traveling and bring home new ideas. Trips to Destin, Florida, inspired the smoked tartar sauce that now accompanies shrimp and fried fish, while dinners at the celebrated Geronimo in Santa Fe inform some of the bigger, bolder wine varietals Larry adds to the list, which he updates at least once a year. To keep an eye on food trends in Fort Worth, they dine out at favorites, including Ellerbe Fine Foods, Piola and Clay Pigeon.
But there’s no forsaking Cattlemen’s roots, with aged steaks still sourced from the Midwest as well as from Texas purveyors. The beloved Heart o’ Texas rib-eye remains a hit, as does the hefty K.C. strip — best served reddish-pink inside and a little charred outside, the way Marti and Larry prefer their own steaks. Newer options include cognacpeppercorn or Gorgonzola sauces for steak, as well as salmon and other fish selections. At lunch, guests like comfort food choices like burgers, pot roast and chicken-fried steak.
And then there are the calf fries. That most tender part of young male cattle forever makes for tasty appetizers for the seasoned diner, not to mention lively conversation. Marti notes that ranch families usually bring kids who are as excited about their plates of calf fries as some would be about ice cream sundaes. The specialty even became an off-the-menu bar item.
“We’ll create new dishes for our bar regulars, so we came up with a calf-fry pizza. It’s got Alfredo sauce and crushed red pepper, and our cowboys just love it,” Larry says.
Hub Baker, director of the weekly rodeo at nearby Cowtown Coliseum and a Cattlemen’s patron since childhood, is one of those many regulars. Of the restaurant’s enduring appeal, he says, “It’s got great food, and it’s where all of us Stockyards people and downtown folks, too, have always gathered for libations.”
Omar Valles hired on at Cattlemen’s in 1994 as a bus boy and now serves as general manager. Frequently stepping in to cook steaks over the charcoal fire, he began work at the restaurant shortly before Marti Taylor bought the place.
The biggest change Marti has seen over the years is a greater variety of guests, with more in their 30s and 40s discovering Cattlemen’s lately. She acknowledges the built-in cowboy-culture charm — more than a few patrons like taking selfies with the rodeo guys — but notes as assets the improved menu and moderate prices for a steak dinner with sides.
One fellow restaurateur agrees: A frequent Cattlemen’s diner since she was a little girl, Tommy’s Hamburgers owner Kelly Smith thinks the kitchen is at the top of its game, and she’s recruiting new customers.
Guests can pick out their steaks from an iced display case by the charcoal grill and then watch as they’re fired right in the dining room.
“We had the best steak ever at Cattlemen’s over the holidays,” says Kelly, who prefers to eat dinner in the bar. “And before we saw the Go-Gos at Billy Bob’s, I talked friends into meeting there at the bar first. Now they love it, too.”
Cattlemen’s Steak House This Stockyards favorite turns 70 this year. Popular appetizers include calf fries with cream gravy, $8.50; giant onion rings, $7.95; spicy cowboy jumbo shrimp, $12.50; and a cup of baked potato soup, $4.25. Among signature charbroiled steaks are the 11-ounce Heart o’ Texas ribeye, $34.95, and the 10-ounce N.Y. strip, $29.95, as well as prime rib (offered Friday and Saturday evening only), $29.95-$41.95, including dinner salad, baked or mashed potato (horseradish is best) and big yeast dinner rolls. Lunchtime meals include smaller steaks, as well as pot roast, $10.50; and the Rios Burger, topped with grilled onion, mushrooms, jalapeno and cheddar, $10.25. Check out the wine list, with steak-friendly options like Murphy-Goode Liar’s Dice, a Sonoma zinfandel, and The Prisoner, a deep red blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and petite sirah from Napa Valley. Open for lunch and dinner daily. 2458 N. Main St., Fort Worth, 817-624-3945 or cattlemenssteakhouse.com.
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