When the first local Chili’s Grill & Bar opened 40 years ago, a Star-Telegram reviewer marveled at the burgers and prices.
“Chili’s hamburgers aren’t cheap,” the reviewer wrote, going on to explain that a basic burger cost $2.85 and the Grande chili-cheese-dog-burger ($5.55) was “the most expensive hamburger ever.”
Even then, an Arlington Chili’s reeked of chaindom: “We feel more at home in the chain’s original Dallas location, [where] everything looks more authentic.”
Four decades later, Chili’s is rolling out a back-to-the-future menu featuring bigger burgers, bigger ribs, larger fajita platters and a smaller menu of 75 items.
A recent visit to a west Fort Worth Chili’s proved to be the same soul-killing experience found in many corporate chain restaurants.
(There’s a Wi-Fi tablet on the table? If I want to order by push-button, I’d rather just use my own phone.)
Most of the patrons weren’t eating burgers. They really weren’t eating entrees at all.
Families munched on chips and salsa while adults drank margaritas and watched football.
I found a quiet corner and settled in for a “Bigger Big Mouth Burger.” Bottom line: It’s an adequate half-pound burger, although the price now is $7-$8.
Look, Chili’s is never going to win a DFW.com Burger Battle. Or even qualify for a Burger Battle. There are just too many good local burgers in Fort Worth to include corporate-owned chains.
But the new burger was juicy and well-seasoned, with fresh lettuce and tomato.
Had it not been for the garlic-dill pickles and thicker brioche bun, this could have seemed like one of Chili’s original burgers from Greenville Avenue in Dallas.
One menu item from that original Chili’s isn’t promoted much anymore: chili.
Frankly, a cup of chili proved truer to the original more than on Chili’s visits the last few years. The “Terlingua” recipe doesn’t seem to have changed.
(Chili’s was known for the dish, although the red pepper became its trademark.)
Chili’s also promises bigger pecan-smoked ribs with roasted corn and larger fajita platters, but no more ancho sirloin steaks or mango-chile tilapia.
The company landed a windfall of publicity last month for its “In Menumoriam” campaign bidding “goodbye” to half its menu. (No more fried Buffalo cauliflower.)
Chili’s has closed a couple of locations recently, but still has 17 restaurants in Tarrant County. The oldest is probably that same Arlington location, 924 E. Copeland Road; chilis.com.
A decent deal on a dining festival
I don’t always write about dining events, because they’re often expensive and not always for charity.
But the Colleyville Chamber of Commerce’s annual City Slickers event Saturday has a good price: $25 for food, wine and beer, or $75 for a whiskey tasting and premium Italian dishes from Loveria Caffe.
The $25 ticket buys grilled meats from Boi na Braza Brazilian Steakhouse, Tex-Mex from both Tio Carlos and Anna’s, chicken pasta from Black Walnut Cafe, chicken kebabs from Luna Grill, ribs from Texas Roadhouse and sliders from Teddy’s Bigger Burgers.
There’s also pies from Buttermilk Sky Pie Co. (which is worth finding in Colleyville): chocolate chip pie, pumpkin or the coconut-chocolate-pecan I-40 pie.
The $75 ticket adds Loveria Caffe’s lasagna, penne Amatriciana or straccetti di pollo, plus Pilot Point-based Red River Whiskey.
Wayback: If you’re way hungry
Connecticut-based Wayback Burgers, known for a nine-patty, nine-cheese “triple triple” burger, has quietly opened in far north Fort Worth.
Wayback is another “better burger” restaurant, grilling hand-pressed burgers and competing in the same category as a Five Guys, not quite as uptown as a Shake Shack or a Burger Fi.
A single burger costs $4.99 as a single or $6.49 as a double. The nine-patty burger is $17.99.