You go to a restaurant. You settle in at your table. You gaze at the menu. And then you scan the room.
And that's when it hits you. You're no longer in just an eatery but an art gallery as well. Many local restaurants are decorated with intriguing art -- from contemporary oils and acrylics on canvas, to meticulous wood carvings, to a mammoth ironwork sculpture that elevates a banal parking lot into an outdoor art installation. For the artists -- many of them local, too -- restaurants can be a great place to hang their work and even make a sale or two.
So if you happen to be at one of the following restaurants, pause from your pasta-eating and look at the surrounding walls: You might spot a contemporary take of a classic Remington or Russell -- before it ends up at the Amon Carter Museum.
2933 Crockett St., Fort Worth
Art on display: Co-owner Sara Tillman's art sensibility is primarily reflected in the amount of flea-market and garage-sale-based art she has collected over the years. On a wall near the bar hang more than 15 examples of this kind of naif-style art.
On another, even more striking wall, four large panels are filled with hand-painted paper cutouts of birds and flowers. Here, even the flat-screen televisions are framed like works of art.
Over two of Tillman's main rows of tables and banquettes hang eye-catching sculpture: 14 elk, ram, buck and deer heads, all laser-cut carved out of oak and set against the pale Texas-native white pine restaurant walls.
Just above the fireplace is a portrait of Tillman made of glitter. Done by a West Coast artist, the work shows Tillman posed on a motorcycle in a feisty stance.
Not to miss: Don't daydream on the way to the restrooms, as you'll miss a trio of Elvis pictures done in oil on a fine velvet mat. Inside the restrooms hang thousands of ribbons, denoting victories in, among other events, the Dogwood Festival, the Amish Quilt Contest and the Crispy Fried Cantaloupe Pie Contest; you'll also see pop, country and classic rock album covers, from Dolly Parton to Tom Jones to Kathie Lee Gifford.
(at Worthington Renaissance Hotel)
200 Main St., Fort Worth
Art on display: The Carson Art Gallery in Dallas is responsible for stocking Vidalias with much of its cache of Southern-themed art, which includes a larger-than-life photograph of a plantation-worthy, weather-beaten door and large-scale photographs of a sun-dappled cotton field, a battered Coca-Cola insignia and old kitchen tins marked "biscuits." Naturally, the restaurant also offers a series of pictures of various kinds of onions, including the restaurant's Vidalia namesake.
Not to miss: The artistic focal point are 12 hand-blown glass plates. Suspended on a wall over two small tables on the far side of the eatery, this plate-art arrangement was created by Dallas-based father and son artists Ron and Chris Mars. The plates' colors, which range from pink grapefruit and cobalt blue to neon yellow and French-dressing orange, almost leap off the salmon-colored wall. Each plate has either a scalloped or slightly lilting edge, as if the entire work were part of one large wave of Texas wildflowers. Each plate's "blossomy" center is filled with a cluster of stamens and petals.
BOB'S STEAK AND CHOP HOUSE
1300 Houston St., Fort Worth
Art on display: A collection of sepia-toned horse photography along one wall exemplifies Bob's Texas-equine themed interior, which also includes two impressive photographic collages hanging at the restaurant's entryway. Along part of the restaurant's most eastern wall are reproductions of famous cattle brands, which surround two cases filled with 11 sparkling Western belt buckles.
Hanging above two private dining nooks are paintings depicting different aspects of a colorful Texas sky.
Not to miss: Painted by Brian Borrello, an unnamed work above the hostess stand shows a silhouetted Fort Worth skyline that creeps along the canvas like an electrocardiogram readout. The truly fascinating thing about this work is not so much its form but its primary material: motor oil.
2221 E. Lamar Blvd., Arlington
Art on display: This elegant French restaurant in Arlington could change its name to Simone de Chateauneuf -- owing to the preponderance of her artworks on Cacharel's walls. The oils on canvas and watercolors by Chateauneuf -- a French native who has lived in North Texas for more than 40 years -- have been part of the interior design of the restaurant since its beginning in 1986. They are almost all landscapes, and they all feature the sunny pastels of lavender, honey, saffron and mandarin orange that illuminate her favorite subject, France's southern region of Provence.
Not to miss: Several of Chateauneuf's works evoke one of Paris' most familiar and frequented landmarks: Montmartre's Sacre Coeur church and Place du Tertre. One can make out, through Chateauneuf's impressionist-school brush strokes, the restless activity of this energetic French square.
OLD RIP'S TEX-MEX RESTAURANT
3105 Cockrell Ave., Fort Worth
Art on display: Perhaps the richest local restaurant-as-gallery, Old Rip's has 50 works of art inside and outside -- three created by co-owner Cy Barcus. Barcus' Old Rip's has become one of the more important restaurant repositories of rare prints representing the historic local art style schools: the Fort Worth School (such artists as Dixon Reeder, Kelly Fearing and Bror Utter) and the Dallas Nine (represented by the work of Otis Dozier and Alexandre Hogue). Dallas-based photographer Jeff Scott is responsible for two eye-catching pieces: crystal-clear photos of a revolver and a gold-painted rotary phone, each the property of Elvis Presley. The World War I commemorative .45, boasting the letter E. on its handle, was given to the King by President Richard Nixon. In terms of sheer size, nothing beats the 18-foot-wide, 5-foot-high oil painting MIG (as in a MiG fighter plane), which hangs over the bar. The work is by Paul Manes.
Not to miss: Make sure either on the way in or out of Old Rip's that you spend some time admiring the four sculpted works that bisect the parking lot. Three of them were made by Cy Barcus. Inspired by French sculptor Bernar Venet, the two circular works were each formed from great partial circles of "angle iron" that came from a Fort Worth steel mill.
2443 Forest Park Blvd., Fort Worth
Art on display: When it comes to the art at Grady's, it's all about quality, not quantity. Look for Western photographer Bob Moorhouse's dramatic shot of a silhouetted cowboy set against a lava-colored setting sun -- it's given prime space in a nook to the right of the main bar. A true Moorhouse trove of 11 photos is on display in Grady's lower private-party dining room. Moorhouse captures in his viewfinder the weathered horsemen of the Texan plains.
Not to miss: At the end of Grady's left wall hang the art treasures of the restaurant: five distinctive pen-and-ink drawings collected over the years by Caroline Lee, the aunt of owner Grady Spears. Done by Howard Swift, a former animator for Walt Disney (he worked on such landmark movies and television shows as Pinocchio , Fantasia and Bugs Bunny), Swift's works capture horses in mid-bucking fury, their riders trying in vain to corral these unbridled creatures. Swift displays all of this energy through an accumulation of meticulous pen and pencil strokes.
ELLERBE FINE FOODS
1501 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth
Art on display: A theme of family domesticity runs through the art at Ellerbe Fine Foods. Five vintage photos of Fort Worth line a hallway. Meanwhile, Fort Worth painter Linda Wallace has a mini-gallery of five oils on canvas, all set against the Navajo-white walls of the restaurant. From the first one that greets customers as they enter the restaurant (technically in its "market" section), all of Wallace's works convey the visual comfort food of such still lifes as deeply tufted chairs, ripened fruit (pears mostly) and a cowboy hat the color of straw. The restaurant also boasts a print of George Rodrigue's Blue Dog series -- this one dubbed Heat in the Kitchen. It features five bright-blue canines with feral yellow eyes, all outfitted appropriately in chef's toques, smocks and bandannas.
Not to miss: A collection of aprons worn by the grandmother, great-grandmother and great aunt of Ellerbe co-owner and head chef Molly McCook hangs decoratively on simple hooks, while one apron is framed. The framed apron is like an abstract work of art, its butterfly wing pattern containing colors from clementine to robin's egg blue, set against a pin-prick-size set of blue dots and an ivory-colored, lacy pattern.
Andrew Marton is a Star-Telegram senior arts writer, 817-390-7679