The tiny ramshackle building on the Weatherford traffic circle, once home to a Kentucky Fried Chicken, an outpost of Charley’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers and, most recently, beloved Mex-Mex joint Salsa Fuego, has been repurposed once again, this time into The Dive Oyster Bar.
Only it’s not so ramshackle anymore. A nip/tuck from new owners Robbie and Yvonne Turman, who also own nearby Oscar’s Pub and The Mule, has resulted in a tidy, charming and upbeat restaurant that almost defies its name.
Seating has been rearranged and now the space is more open and feels larger. A communal table has taken the place of some of Salsa Fuego’s rickety, cramped tables. The more welcoming atmosphere is accented by attentive, friendly service and a likable nautical theme that stops shy of going overboard.
In the kitchen is chef Josh Rangel, formerly a sous chef at Jon Bonnell’s Waters Coastal Cuisine, who offers a menu of raw and cooked oysters, a handful of seafood entrees, po boys, a burger and sides. Corners are seldom cut here — even the cocktail sauce and ketchup are made in-house — resulting in food that is often good and sometimes even stellar.
Local chefs have, for a while now, been dressing up burgers, tacos and pizzas, garnishing them with gourmet ingredients.
Rangel applies a similar philosophy to raw oysters. During our visit, you could order oysters topped with chimichurri sauce, grapefruit vodka, ponzu sauce and ginger.
We ordered the house specialty, bloody mary oysters ($12), topped with chopped tomatoes, lime juice and Tabasco sauce. A half-dozen cleanly shucked oysters, sourced from Southern Virginia, arrived in a tin tray, chilled, resting on a bed of ice.
For some oyster lovers, gulping is a norm, but these were bites worth taking: The soft meat was fresh and sweet, and tiny drops of Tabasco offered not only balance but a gentle kick. Lime juice, from grilled limes, had us thinking less of bloody marys, more of margaritas.
Oysters were good, but even more impressive was an entrée of blackened redfish ($18), served under a blanket of crawfish etouffee. With each bite, it got better and better. We started with the roux, whose nutty flavor was heightened by Shiner Bock beer, then savored buttery chunks of crawfish. Underneath was a large redfish fillet, with an expertly seared skin and meat both smoky and silky.
We thought less of the clam chowder ($7), which looked promising, as its surface came sprinkled with tiny bits of bacon. But here was proof that bacon doesn’t make everything better: It couldn’t save the bisque’s overly bitter flavor, or compensate for the MIA clams.
Kimchi fries ($8) were gone in no time, however. Cool presentation: Fries, kimchi, green onions and a sunny side up egg were piled into in a tin beach pail, a pair of forks protruding, inviting us to dig in.
Fries were of the hand-cut variety, thick, soft and salty, and they made great sidekicks to the crunchy kimchi, fermented for three days but devoid of the insatiable fire that sometimes accompanies. Instead, these leaves of Napa cabbage were spicy yet composed.
An egg costs extra. When the yolk breaks across the fries, creating a salty and buttery one-two punch, you’ll be glad you spent the extra dollar.
The $9 Key lime pie — prepared by Rangel’s wife, Brooke, who also works in the restaurant —caused a stir when it emerged from the kitchen, it was so big and so, so meant to be shared.
There might not be a better slice of Key lime in the city — its creamy filling was as bright and green as a Christmas tree, and its flavor found a perfect resting point between tart and sweet.
A foundation of thick graham cracker crust was dense yet moist, not the least bit crumbly. A spoonful of housemade whipped cream came on top, along with sprinkles of lime zest.
With food this good, The Dive should quickly establish Rangel as a rising star in Fort Worth’s restaurant scene.