Tucked in a hidden corner of a neighborhood shopping center in west Fort Worth, Michaels Cuisine Restaurant & Bar has quietly and consistently served a loyal clientele for 25 years.
It’s an impressive feat for any business, considering the economic downturns and market crashes that have challenged business owners over the past 25 years. But this particular pocket of Fort Worth has seen years of construction and development and increased restaurant competition all the way down West Seventh Street, too.
Chef-owner Michael Thomson, who at 6 foot 5 inches towers above most people he meets, says consistency — and, at times, creative marketing — has helped contribute to his restaurant’s success.
“I knew 25 years ago if we put out a quality product with unequaled service, we would get the city behind us and we would develop a nice client base,” Thomson says. “And we did. The challenge was to keep them.”
Thomson grew up in Florida and as a child enjoyed helping his mother cook at home, he says, even preparing his parents breakfast in bed on the weekends.
At age 13, he got his first restaurant job, as a bus boy and dishwasher for a neighbor’s seafood eatery. He eventually made his way to the kitchen and never left.
“I’ve been hooked on restaurants ever since,” he says.
By age 16, he says, he knew he wanted to open his own restaurant. He moved to Fort Worth from Florida as a teenager when his father was recruited to work on F-16s for General Dynamics. He landed a kitchen gig at the Fort Worth Boat Club just three days after the move.
Thomson ultimately left for college in South Texas, but returned to Fort Worth, still itching to work in the restaurant industry. His culinary résumé includes time in the hotel industry, as well as a stint at former Fort Worth favorite Epicure on the Park, where he earned a reputation for what would become the beginnings of his signature contemporary ranch cuisine.
It seems like yesterday, but then it seems like an eternity.
Chef Michael Thomson on his restaurant opening in 1992
“People would tell me, ‘You need to get a restaurant,’ ” says Thomson, 55. “That’s when I started working on Michaels. I found a business partner and opened in March 1992. It seems like yesterday, but then it seems like an eternity.”
It was at the beginning of the Southwestern culinary movement, when chefs like Dean Fearing and Stephan Pyles were gaining fame for their rustic dishes that incorporated lots of spice.
“But I wasn’t doing what Dean Fearing and Stephan Pyles were doing in Dallas,” Thomson says. “I was using a lot of the same ingredients, but I was using chile peppers in all sorts of forms — fresh, dried, powdered, pureed.”
Thomson was also incorporating French-inspired technique, using the Madeira wine cream sauce method he honed at Epicure on the Park to create an ancho chile-bourbon version for his peppercorn-crusted beef tenderloin, a dish from his original menu that still exists today.
“When I opened the restaurant and started adapting my repertoire, I decided to utilize the ancho chile pepper. It was my favorite pepper at the time,” Thomson says. “I used bourbon because it was a Native American spirit. There’s a lot of philosophy behind my cuisine.”
Thomson based his concept on the idea of upscale ranch lifestyle, one where ranches serve not as much for managing cattle, but as relaxing getaways with refined-rustic charm.
His restaurant, which once served as the location for Dos Gringos and longtime seafood institution Zuider Zee, was designed with a mix of rusted metals and bright colors, fitting the contemporary ranch-style setting. He built a collection of fine artwork, too.
But when business suffered due to extensive construction on West Seventh Street, Thomson was forced to sell much of it to weather the downturn.
“It was a little scary at times because I had a lot of good clients who said, ‘Michael, we really want to come to your restaurant but we just can’t fight [the construction].’ Or they’d say, ‘I got a flat tire the last time I drove down Seventh Street.’ ”
Thomson focused on hosting private events and winemaker dinners to draw patrons in and even launched an advertising campaign using detour signs. Now that construction is over, Thomson is happy development from downtown has finally reached his end of West Seventh Street.
We don’t say we want to be the best in town. We just want to be the most consistent in town.
Chef Michael Thomson
“It makes me proud when I talk to someone in the dining room and they tell me they haven’t been here in 10 years and it’s just as good as they ever remembered it,” Thomson says. “That’s part of that consistency that means a lot to me.
“It’s one thing I really push with my staff, both personally and businesswise. We don’t say we want to be the best in town. We just want to be the most consistent in town.”
To celebrate the restaurant’s 25th anniversary, Thomson is hosting not one but multiple parties all year. A patio party Wednesday night will include a nod to the Dean & DeLuca Invitational. Michaels Cuisine’s “Colonial 2016 Kick-Off Party” will feature Thomson’s “brat-tub” beer-braised bratwurst, “Colonial fairway” margaritas, and Augusta jerk chicken with epazote black beans and saffron rice, inspired by Rae’s Coastal Cafe in Augusta, Ga., home of the Masters golf tournament.
The festive affair will take place on Michaels’ newly refurbished patio, which has been updated with a fresh look, new landscaping and TVs.
Michaels Cuisine’s Colonial 2016 Kick-Off Party
6 p.m. Wednesday
Michaels Cuisine Restaurant & Bar, 3413 W. Seventh St., Fort Worth
Augusta jerk chicken
- 3 tablespoons fresh garlic, chopped
- 1 1/2 habanero peppers, chopped
- 1/2 fresh jalapeño, chopped
- 1/4 bunch fresh cilantro, with stems, chopped
- 1/2 white onion, medium chopped
- 1 ounce tequila silver
- 1 ounce red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 1/2 tablespoon bottled yellow habanero pepper sauce
- 1 ounce soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, toasted
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Jamaican jerk seasoning
- 1/8 cup achiote paste, packed (found in Latin markets)
- 1/4 cup corn oil
- 3 2.5-pound whole chickens, cut into breasts, wings, thighs and legs
1. Combine the garlic, peppers, cilantro and onion in a food processor and process until finely chopped. Add the tequila, red wine vinegar, juices, pepper sauce and soy sauce and puree until smooth. Add the granulated garlic, oregano, salt, sugar and spices and process until smooth. Last, add the achiote paste and corn oil and process until all ingredients are well blended.
2. Pour marinade over chicken pieces. Coat each piece completely and rub the marinade paste into the chicken. Marinate for 24 hours.
3. Cook over low heat on a charcoal grill at 225 degrees until crisp and cooked through.
Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 8: 382 calories, 19 grams fat, 7 grams carbohydrates, 42 grams protein, 120 milligrams cholesterol, 639 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 47 percent of calories from fat.
Epazote black beans
- 1 pound dried black turtle beans, picked clean of stones
- 3 quarts water, plus more if needed
- 5 medium white onions (1 peeled and quartered; 4 peeled, quartered and layers separated)
- 12 garlic cloves, smashed and divided
- 4 to 5 fresh epazote, with stems (found in Latin markets)
- 1/4 cup mazola corn oil
- 1 fresh jalapeño, with seeds, sliced thick
- 1 tablespoon Michaels Roc Doc Rub (recipe follows or available at Michaels Cuisine)
- 1/4 cup chicken base or bouillon powder
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
- 1/4 cup fresh epazote leaves, chopped (found in Latin markets)
- Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
- Mexican cotija cheese, crumbled (optional)
1. In a large stock pot bring the beans, water, 1 quartered onion, 6 smashed garlic cloves and epazote with stems to a soft boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and steep for two hours. Remove the epazote stems, drain and discard water. Place beans back in the pot and reserve.
2. In a very large saute pan, heat the corn oil and add the remaining garlic cloves. Saute until lightly browned. Increase heat and add the sliced jalapeño and remaining onions. Season with the Roc Doc Rub and saute until golden brown. Add chicken base and stir to coat the vegetables. Add the chicken stock to deglaze the saute pan and then add mixture to the beans in the pot.
3. Add the crushed tomatoes, chopped epazote leaves, and a small amount of salt and pepper to the pot of beans. Cover and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes to marry the flavors and finish cooking the beans. Add more water or stock if necessary to keep the beans fully covered while simmering.
4. When the beans are tender but still slightly firm, add the cilantro. Using a potato masher or wire whisk, mash approximately 1/3 of the beans into a puree to add texture. Adjust the seasoning with more Roc Doc Rub or salt and pepper. Serve topped with Mexican cotija cheese, if desired.
Michaels Cuisine Roc-Doc-Rub
Makes 2 1/4 cups
- 1/4 cup salt
- 1/2 cup fresh ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup Old Bay seasoning
- 1/2 cup granulated garlic
- 1/4 cup Worcestershire powder
- 1/4 cup chipotle chile powder
Blend all ingredients well and then sift three times through rotary flour sifter. Store in an airtight container. Will keep several months if dry and airtight.
Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 10: 233 calories, 6 grams fat, 35 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams protein, no cholesterol, 8 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber, 23 percent of calories from fat.
Nutritional analysis of rub, per 1-tablespoon serving: 15 calories, trace fat, 3 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, no cholesterol, 773 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 16 percent of calories from fat.
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads
- 2 quarts rich chicken stock (canned chicken stock may be enhanced with 1 to 2 tablespoons chicken bouillon powder, to taste)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons corn oil
- 2 cups white onions, 1/4-inch dice
- 1 cup red bell peppers, 1/4-inch dice
- 1 cup green bell peppers, 1/4-inch dice
- 1/4 cup fresh garlic, minced
- 1 quart uncooked converted rice, such as Uncle Ben’s Original
- Converted Brand long-grain white rice
1. Add the saffron threads to the chicken stock and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.
2. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
3. Heat the oils in a large braising pan and add the onions, bell peppers, and garlic. Saute for several minutes until lightly browned. Add the rice to the pan and saute, constantly stirring until each grain of rice is coated with the seasoned oil and is glossy. Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer over a medium flame. Carefully stir to mix all ingredients. Do not over-stir or rice will be sticky.
4. Cover with foil and bake rice for 40 minutes or until rice is just tender. Remove from the oven and let sit on top of the stove, lightly covered with foil, to allow flavors to marry.
Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 10: 364 calories, 6 grams fat, 66 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, trace cholesterol, 1,947 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 16 percent of calories from fat.