Food & Drink

Eats Beat: A gravy-fueled bus tour stops at West Side Cafe

Dallas actor Burton Gilliam at West Side Cafe for Texas Chicken-Fried Steak Day.
Dallas actor Burton Gilliam at West Side Cafe for Texas Chicken-Fried Steak Day.

Nearing its 20th year, West Side Cafe is finally getting regional love.

The busy cafe on Camp Bowie Boulevard West is always filled with local diners and travelers for breakfast pancakes, plate lunches or comfort-food dinners with a choice of about 20 veggies.

On Monday, a bus tour from Dallas made West Side a must-stop for Texas Chicken-Fried Steak Day.

“We couldn’t leave Fort Worth out, and this is a great place for chicken-fried steak,” said Norma’s Cafe owner Ed Murph, leading a charity bus tour of 25 Dallas guests, including actor Burton Gilliam.

(Gilliam is known more for his line about a side dish in the 1974 comedy movie Blazing Saddles: “How ’bout some more beans?”)

“We were looking for places with the same spirit as Norma’s,” said Murph, owner of an iconic Oak Cliff neighborhood cafe that opened in 1956.

West Side Cafe is a crossroad for the Western Hills neighborhood and suburban Benbrook, but also for military retirees and defense workers from nearby Lockheed Martin and what is now Naval Air Station Fort Worth.

One of owner Tracey Sanford’s original business partners was Sweet Shop candy company founder Bill Byrd, and West Side’s cakes, pies and dinner rolls are still close to Bill and Judie Byrd’s family recipes.

In 20 years, West Side has steadily changed “a little, depending who’s in the kitchen, but we try to never change much,” Sanford said.

Customers don’t order as much chicken-fried steak as they used to, he said. Or fried anything. But they do order West Side’s vegetables.

The cafe is now known as much for squash casserole or turnip greens as for cream gravy.

“But we still sell plenty of chicken-fried steak and potatoes,” he said. West Side makes mashed potatoes from scratch four times a day, he said.

Some of West Side’s customers are not only daily regulars but twice-daily regulars.

“Some, three times a day,” he said.

West Side is shifting to winter hours: 6 a.m.-9 p.m. daily except Friday, when closing is 10 p.m.; 7950 Camp Bowie Blvd. West at Cherry Lane, 817-560-1996.

Arterial report

The chicken-fried steak tour’s other stops: Our Place in Burleson, Court House Cafe in Waxahachie and, of course, Norma’s.

(Texas Highways magazine readers’ recent top five: Zentner’s Daughter Steak House in San Angelo, Po Melvin’s in Irving, Goodson’s in Tomball, DeWese’s Tip Top Cafe in San Antonio and perennial No. 1 Mary’s Cafe in Strawn, about an hour’s drive west of Fort Worth.)

And yes, there was some bad news this week about processed meats and beef, with the primary offenders being wieners, ham and sausage. (Many restaurants now offer turkey sausage and bacon.)

Chicken-fried steak is not processed — only tenderized — but enjoy it as sparingly as you would any fried food.

Follow that cafe

Potager Cafe, the downtown Arlington garden-fresh restaurant, is in its last week at its current location and will move Saturday.

Potager owner Cynthia Chippindale now plans to gradually expand the menu at her nearby shop, Potager’s Other Stuff, and offer more lunch and dnner items.

Chippindale said she will be working with local beef and lamb providers to get “the very freshest of everything” for this closing week at the original location.

Potager is open for lunch Tuesday and Wednesday, lunch and dinner Thursday through Saturday this week at 315 S. Mesquite St. The smaller shop is open for light items, baked goods, coffees and wines daily at 208 S. Mesquite St.;

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538,, @EatsBeat. His column appears Wednesdays in Life & Arts and Fridays in