Back in 2009, when Fred’s Texas Cafe won the first DFW.com Battle of the Burgers, many other things didn’t exist.
Those include Rodeo Goat, which won the 2013 Burger Battle and is just down the street from the original Fred’s; much of what is in the West Seventh corridor, where a number of other restaurants and nightclubs have popped up during the past several years, as have the parking headaches that come along with the increased development; and Hopdoddy Burger Bar’s Fort Worth location, adding to an already thick concentration of burger joints within a couple of square miles.
And somehow, Fred’s is still standing, and has been since 1978. Owner Terry Chandler (aka “The Outlaw Chef”) offers some perspective on the customer loyalty that has kept the original Currie Street location of Fred’s going even with all the new competition
“Fort Worth’s always been a small town within a cosmopolitan city,” Chandler says. “It’s almost like there’s four or five thousand people that all know each other, and there’s a million people just in the way.”
Chandler lets out a boisterous laugh and then continues:
“We’re still keeping it real around here,” he says. “Our fans our still loyal, and thank God. They don’t seem to mind the parking issue and they’re still coming.”
With its 2017 win, Fred’s has become the first repeat winner in the Burger Battles, which have taken place every two years since 2009. Some things have not changed. Angel Mota was working the flattop grill in 2009, and there he was, clad in a Fred’s-appropriate cowboy hat and cooking up verde burgers in 2017. He’s been there nearly 16 years, and says he’s cooked thousands of burgers.
But even Fred’s has seen changes: In 2011, it added a second location, known as Fred’s North, on Western Center Boulevard a little west of some of the most hellacious traffic on I-35W, and it has its own crowd of regulars.
Then in 2013 came Fred’s TCU, in the old Oui Lounge location on Bluebonnet Circle, a little over a half-mle south of the intersection of University Drive and West Berry Street.
“It’s quite an ordeal going from one to three,” Chandler says. “Having two is double work from one, but having three is like having 20 times the work. It just compounds it.”
And then there’s a brand-new change: a streamlining of the menu. During our Burger Battle rounds, two favorites were the verde burger, a green-chile cheeseburger made with Hatch chiles; and the enchilada burger, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a patty topped with an enchilada.
Both those are gone from the menus brought to the table (but there are some new items, such as a queso-topped and a “Texican” chicken-fried steak) and are now chalkboard specials, which Chandler says will have rotating availability. Don’t expect that verde burger to stick around long: Fred’s will offer it till it runs out of its supply of this season’s Hatch chiles, and it has already used a lot of them.
“After much soul-searching, we decided to downscale the menu,” Chandler says. “We had all these things on the menu, and it seemed like a lot of them were getting in the way. It was too much stuff.” Chandler adds that the smaller menu will help speed up service times. “We decided to do a few things really well instead of a few things kinda all over the place.”
It’s not all about Fort Worth. Chandler and his crew recently helped serve thousands of Hurricane Harvey survivors and first responders at a relief camp nicknamed “Cowboy Camp David” in the Port Aransas area (Fort Worth chef Jon Bonnell and his crew also worked at the camp). Chefs and cooks at the camp cooked donated food — pretty much anything that was donated.
“Cowboy Camp David was started by a couple of locals there, David Heasley and Jon Steele,” Chandler says. “They just started with a couple of woks on some propane burners and a barrel smoker. And this cook came, and brought his stuff, and that cook came and brought his stuff, we came and it kinda wound up being like a ‘Mad Max’ tailgate party.”
It wasn’t all work and no play: Chandler, a surfer, caught some waves while he was down on the coast. But for the past couple of weeks, he’s been back in Fort Worth, where the original Fred’s has been consistent for nearly 40 years.
“You have to care,” Chandler says. “We have a great staff, and that’s the backbone of any business.”