Eats Beat

Three local restaurant comeback stories, starting with Youngblood’s fried chicken

Fried chicken is the star, supported by yeast rolls, greens and mac-and-cheese at J.T. Youngblood’s, a Texas icon reborn in Austin.
Fried chicken is the star, supported by yeast rolls, greens and mac-and-cheese at J.T. Youngblood’s, a Texas icon reborn in Austin. bud@star-telegram.com

Talk about the good old days.

In a summer when old favorites seem to be closing, a couple of favorite restaurants have made a stunning comeback.

Youngblood’s Fried Chicken, a Waco-based 1950s-’70s chain with locations statewide, is back in business at the new J.T. Youngblood’s chicken restaurant in Austin.

Three prominent Austin chefs teamed up with the Youngblood family to build a new restaurant from scratch that looks like a legacy chicken dinner house, down to the bright blue-and-yellow colors and the helpings of hot yeast rolls with honey.

In Austin, fried chicken is trendy and retro. In the rest of Texas, it’s just dinner.

Either way, you’ll be impressed with Youngblood’s big, juicy fried chicken, offered either in platters ($9-$13) or in a family-sized 21-piece “Tower of Power” with bread-and-butter pickles and rolls ($55).

The recipe is very similar to Babe’s Chicken Dinner House, but Youngblood’s adds 1950s shakes, floats, soft-serve and old-fashioned coconut, chocolate, apple or cherry pies.

Yes, there’s also rotisserie chicken for those who’d rather only reminisce about frying. And in a token gesture to modernity, chicken is also available on a Caesar or currant-almond salad.

J.T. Youngblood’s is open for lunch and dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays and lunch Sundays; 1905 Aldrich St. (in a new development on what used to be the Austin airport), 512-649-8333, jtyoungbloods.com.

(The first local Youngblood’s opened in 1950 at 2301 Hemphill St., Fort Worth, moving later to 5300 Trail Lake Drive in Wedgewood Village. Other locations were in Arlington and Kennedale.)

Comeback II: Fontana’s

In Arlington, Fontana’s Fine Cuisine has returned, like something from a 1980s time warp.

The original Fontana’s fine-dining restaurant opened about 40 years ago on Texas 360 at Arkansas Lane. Later, it moved to north Arlington and then Grand Prairie, give or take a couple of stops in between.

The new Fontana’s is just like the old Fontana’s. And that’s good.

If your favorite white-tablecloth restaurant has gone by the wayside, Fontana’s is here with salmon Newburg, stuffed sole, escargot and 1960s desserts such as bananas Foster or cherries jubilee.

Happy hour features cosmos and wines. The music is older than the servers: love ballads by Dionne Warwick or Diana Ross (“Touch Me in the Morning”).

The entire experience is similar to long-gone Arlington restaurants such as Portofino or Italian Villa. Lunches are relatively inexpensive ($10-$17), quiet and comfortable.

Fontana’s is open for lunch and dinner daily at 6407 S. Cooper St., 682-323-5704, fontanasfinecuisine.com.

Comeback III: Sammie’s

Sammie’s Bar-B-Q is also making a comeback.

The 71-year Fort Worth landmark closed Sunday, but will reopen under owner Sam Gibbins from another Riverside-area barbecue landmark, the Smoke Pit.

Gibbins bought Sammie’s name and recipes, rehired the staff and will reopen after some repairs, he said. Fort Worth chefs Michael Thomson and Grady Spears will join him for “guest chef” stints to offer specials once a month, he said.

The 55-year-old Smoke Pit will continue unchanged under Gibbins and co-owner Annette Hinkle, he said. Gibbins bought it from matriarch Betty Mullins’ family in 2001, and has also operated a barbecue-steakhouse in Sansom Park.

He’s the third Sam to own Sammie’s, origially founded in 1946 by Sammie Norwood, the owner of a nearby dance hall. In the 1970s, Norwood sold it to the late Sam Allen and the Platt family.

“I’ve cried a lot” about selling, Bobby Platt said this week.

“This has been part of my life 40 years. My dad used to tell everybody I was the only master-degreed potato-peeler in Tarrant County.”

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

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