There's a pretty short answer to how the West was fun: Stock Show, y'all.
Whether you want see a rodeo, goat milking, midway thrills, a new tractor or some new tight-fittin' jeans, the big show, which starts Friday, will have it in spades.
But even though the annual event -- it's the 115th year for the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo -- has something for just about everybody, it's good to remember that there's true grit outside the Will Rogers complex.
So while the Stock Show can absorb any amount of attendees' time and money, in the spirit of getting "cowboyed up," visitors might consider throwing a lasso around some of these other attractions. And don't worry if you're a mild-West type who doesn't know one end of a cayuse from the other. Nothing in this food 'n' fun roundup is designed to throw anybody.
Fort Worth's Reata has steaks, game, dessert tacos and Texas-size side dishes -- calf fries with cream gravy, anyone? -- just like the original out in Alpine. But we suggest you mosey over to the downtown Fort Worth restaurant now, because it's got one thing the original doesn't: the Super Bowl licking at its boot heels.
Though there's a Reata incarnation at the Stock Show and Rodeo, the Houston Street store will reconfigure tables for larger parties as the Super Bowl brings lights, action and cameras to Sundance Square. Word is, there may be a small amount of walk-up space available between Wednesday and Sunday of Super Bowl week, but seeing as how patrons should not count on being able to roll up and expect a table for two, you might boot-scoot into downtown if you want to sit down to tenderloin tamales before Feb. 7. 310 Houston St., Fort Worth. 817-336-1009; www.reata.net.
Meanwhile, the Lonesome Dove Western Bistro is chef Tim Love's award-winning take on Western eats -- like quail quesadillas, kangaroo carpaccio and other inventive Western-themed entrees. In 2006, the cowboy hat-wearing chef rocked the Food Network's Iron Chef America, topping "Iron Chef" Masaharu Morimoto in a televised battle of the kitchen titans. Whether it's in his cookbook, Tim Love on the Lonesome Dove Trail, or on the menu, he blends ingredients that most chefs wouldn't: rabbit-rattlesnake sausage, spicy manchego rosti and crème fraîche, for example.
Like Reata, it's a venue that will be seeing a lot of action as Super Sunday bowls into town, so if you want to do some fine dining outside the confines of the Stock Show, you might want to show the Dove some love now. 2406 N. Main St., Fort Worth. 817-740-8810; www.lonesomedovebistro.com.
Steppin' out in the Stockyards
The fact that the historic Stockyards draw some 2 million visitors annually confirms that there's a lot to like on and around Exchange Avenue. The Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame has to be atop the list of attractions. Housed where cavalries from around the world bought their World War I mounts, the venue harks back to Fort Worth's equine past with a collection of more than 60 historic sleighs, wagons and buggies, including a replica of one Teddy Roosevelt rode in during his inaugural parade.
For fans of more recent vintage horsepower, there's Star-Telegram founder Amon G. Carter's 1933 V8 Caddy. The hall of fame is also exhibiting a collection of Mexican Gen. Santa Ana's mementos, including his field desk and crutches, as well as uniforms, weapons and photos of early Texas Rangers Jack Hays and Sam Walker, plus a display of famed boot maker John Justin's personal collection of footwear.
And would any Western hall of fame be complete without hats? Nolan Ryan and actor Tommy Lee Jones, to name just a couple of inductees who've contributed memorabilia, cast a shadow with some big-brimmed toppers. Barn A, 128 E. Exchange Ave., Fort Worth. 817-626-7131; www.texascowboyhalloffame.org.
Billy Bob's Texas is touted as the world's largest honky-tonk, and the Stockyards staple is a giant just about any way you measure: star power, amount of beer sold, number of belt buckle-polishing ladies two-stepping around the dance floors. While the Stock Show has begun to again put some live music in the mix, to see the really big country names, you need to check this venue out in person. Headlining during the Stock Show run are Aaron Watson (Saturday), Cody Canada & the Departed (Jan. 21), Tracy Lawrence (Jan. 22), Josh Abbott (Jan. 28), Chris Cagle (Jan. 29), and Clay Walker (Feb. 5). Billy Bob's does mix in noncountry performers, but visitors can pretty much count on seeing some of the genre's best on a regular basis. Don't forget to ride the mechanical bull. 2520 Rodeo Plaza, Fort Worth. 817-624-7117; www.billybobstexas.com.
Speaking of bulls, check out the Cowtown Coliseum. That's where they hold Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show. It includes cowboys, American Indians and all the features that audiences would have seen at the original show there in 1909. You can catch it during the final day of the Stock Show, Feb. 5. 121 E. Exchange Ave., Fort Worth. 817-625-1025; www.cowtowncoliseum.com.
How the West was one
Whether it's buffalo soldiers or bull riders, the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum is the spot to visit for displays on the contributions of African-Americans, American Indians and Europeans to the Old West. There's also a hall of fame that showcases other outstanding figures. 3400 Mount Vernon Ave., Fort Worth. 817-922-9999; www.cowboysofcolor.org.
Meanwhile, the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame shows what life was like in the West for women. On exhibit through April 3 is "Apron Chronicles: A Patchwork of American Recollections," which presents history through photos and more than 150 vintage aprons. All museum members get into the Stock Show free (parking and rodeos not included). 1720 Gendy St., Fort Worth. 817-336-4475; cowgirl.net.
Stompin' & croonin'
The Stagecoach Ballroom on Belknap Street may be Fort Worth's oldest honky-tonk. In business for more than 50 years, the 'Coach features dance lessons on 2,000 square feet of ballroom hardwood, and acts such as Johnny Rodriguez and Dale Watson. Don't worry if you don't have a date: Friday is singles night, and folks start rolling in around 7 p.m. The Coachmen play at 5 p.m. every Sunday, after dance lessons from 2 to 4 p.m. This month, you can learn to waltz or do the Fort Worth Shuffle. 2516 E. Belknap St., Fort Worth. 817-831-2261; www.stagecoachballroom.com.
Arlington gained a big chunk of country lovin' when Johnnie High moved his show east. Johnnie High's Country Music Revue holds weekly Saturday performances that feature a house band backing some of the area's top new local talent in the just-renovated Arlington Music Hall. Performers have to audition to play here, and while their personal lives may not always be minty fresh -- the recently-in-the-tabloids LeAnn Rimes did more than 400 gigs here -- the on-stage content has always been family-friendly. Incidentally, there's now country-themed food immediately next door at Babe's. 224 N. Center St., Arlington. 817-226-4400; www.johnniehighcountry.com.
John Austin, 817-390-7874