For the first time in his career, Tim Love — Fort Worth’s leading chef and restaurateur — may have bitten off more than he can chew. When Eater Dallas met him a week before opening Tannahill’s Tavern, his newest restaurant in the Fort Worth Stockyards and sixth opening this year, things were still in disarray. The Tavern is in Tannahill’s, a thousand-person concert venue that opened in October. The restaurant’s opening was meant to happen on November 1 and, after hit all manner of delays, it is open as of Thursday, December 8 for lunch and dinner. And as Love walked us through his not-quite complete kitchen and a dining room with roughly his dozenth choice in chairs lining the tables thanks to supply chain issues, he makes it clear that the whole enterprise is balanced on the success of one dish: New Orleans-style oysters.
He designed the whole kitchen around preparing them, putting a pass-through up front with an oyster shucking station on one side, so customers will be able to see and smell them, coated in garlic parmesan butter, cheese, breadcrumbs, and a side of garlic bread. Love keeps expressing disbelief that nearly no place in Dallas or Fort Worth serves the dish. “I hate to say it, but it’s this is going to be the key to success in this restaurant,” Love says. “If we can get people to get on the oyster wagon like I am, I think it’s going to be a thing.”
As it should, Tannahill’s serves tavern food. The menu, and the decor — the whole place really — is crafted to be a step up from the British pub and live music vibe that it evokes. Love named the spot after his oldest son, who currently plays football for the University of Texas, and created a menu based on foods they’ve discovered or loved together on their travels. Love sits down at a table in the lounge to sample several dishes, because the dining room was still under construction — the opening would get pushed back a few more days still.
The first plate to come out was a fried bologna sandwich, absolutely stuffed with shaved mortadella made and cut in-house. It is so paper-thin that the act of creating it could be passed off as a work of art. Love got the idea to serve it from Robert’s Western World in Nashville, which he describes as an old honky tonk. It’s his take on their “recession special,” which he calls a really good, really cheap take on late-night drunk food. But Love’s version features bespoke, juicy meat, light bread, heavy butter, and a healthy serving of lettuce, tomato, and cheese peeking out of the layers — it’s a double-decker — with house-made potato chips on the side.
Then, dishes start flying to the table: smoked crab and green chile dip with fresh pita bread; fresh pappardelle with wild boar ragu (anyone who knows Love knows there has to be wild game on the menu); and a bowl of cold noodle salad with poached shrimp, seasonal vegetables, Thai basil, and citrus chili lime vinaigrette that is so different from everything else (and delicious) that the table can’t stop remarking on it. But the most remarkable of them all is the duck confit shepherd’s pie with root vegetables and a mashed potato crust. Love reveals the dish was inspired by something he ate not in some hidden gem of a restaurant in the wilds of Southern France, but on an Air France flight. “It’s probably the best airplane food I’ve ever had,” Love recalls. “I was in the midst of making this menu. I thought, ‘We’ll definitely have the shepherd’s pie. Why didn’t I think of this?’”
It may be one of the only things Love didn’t think of. He’s got enough experience, having catered for crowds at Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Austin City Limits, among other music festivals. The lounge, where diners can wait for their table or come to sit and have a drink, is heavily stocked with dozens of brands of bourbons and soft leather loveseats. The design aesthetic is industrial but modern and warm with Love’s personality peeking out all over in the wallpaper he hand-selected and the chairs that have been giving him endless grief, as he has to select and reselect new options when the ones he wants fail to come in on time. He’s even thought of the after-show bite, and opened a walk-up pizza joint to grab a New York-style slice — cheese and pepperoni only.
“I like authenticity and this is as authentic as it gets,” Love says of opening yet another location in the Stockyards. “You can’t buy this, you can’t build it.” But, he admits, he has no problem mixing a little modern-day glamour into the Old West. “It doesn’t have to be musty and dusty,” he says with a crooked grin.
Tannahill’s Tavern and Music Hall is located at 122 E. Exchange Ave., Suite 200, in the Fort Worth Stockyards. It will be serving lunch and dinner on Sunday through Thuday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and on Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.