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HOLY SHIN! THE SIGNATURE dish of the two-month-old Woodshed Smokehouse is so paleo that you can almost hear drumbeats when they deliver it to your table. Tipping the scales at a minimum of three and a half pounds and smoked over hickory to an ebony turn, the brazen bone-in beef shank known as the Shin feeds a small army—as well it should for $75. You and your friends slice off hunks of meat, grab some of the fantastic house-made flour-and-corn tortillas, and start making tacos. The Shin comes with borracho beans, spicy ricotta, Mexican limes, and a terrific three-kale salad with manchego and Granny Smith apples, so you won’t get bored. Before you fall back in your seat, totally wasted, you will spill food on your shirt and you will compare somebody—possibly yourself—to Fred Flintstone. Guaranteed.
The Woodshed is local chef-owner Tim Love’s third restaurant concept (the others being Lonesome Dove Western Bistro and three Love Shack burger joints), and it’s a megahit—at least that’s what I would call eight hundred customers on its first Saturday in business. But beyond its success, it’s a fascinating case study of how to do a Texas restaurant without hokum. Love would probably describe the formula a little differently, but I see it as one part pit-smoked meats (chosen from a long lineup that includes the usuals, as well as game birds and cabrito and rabbit-rattlesnake sausage); one part Mexican basics like tortillas and salsas; and one part upscale, fusion-y dishes and accessories like hollandaise, “fancy mushrooms,” Peruvian chile sauces, and Vietnamese bánh mì. Traditionalists can order from a short menu of regular ’cue (like pork and beef ribs), while modernists hooked on food blogs, Top Chef, and No Reservations can have oak-smoked redfish en papillote with seasonal vegetables.
Speaking of which, the redfish was terrific; the filet flaked at the touch of a fork and came with al dente broccoli rabe brightened with mint. Before that, we staved off hunger with an incredible cream cheese–enriched dip of smoked whitefish, an appetizer that Love created in honor of his Michigan-born wife, Emilie. Deadpan, he says, “I think we bought every whitefish in Lake Michigan.” And if you don’t crave fish or meat, you can dine extremely well on vegetables like smoked cauliflower with a chile árbol salsa. The smoked baby artichokes doused with lemon and Parmesan had gotten too brown over the fire but were otherwise terrific.
Now that spring is here, no doubt the crowds will expand from the casual bar and dining room, with its roll-up garage-door walls, to fill the courtyard, with its twinkle-light-wrapped trees and picnic tables overlooking the Trinity River. When asked how he’s holding up under the onslaught, Love jokes that he’s praying for bad weather so his crew can catch a break, but actually, he’s ecstatic: “We’re having so much stinkin’ fun with this place—we just sit here and laugh all day!” I’ll bet. All the way to the bank. Bar. 3201 Riverfront Dr (817-877-4545). Open 7 a.m.–11 p.m. $$–$$$ W+