The romantic mythology surrounding Texas cowboys and cattle drives is the gift that keeps on giving—and giving and giving—and few people know that better than Fort Worth chef Tim Love. From his steak, wild-game, and seafood flagship, Lonesome Dove Western Bistro (named, of course, in honor of Larry McMurtry’s sprawling novel), to White Elephant Saloon and Woodshed Smokehouse—to cite only three of his major concepts in two states—the Denton-born Love has found the epic of Texas rewarding in every sense of the word.
But not long ago, after more than three decades in the business and on the verge of opening his tenth restaurant in the state, Love found himself pondering an existential question: Was it time for a change? In other words, should he—indeed, could he—quit Texas? And at that point he heard a small voice in the back of his mind whispering, “Italiannnnn.”
The thought was not random. “I’ve always loved Italian food,” Love said when I talked to him a few months ago. “But I got serious about it when I worked with Joe Bastianich cohosting Restaurant Startup on CNBC.” The show, which ran from 2014 to 2016, led to a friendship with Joe and his mother, the well-known Italian cookbook author and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich. Love traveled to Italy—Rome, Florence, Siena, the Amalfi Coast—whenever he could get away.
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And that’s how it came to pass that this spring Love opened an Italian restaurant named Gemelle—meaning “twins”—in honor of his sixteen-year-old identical twin daughters (Anna and Ella work as hosts, when they’re not busy doing homework). Of course, Love being who he is, the menu is hardly purist. Yes, the baseline is regional classics with contemporary touches, but there are inevitable Texas twists (think pizza with rabbit-rattlesnake sausage), because, well, you didn’t really expect him to abandon the Lone Star State, did you? Compact and casual, Gemelle is an easy place to like, equally welcoming to singles, couples, and families. Having visited the restaurant three times now, I have a couple of pieces of advice: First, go early or wait till the crowd thins out, at around 8:30. Second, order a frozen Aperol spritz immediately; it’s beautifully balanced and as fresh as a summer breeze, even in the fall. If you’re in the mood for wine, there’s an interesting Italian list, with a few comfort-zone California and French choices thrown in.
The interior of Gemelle.
Meyer lemon semifreddo.
Photograph by Kelsey Wilson
Third, before your drinks arrive, step onto the covered deck and gaze over the railing to the lawn below. The size of a couple of suburban backyards, it has fantastic vegetable gardens and a row of fig and pear trees. Green-and-white-striped awnings shade cabana-like seating areas, and strips of gravel and artificial turf allow for bocce. Once you’re back in the dining room, take a second to appreciate the eclectic decor: oversized brown leather sofas set against forest green walls, a concrete floor painted in a tidy pink-green-and-white geometric pattern.
Then it’s time to get serious. From the concise menu under the direction of chef de cuisine Kyle Baker, you can start with a substantial antipasti offering, like the very fine tri-tip steak tartare, a spunky version with a soy-cured egg yolk and plenty of shaved red onion at the ready. Or go light with the simple olive oil–drizzled ahi tuna crudo with sweet pickled jalapeño, which was fine but, honestly, a tad timid.
Or you can jump right to the splendid salad lineup (many greens straight from the garden). The most stunning was the arugula with shaved zucchini and yellow squash, unified by a jalapeño-basil pesto and crowned by a fabulous edible red daylily (the flavor reminded me a little of snow peas—who knew?). In another dish, the texture contrasts were magnificent in a medley of fried red quinoa with avocado and a poached egg, tricked out with salty-nutty pepita pesto. But by far the most brilliant was the celery root carpaccio with Parmesan and a scattering of chile-spiced walnuts under a splash of apple cider–walnut vinaigrette. If you pile the toppings on a slice of celeriac, you can eat your salad like a taco.
Pastas, all house-made, beckon next, notably the spaghetti with lobster (actually langoustine) in a Calabrian chile sauce, as well as a highly original ravioli (inspired by a suggestion from the twins) filled with mashed cannellini beans with jalapeño pesto and the aforementioned rabbit-rattlesnake sausage. But the most arresting was the fettuccine Alfredo, snuggled up to a piece of super-moist panko-breaded fried chicken; I’d order that as a light entrée.
Honestly, though, if you’re allowing yourself just one carb indulgence, it’s got to be the fat, fluffy Detroit-style pizza. Even though it’s trending nationally, here it’s a family thing, a nod to the home state of Love’s wife, Emilie. Italian purists may scoff because it’s so absurdly cheesy, but I liked the indulgent focaccia-like texture and the heavy char on the bottom and edges. As for toppings, the House pizza featured real Italian pepperoni with pickled jalapeños and a seductive drizzle of local honey.
If you insist on a conventional entrée, you’ll have exactly two offerings on any given visit: the specialità del giorno and the ever-present roast chicken. Our sampling of the specials was Sunday’s pork osso buco with three-bean ragout, which begged for more time in the oven for the flavors to develop. But the half chicken, delirious with garlic and preserved lemon, had silken flesh under skin so crisp it crackled.
As for desserts, they adroitly split the difference between Italian and American. The Meyer lemon semifreddo, punched up on my visit with fresh summer berries, is a cooler cousin of lemon icebox pie. If you fancy a vanilla float, an affogato does the trick, subbing a shot of espresso for root beer or Coke. As for chocolate gelato, it needs no translation.
At this point in his storied career, Love seems to be getting a second wind. Now that Gemelle is up and running, he has more time to devote to Atico, a Spanish-inflected rooftop bar at a forthcoming hotel in the Fort Worth Stockyards historic district. He’s also been busy in Houston, with three concepts underway. It would be crazy to mess with the Texas formula that has served him so well (as we like to say around here, you gotta “dance with the one that brung ya”). But I would be surprised if a little Tex-Italian flair didn’t start to show up on those menus. Gemelle is Love’s most personal restaurant yet, and I think he’s only getting started.
Gemelle 4400 White Settlement Rd., Fort Worth 817-732-9535 L Fri-Sun. D 7 days. $$$ Opened May 29, 2019
This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Love, Italian Style!” Subscribe today.