WHY THE RANCH: “So, in case you haven’t eaten here before, The Ranch is a Texas-style restaurant,” explained our waiter in his black embroidered western shirt. My table mate and I suppressed giggles. Between the oversized cactus, Hill Country inspired rock formations, cowhide-backed barstools, and George Strait warbling “All My Exes Live In Texas,” there was never a doubt. In fact, at first blush, it was hard to take The Ranch and its cowboy cliches seriously. But digging beneath the Lone Star trappings—which felt more like an homage than kitsch—revealed a kitchen that not only preaches a farm-to-fork mantra but embraces it with a welcome “yee haw” bravado.
Ninety percent of The Ranch’s ingredients are locally sourced: olive oil (Carrizo Springs), veggies (Emory), wild boar (Devine), cheese and breads (Dallas), quail (Lockhart), and much more. Thanks go to chef de cuisine Troy Walker (a Yankee but don’t hold it against him) and restaurateurs Randy Dewitt, Judd Fruia, and Jack Gibbons of Front Burner Restaurants. They elevate The Ranch’s familiar cuisine, such as burgers and chicken-fried steak, infusing it with a gourmet flair not normally seen in food of its ilk.
WHAT TO EAT: There’s nothing subtle about chef Walker’s deliciously bold flavors. You might as well dig in and start with his “Favorite Four” sampler platter: queso blanco, oversized onion rings, mini Kobe beef tacos, and chicken-fried quail. Of the four, only the quail disappointed. The breading, though crispy and well seasoned, overwhelmed the delicate bird. My favorite starter was a Texas spin on the Harlem-bred chicken and waffles. Crispy fried chicken strips, sitting atop a thin layer of whipped sweet potatoes and mini-waffles, were smothered in jalapeno gravy and ancho maple glaze. It was so perfect in balance—sweet, savory, and spicy—that I could have devoured the entire plate as an entrée.
Big flavors dominate the entrées as well. Smoked mozzarella and roasted tomatoes on a margherita flatbread? Expected. The addition of spiced pecans and cilantro pesto? A tasty surprise. Chicken-fried steak with sausage gravy, the Bandera burger (with avocado relish and pepper jack), and grilled chipotle meatloaf were hearty standouts. Sides included poblano cream corn, goat cheese grits, and a wonderful warm roasted marble potato salad, one of the best versions I’ve ever tasted. Alas, the same can’t be said for the fried catfish fillets. The cornmeal crust was clunky and the fish a tad mushy. A better seafood option was the pan-seared salmon with cilantro lime butter or the lighly fried fish tacos.
You’ll be tempted to end your lunch with dessert. And although the fried fruit pies were adequate, I’d be more tempted to retreat to The Ranch’s well-appointed bar and indulge in one last Cadillac Rita before heading back to work. Featuring Paula’s Texas Orange, the Austin-made citrus liqueur typifies The Ranch experience: deliciously and decidedly Texas. Yee haw, indeed.
THE LOWDOWN: The Ranch at Las Colinas
857 W. John Carpenter Fwy., Irving | 972-506-7262
The food: Farm-to-fork Texas
The cost: Average lunch entrée price, $11
Full bar: Yes
Who's there: Stephen Jones, Jody Dean, Jessica Simpson
The Power Table: Table 114, which seats six with boardroom-style chairs