Nobody thought, when they heard that the AT&T Discovery District was opening a restaurant called Cowboy Chow, that it was going to be any good. But I don’t think any of us expected the particular variety of strange that Cowboy Chow is.
It’s a sports bar that isn’t fully certain how to be a sports bar; when I visited for lunch last week, several of the TVs were paused on a freeze frame of a commercial from a game that had already ended. It’s also a restaurant that isn’t fully willing to be a restaurant. When we were seated outside, we tried ordering meals, only to be told that if you’re outside, you’re limited to appetizers only.
Some of Cowboy Chow, of course, is exactly what you’d expect from a restaurant with that unappetizing name. The host greets every customer with “Howdy, guys!” Next to the front door, a pair of glass cases house very fancy saddles. The music is 20-year-old country tunes (“I Don’t Have to Be Me Till Monday”). The menu features chili, burgers, and a preposterous “Big Sky” plate featuring three different kinds of chicken.
What surprised us most was that Cowboy Chow seemed totally unprepared for chowtime. It opened without a website or social media accounts, which exacerbated the confusion that stems from its choice to recycle the name of a previous, now-closed Dallas restaurant.
The restaurant opened its doors on Oct. 31, but when we visited a week later, it was still in “soft opening,” a fact I learned when I tried to order the steak and enchiladas combo plate and was told it wasn’t ready yet. None of the Big Sky plates are ready yet. (By the way, what is Montana’s slogan doing in a Texas-themed restaurant?) So we came inside from our failed attempt to dine on the patio, sat under a bank of televisions airing the Pat McAfee Show, and ordered the two most generic foods in America: a burger and a fried chicken sandwich.
“I feel like I’m at a Chili’s,” my lunch companion said.
Our appetizer cup of Texas chili came in a coffee mug—a nice touch, evocative of meals around the campfire with limited tableware supplies. It’s a liquid chili, with the consistency of pasta sauce that you haven’t finished cooking down. No beans, plenty of pepper, and instead of either spaghetti or cornbread, it sports a side of yellow sponge cake, maybe pound cake. OK, the menu says it’s “sweet and spicy cornbread.” Nice try. I have eaten cornbread before.
Speaking of nice try: the burgers are advertised as smashburgers. This, too, is a lie. Our burger patty was a regular old fast-food thin patty. (How can you tell a smashburger? At least two ways: the irregular, craggy shape, and the deep caramelized color and flavor.) Our Whiskey BBQ Burger came topped with a handful of brisket, some very thick and crunchy fried onions, and barbecue sauce.
The chicken sandwich is very heavily battered and comes with a creamy slaw that spills all over the place so you can eat it with a fork. I should point out that the chicken sandwich is $15.25 and the single Whiskey BBQ Burger is $16.75. Our coffee cup of chili with side cake was $8.75.
The best thing here is the side order of chicharrones tossed with red pepper flakes and served with jalapeño ranch. I kind of suspect that both of those things are bought in rather than made, but a good snack is a good snack. Plus, they might let you eat it on the patio.
Cowboy Chow, 309 S. Akard St.