Not far from Dallas and Fort Worth, there’s a charming little town with the kind of town square that makes it a perfect candidate for background scenes in movies. In fact, it has been used for just that – several times.
But there’s a new attraction in Waxahachie, located about 30 minutes south via either Interstate 35E or 35W, that makes the drive even more special.
The Fish Grill opened for business about two weeks ago. It occupies a corner building on the square in what was originally Citizens National Bank, then later served as the Ellis County Tax Office.
The “soft opening” prior to the restaurant’s grand opening on Saturday, April 16, gave the staff a chance to perfect their routines, and allowed the chef an opportunity to “rehearse” in the miniscule kitchen. According to Dana Wenzel, a retired architect who teamed with Chef Christopher Stanford to bring this unique dining experience to a quintessential Texas community, the bank building has its limitations. She notes that the goal was to accentuate the eclectic character of this building that was “meant to be a restaurant.” That meant working with limited space. And it works well!
The building has period charm, complete with architectural details and original vault doors, and a modern vibe with color, trendy lighting and original art. It boasts a charming mezzanine with a cozy, bar/lounge as well as semi-private dining spaces for small groups, and it offers stunning birds-eye views of the historic Richardson Romanesque Courthouse on the Plaza. It must have been a beautiful bank. It’s a delightful dining spot, with linen cloths and napkins, sparkling table settings and attentive servers; but it’s not a bit stuffy.
And it’s the food now being produced in that little kitchen that will soon be the talk of the town.
Fresh, Local and Fish!
The menu is still being “tweaked” according to Wenzel and Stanford, the friendly staff still perfecting their service. But initial reaction has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. In addition to Gulf shrimp, oysters and red snapper, menu offerings include locally sourced salmon and catfish, as well as beef and pork. Even the produce is locally grown.
Stanford and Wenzel are both Dallas residents. And both are committed to the farm to table concept, so much so that, at The Fish Grill, you will find very little that comes from a can or is processed. The partners also note that the historic building has little space for extensive storage. Nothing arrives frozen, and The Fish Grill, by choice, has limited cold storage space.
The governing food philosophy is that “if it’s not fresh, it won’t be on the menu.” Or, even if it’s on the menu, it might not be available. Diners should not fear, though, because there are plenty of choices.
The eatery’s signature dish might just be the Shrimp Cocktail: 4 jumbo bay shrimp served in a “Mexican cocktail sauce soup” that is almost a meal in itself. But there are other tempting choices, including oysters on the half shell (in season, of course), peel & eat shrimp, crabmeat hushpuppies, oyster & artichoke dip, and smoked salmon beignets. And those are just the starters.
Other dishes include entrees with innovative flavor combinations and inventive accompaniments like pecan encrusted Brussel sprouts. Chef Stanford also cooks up a mean mac and cheese that is served with a choice of shrimp, oysters or grilled chicken, and lighter fare that includes tacos and salads.
The experienced chef is a large presence in the small kitchen, and it is his influence that characterizes each dish. He says he “has been cooking his entire life,” and proudly notes that he is a fifth-generation Texan. He plans to continue to refine the menu, try out new recipes, and respond to customer tastes.
He previously operated restaurants in Oak Cliff, on Jefferson and in another location, but noted that they attracted primarily evening and weekend business. He looks forward to serving the weekday lunch crowd in Waxahachie, as well as dinner and weekend clientele. The restaurant is only closed on Monday.
Small Town Attraction
The Fish Grill can be a pleasant discovery if you head to Waxahachie for a day of antiquing or sightseeing, but it is also close enough to be a weekend brunch destination or an out-of-the-ordinary choice for a celebration with friends. There is a nice selection of beers, both on tap and in the bottle, and several wine choices. Brunch cocktails include a familiar mimosa, along with a berry variation.
It’s not inexpensive, but it’s an experience to savor. Next time, we might even have to call for reservations. The Fish Grill is located at 114 S. Rogers, right on Waxahachie’s historic town square. You can reach the restaurant at 469-283-0480.