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082822 food column

Bite by Bite
Conquering My Culinary Bucket List One Dish at a Time

By Emily Banks Wooten

Having been raised in the same community in which my mother was – and her parents, too – I was blessed with an abundance of relatives that I was close to as a child and on into adulthood. I had the good fortune of spending lots of quality time with my maternal grandparents, their siblings, lots of aunts, uncles and cousins.

My father’s side of the family was a different story, however. Originally hailing from Fort Worth, Daddy was the youngest of eight. Most of his family stayed in the vicinity of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex so we didn’t get to see them as frequently. We’d usually go to Fort Worth a couple times of year to see “Nannie Banks,” my paternal grandmother. Following her death my sophomore year in high school, the trips north ceased. Occasionally, one of Daddy’s siblings, or one of their offspring, would plan a family reunion. Those were always fun and usually quite entertaining. Daddy’s family was different from Mother’s in ways that my brother, sister and l often found quite humorous.

As time passed, it seemed the only time we ever got to see Daddy’s side of the family was weddings and funerals. More time passed. The weddings became less frequent as everyone was either married or pretended to be. We went a good long stretch without any funerals. But the pendulum swings both ways. The funerals have resumed. This past September we lost Jan, a niece of Daddy’s. Jan was an artist and a free spirit. She was vivacious, creative, loving and full of life until disease robbed her of her mind toward the end of her life. The proud mother of five, she dearly loved her 10 grandchildren and multiple great grandchildren.

Jan lived the latter part of her life in Taylor. Mother and I drove to Taylor on a Wednesday. There would be a visitation that evening, with the funeral, burial and luncheon the following day. It was nice seeing and catching up with relatives we hadn’t seen in many years. Based on the recommendation of Susan, Jan’s older daughter, several of us went to dinner following the visitation at a place called Monarcas Mexican Restaurant. Mother and I enjoyed dining and visiting with cousins Marcy and David and Aaron and Kay. Both the company and the food were outstanding. I ordered the “Poblano Shrimp,” which was shrimp sautéed in a cream sauce with poblano peppers, onions, cilantro, tomato, mushrooms and Parmesan and was served with rice and charro beans.

We had no idea we’d be gathering again in March, after losing Vernon, a great nephew of Daddy’s, following his second or third bout with brain cancer. This one was especially tough because Vernon was only 53. I could remember so vividly the tow-headed, chubby-cheeked kid he was so long ago who always had a big grin on his face. My brother and sister, Jimmy and Jeri, and I played with him, his brother Craig and our other cousins, Pat, Mike, Melissa and Felicia, numerous times as young children when we visited Nannie Banks’ house.

Mother and I drove to Fort Worth and my brother Jimmy met us there, traveling from his home in Waco. Hubby and Daughter came too, but as they’d never met or known Vernon, they opted out of the service and just hung out at the hotel.

We enjoyed a scrumptious Italian meal the night before the funeral at “il Modo” which is located in the Kimpton Harper Hotel. We learned that “il Modo” is Italian for “The Way.” For starters, we selected dry-aged beef meatballs with spicy pomodoro, basil and Parmesan. Ordinarily, I can take or leave meatballs. But these, however, were, without a doubt, the very best meatballs I have ever eaten. They practically melted in your mouth. I regret not getting a picture of them.

Jimmy selected the braised lamb shank with Parmesan polenta, romesco and a side of crispy marbled potatoes with roasted garlic, rosemary and arbol chili. Mother ordered the poached shrimp which were served with dijonnaise, cocktail sauce and lemon. Hubby and Daughter both opted for the handmade bucatini in amatriciana, a spicy red sauce, with guanciale, basil and Parmesan. I selected linguine with littleneck clams in white wine and garlic. Every single bite was scrumptious.

The following day after Vernon’s funeral, Jimmy headed home to meet clients and the rest of us went to the Fort Worth Stockyards, a place that – surprisingly – we’d never been before. We ate lunch at Star Cafe. Built in the 1900’s, it’s charming and nostalgic. I enjoyed the day’s lunch special which was a chicken fried steak with cream gravy, mashed potatoes and green beans. The food was excellent. Although our time at the Stockyards was brief, we enjoyed it and I look forward to going back.

For additional information:

• Monarcas Mexican Restaurant is located at 121 E. 3rd St. in Taylor, Texas 76574. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays. The phone number is 512-352-0025.

• il Modo is located on the first floor of the Kimpton Harper Hotel at 714 Main St. in Fort Worth, Texas 76102. Breakfast and lunch are offered from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Brunch is offered from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Dinner is offered from 5-9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and from 5-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The phone number is 817-415-0144.

• Star Cafe in the Fort Worth Stockyards is located at 111 W. Exchange Ave. in Fort Worth, TX 76164. Hours are 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The phone number is 817-624-8701. n

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