Restaurants / Openings

Fort Worth’s Cowboy Cook Is Opening 2 New Restaurants in Greater Round Top — Grady Spears Embraces the Texas Countryside

A PaperCity Exclusive

BY // 06.08.23

Though Fort Worth’s own Grady Spears has been dubbed a celebrity chef since the 1980s, he’d rather be called a cowboy cook. Not only is it a more accurate description for this creative kitchen force without a culinary school degree, but it’s also a way less pretentious one. Like the man himself. Grady Spears always has been more at home on the range, than with his own food world celebrity status.

Now, PaperCity has learned that the cowboy cook is set to open new restaurants in the greater Round Top region for the first time. The tiny towns of both Bellville and Round Top will soon be home to Spears’ cooking with The Pitched Fork restaurant opening in Bellville and Spears taking over the food and beverage offerings at The Stone Cellar and its adjacent 550 Market in Round Top. With the ink still drying on a new deal in Round Top, Grady Spears tells PaperCity that his new venture there is set to open this Thursday, June 8.

Spears is telling PaperCity exclusively about that just completed deal to manage the food and beverage offerings at The Stone Cellar and 550 Market. He will not only transport fresh produce directly from the ranch he’s associated with in Chappell Hill to Round Top. He plans to go one step further.

“We’re going to install gardens right on the grounds,” Spears says. “The venue, with its iconic dance hall on site, is also home to some distinct dining options ― fine dining in the Jon Perez Lounge, and inside the dance hall itself,” Spears tells PaperCity. “We’ll be open four days a week, year-round from Thursday through Sunday brunch.

During Round Top antiques show season, Spears’ new restaurant will be open daily to feed the masses.

Spears will begin slowly transitioning the menu at The Stone Cellar into Pitched Fork-type food beginning this Thursday, June 8. He also plans to focus his attention on the yet untapped breakfast and brunch possibilities in Round Top as well.

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“When people visit Round Top, they’ve come here to be in the country, so let’s give it to them,” Spears says. “We’ll be serving fresh bacon and eggs, along with homemade biscuits and gravy. How can you go wrong?”

Spears certainly brings a background of creating successful restaurants.

The Grady Spears Story

Spears made a big splash, riding the crest of the ranch cuisine wave all the way to appearances on television shows from Good Morning America to The Today Show, and he has been featured in magazines like Martha Stewart Living, Texas Monthly and Southern Living. Spears released two cookbooks of his own along the way ― The Texas Cowboy Kitchen in 2004, and Cooking The Cowboy Way in 2009.

His 30-plus year culinary career began in legendary fashion while managing the restaurant at The Gage Hotel in the small West Texas town of Marathon. Seems the previous head chef walked out right in the middle of a busy weekend service (which is always a favorite time for dramatic chefs to call it quits), leaving Grady Spears to run the kitchen and feed the dining room of around a 100 hungry people. He more than managed.

Cowboy Chef Grady Spears plans to utilize freshly grown goodness in both Bellville and Round Top.
Cowboy Chef Grady Spears plans to utilize freshly grown goodness in both Bellville and Round Top.

Since then, Spears has headlined a series of famous hits and misses in both big cities and small towns alike.

He was the first chef and co-owner of Reata Restaurant, which began in itsy bitsy Alpine, Texas before a second location landed in downtown Fort Worth. Reata is one of the most famous hits on Spears’ long list. But it also became a famous miss back in 2000, when Reata attempted to win over diners along Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Both the Alpine and Fort Worth Reata restaurants are still going strong, though Spears is no longer involved with the restaurants.

The list of small towns which have seen Grady Spears’ restaurants continues to grow. He opened The Burning Pear in Sugar Land, The Nutt House in Granbury (which was devastated by a fire in March) and Grady’s Line Camp, which had a brief run in Tolar, Texas.

Now, Bellville and Round Top are getting a taste of the famous Cowboy Cook with The Pitched Fork set to open this summer.

The Power Of Cowboy Cuisine

“Chicken fried steak is something nobody really does,” Grady Spears tells PaperCity. “It’s kind of surprising since we are in Texas. I think people are scared of getting too simple.”

But Spears has made a good living serving up his excellent chicken fried steaks for decades. His most recent restaurant called Horseshoe Hill, which overlooked Exchange Avenue in the Fort Worth Stockyards from 2015 until 2021, was known for its chicken fried steaks served five ways.

Chicken fried steak served the cowboy way with peppered cream gravy, then sided with ancho cheese enchiladas, The Vaquero Way.
Chicken fried steak served the cowboy way with peppered cream gravy, then sided with ancho cheese enchiladas, The Vaquero Way.

Also on this celebrity chef’s original menu was Spears’ tip-of-the-hat appetizer, which was then named Bob Armstrong Dip (a recipe that’s been widely published). But after Matt’s El Rancho in Austin sued Spears in 2019 for using the same name for a similar dip with layers of refried beans, queso, taco meat, guacamole and sour cream all served in Mason jar, he simply changed its name to Famous Lawsuit Dip instead. Yes, Spears kept rolling right along, with a shrug and a sly grin.

The private club he opened just next door called The Brand Room — filled with a collection of vintage cattle brands and a clientele of true cattle raisers and ranchers — still exists, though now also without Spears as an owner.

In 2020, Spears was arrested by the Fort Worth police on charges of domestic violence. Those charges were later dismissed without any restrictions according to court records. Spears also went through a contentious separation from his business partners in The Stockyards. Spears recently decided to end his long run in Fort Worth.

One of his final posts on the Horseshoe Hill Cafe Facebook page from late January reads in part [with editing for brevity]:

“I think South Texas is just yelling for chicken fried steak and cabrito. . . and Fort Worth is in incredibly great shape to carry the western lifestyle forward. I’ve seen it firsthand these last 20 years. .  . Holt Hickman would be proud I believe. But it’s time for me to move on, and start this new chapter.”

To Chappell Hill And Beyond

While most chefs would have been feverishly plotting their next move, Grady Spears chose a different path. He headed first to Key West for a lengthy reset — just to clear his head.

“I intentionally chose to wait at least six months before making any decisions on what I’d do next,” Grady Spears tells PaperCity. “People were contacting me pitching different ideas, so I changed my cell number altogether. That way, nobody could reach me.”

On his way back through Texas, Spears found another path,

“I had dinner with friends on their ranch in Chappell Hill,” he tells PaperCity. “John and Taunia Elick have an amazing conference center on their ranch ― Texas Ranch Life. They had just booked a wedding, and asked me if I’d like to come back and help them host it. . . I love it here so much, I never left.”

Grady Spears is diving head first into farming his own produce for his latest restaurants.
Grady Spears is diving head first into farming his own produce for his latest restaurants.

Texas Ranch Life is located on an 1800 acre ranch dubbed Lonesome Pine Ranch, featuring lodging for up to 60 people inside seven restored historic homes on the property. It also hosts weddings, parties and corporate retreats. Horseback riding, skeet shooting and bass fishing are available. There is also a conference center which can accommodate up to 250 people.

“I’m 55 miles from the Houston Galleria, and about 10 miles down a dirt road ― it’s the best of all worlds,” Spears says.

Spears knows his way around Houston too. He served as a consulting chef at NRG Stadium from 2010 through 2020. And Grady Spears has the Houston Texans tattoo to prove it.

“It’s a true working ranch, we’re growing all our own vegetables,” Spears says. “You ought to see my garden. We’ve got corn, squash, radishes, jalapenos and all kinds of truly vine-ripened tomatoes. We have five acres of sunflowers alone. I love watching stuff grow. And we’re year-round down here.

“We hosted 60 guys in from Norway recently at Texas Ranch Life, and their dietary restrictions called for a lot of fish. So we went fishing and caught plenty of fresh fish for their corporate retreat. Right here on the property.”

Spears is genuinely excited by this new chapter and is diving whole hog into farming. He says it’s a whole new challenge, learning about crop rotation and how to utilize what’s harvested in season. He notes that most chefs are only taught how to cook produce, not how to grow it. And you don’t really know it until you grow it yourself.

Spears is experimenting with new flavors like bread and butter pickled radishes.

“I’m 55 years old and don’t have anything to prove to anybody. I’m here because I want to be here,” he says. “The older I get, the more patient I get about things. It seems we’re always so busy rushing around. But, gardening is meant to be enjoyed. When you take something from a seed and get to watch people eating what you grow, it’s really special.”

The Elicks also had a restaurant that they had shuttered in nearby Bellville, so Grady decided to lease the space. It’s only a 15 minute drive away. He says his new restaurant The Pitched Fork will likely post a new menu weekly featuring whatever is freshest, and will be open only on Fridays and Saturdays in Bellville.

Grady – Texas Ranch Life hosts weddings, parties, and corporate events in Chappell Hill.
Texas Ranch Life hosts weddings, parties and corporate events in Chappell Hill.

It’ll be farm-to-table fresh, with seasonal menus. Expect roast cabrito, ribs, steaks, pork chops, fresh biscuits and beans. Of course, there will be a fabulous chicken fried steak or two too. The Pitched Fork in Bellville is expected to open in the next few months.

With Round Top quickly becoming a year-round destination, located an easy 40 minute drive away Chappell Hill, Spears sees plenty of opportunities growing for him in the Texas countryside. He knows how to plant a few things.

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