Holidays with the Chefs 5

Four local chefs share the holiday traditions behind 
their own Christmas feasts.

Keith Hicks — Buttons

For Keith Hicks, mastermind of Buttons Restaurant, cooking has always been deeply rooted in notions of family.

“I’m originally from West Virginia,” says Keith. “I grew up helping my grandparents cook. I remember gatherings of families, people coming together on Sundays and Thanksgiving to celebrate great food and music. That’s what the whole theory of Buttons was built on: good food, family and great times.”

Chef Hicks’ style of cuisine, upscale Southern, pairs with the holidays like chestnuts and a roasting fire. It’s easy to imagine a Christmas dinner with Hicks as a master-sampler of comfort food decadence — and the chef wouldn’t disappoint.

“Being a foodie family, we’re surrounded by food all the time,” says Keith. “For the holidays, we like to turn it up a little bit with the turkey and ham, crank up the sides, smoke some meats and fire up the grill. Then you just sit around, reminisce and eat.”

If this sounds like the kind of gift you want to give your own family, Buttons is available for Christmas catering. You can order your catered package ahead of time through ButtonsRestaurant.com, or stop by on the holiday itself for a special brunch menu.

“For Christmas, we’ll do a brunch buffet and lay everything out, all our sides and proteins, along with a carving station,” says Keith.

With the trending popularity of Hicks’ brand of comfort food, you’d be well-advised to place your order or make your reservation early.

“Our good comfort soul food, it’s the kinda stuff that’ll make you go ‘yum yum,’ then want a blanket or comforter afterwards,” says Keith.

If this sounds to you like a holiday miracle, go ahead and treat yourself; after all, Christmas only comes once a year.

Chris Hight — Aventino’s

Fort Worth families have made Aventino’s a site for celebratory traditions for nearly 30 years. The current iteration of Aventino’s — owned and operated by the founders’ daughter, Erica, and her husband, Chris — both preserves this heritage and shepherds it forward, with a menu that does honor to the past while breaking ground to the future. As always a family-owned and operated restaurant, Chris now mans the kitchen with help from his son, Michael.

Since Aventino’s has built its name on high-quality Italian food, you’d be excused for the assumption that the Hights gather every Christmas around a massive spread of pasta. The reality, however, is much different. The Hights celebrate Christmas with — surprise! — a typical Christmas dinner: prime rib, various other meats, sides and potatoes. The unique aspect of the family’s celebration comes from a tradition rooted, oddly enough, in both Chris and Erica’s childhood.

“On both sides of our family, we had the same type of breakfast that we made before we were even married and shared it with each other,” says Chris. “I come from a family with three brothers and three sisters. We’d wake up Christmas morning, open gifts, and have this breakfast that we called egglaw.”

As Chris explains it, egglaw is comprised of all the ingredients of a traditional holiday breakfast, mixed together in one dish with gravy on top. When he first shared memories of this with his wife, he was in for a surprise.

“It turns out they had done the same thing, just with ham instead of bacon,” says Chris. “As children, neither of us could wait for Christmas. Even this year, I can’t wait to wake up, open gifts with the kids and have egglaw.”

Skeet George — Angelo’s

A smoked turkey or ham for Christmas dinner; what better centerpiece for a holiday meal? For nearly 60 years, Angelo’s Restaurant has provided Fort Worth families with just that: the succulent main course for their Christmas celebration, available for advance order from the restaurant.

Angelo’s first opened on March 17th, 1958, through the efforts of Angelo George. Angelo’s son, Skeet, now runs the business.

“I’ve been there all my life, since I was a teenager,” says Skeet. “Now my son, Jason, is involved as a manager and cook master. He’s been at it ever since he was a young teenager, too.”

Visitors to the restaurant around the holidays will find the same delectable BBQ brisket and ribs that Angelo’s has cooked up for decades. For their own meal, the George family has some of that, of course, but also a few extras.

“We do our main Christmas dinner on Christmas Day,” says Skeet. “We’ll have a deep-fried turkey and sides with it, the cornbread dressing, the giblet gravy, and then a prime rib so you can have a choice of turkey or rib, or both.”

Deep-fried turkey or prime rib, expertly prepared by the chefs behind Angelo’s? That sounds like a choice that anyone could live with.

The Moreno Family — Mi Cocula

Fort Worth’s Mi Cocula grew out of a taqueria that the Moreno family originally opened in Weatherford. After three years, the family achieved their dream of a full-service restaurant with a move and expansion to Fort Worth’s westside. Though it’s only been open for a short while, Mi Cocula has already earned a devout following thanks to exquisite flavors and the bona fides of its ‘authentico’ menu. This Christmas, Mi Cocula’s first after a full year of operation, gives the Moreno family plenty to celebrate.

“We’re a family-oriented restaurant,” says Jackie Moreno, who handles the front-end of the restaurant. “This year will be new for us, because people are more familiar with the restaurant, our regulars and their families.”

While Mi Cocula expects to welcome families to celebrate the holidays, the Morenos themselves have their own traditions to celebrate. One look at the family spread, however, and a restaurant patron would feel right at home.

“For our family Christmas, we do authentic,” says Jackie. “We have a section on the menu that’s the traditional dishes, and that’s what we make for the holidays. We’ll have the carne guisada, the tamales, the poblanos; those are the dishes that we crave for the holiday season.”

If you want a taste of what the Morenos are cooking up for the holidays, you don’t have to crash the family gathering. Just stop by Mi Cocula, pull up a chair, and pick up a menu.