Ben Merritt’s Fixture offers robust and tantalizing recipes in an upscale, social lounge environment.
The concept of “gastro chic” has evolved to describe a certain type of urban culinary style: locally sourced ingredients, inventive takes on traditional recipes, and a casual atmosphere that nevertheless feels elegant. As Fort Worth becomes more urbanized, many restaurants have tried — and failed — to capture this vibe as modeled in neighborhoods such as Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Los Angeles’s Silver Lake.
Ben Merritt’s Fixture, which arrived on East Magnolia Avenue in 2015, embodies this aesthetic effortlessly. At the same time, this restaurant and upscale social lounge remains a creature of its creator, the prime representative of one chef’s ideals and best tendencies. We spoke with Ben about his inspiration for Fixture, and also got some insights on a few of the restaurant’s signature items.
A military background and the dream of his own restaurant:
“I went into the military right out of high school and served four years in the Navy. When I got out, I didn’t really know what to do. I always liked to cook, so I used my GI Bill to go to culinary school. My intention was always to have my own place.”
The perfect storm of influences:
“Right out of culinary school, I spent two years working for Stephan Pyles. I learned a lot, and then moved on to the Gaylord Hotel, where I learned everything I could from an assortment of chefs. Four years into my career, I got my first chance at management as sous chef at Into the Glass in Grapevine. I later opened Winewood Grill, then worked for Tim Love.”
Stints with chefs as iconic as Stephan Pyles and Tim Love prepared Ben to follow his own culinary vision. A break from the business — which transformed into another learning experience, as bartender at Fort Worth’s Gingerman — presaged the creation of Fixture.
“I wanted to open a restaurant that was the type of place where I like to hang out. It needed to feel comfortable, but with the same level of quality as any upscale place. You don’t need a white tablecloth to have a good time, nor should excellent service be restricted to fine-dining establishments. Here, people come into a relaxed atmosphere and get a superior level of service and product. My rent’s not as high as a lot of places, so I can give you the same quality wine at a deeper discount.”
Fixture’s menu is an adventure in itself. Southern stalwarts populate the ingredients, while personal flair and unparalleled technique elevate the recipes.
“The menu contains dishes that I’ve worked on my whole culinary career. Chicken and waffles has been a constant progression to where it is now, and it’s our number-one-selling dish.”
To emphasize the social lounge setting, many of Fixture’s dishes are meant to be enjoyed amongst a group of friends. For example, the smoked salmon tomato skins:
“These evolved from a different plating with store-bought smoked salmon to our current dish, which uses salmon that we cure and smoke in-house. Initially, it was too big to put into your mouth, and you had to eat it with a knife and fork. I’m all about having great food that’s shareable, so we reworked the recipe. We cut the Romas to look like potato skins, and top them with smoked salmon salad and herbed goat cheese, so you can easily pick them up and eat.”
Another popular appetizer, the duck wings, further illustrates Fixture’s and Chef Merritt’s inventiveness:
“Chicken wings are everywhere. Duck makes the dish more upscale, and the extra fat and different flavor lets you have a lot of fun with them. We marinate ours for 24 hours in ponzu, then slow-cook them for 6 hours in the duck fat until they’re falling off the bone. We pull them out and drain them, then toss them into the fryer for a couple minutes. They’re the tastiest, most tender wings you’ve ever had.”
A great chef has an unstinting belief in the appeal of his food — to the extent that he’ll give it away, if only so people get that first taste:
“Beets are either something that people aren’t familiar with, or they have nightmares about, so I started out just giving beet fries to everyone who came in the door. Now they’re our bestselling appetizer. People love the way they’re prepared. We roast the beets, then dice them and coat them in corn starch for a pass through the fryer. We flash-fry them so they crisp up nicely, then serve them with a spicy aioli sauce and chili pepita mix. You dip the beets first in one, then the other, so it’s almost a candy coating.”
Fixture’s cocktail list captures another side of its upscale, yet relaxed identity: always true to itself, yet welcoming to all tastes.
“Cameron Cook, who came from AF+B, is our general manager and beverage director. He’s the mastermind behind the drink menu. Cameron has a special talent, so I give him free rein on the cocktail list.”
Fixture emphasizes domestic spirits, and Cameron Cook’s talents are clearly displayed in creations like Forest Through the Trees, which features St. George Terroir Gin, muddled basil, lime, ginger liqueur and cucumber ice. Want your drink with your dessert? Try Fixture’s Root Beer Float, a concoction of Not Your Father’s Root Beer and Red River Bourbon Cream.
Of course, Ben still carves out his own space on the cocktail menu:
“The one exception on the cocktail menu is the agua fresca, which has been my seasonal cocktail from the beginning. Right now, for example, plums are in season, so it’s a spiced plum and vodka cocktail, with just a dash of club soda.”
If you’ve never been to Fixture, there’s no better time than Valentine’s Day. For the occasion, Ben plans to offer a special menu for $35 per person, with wine pairings for an additional charge. The regular menu will also be available, so you can try (and share) as generous a spread as your heart desires.