The man, the myth, the menu promise to make dining on the Square a while lot juicier
01:32 PM CDT on Thursday, March 31, 2011
By Ellen Ritscher Sackett / Staff Writer
Chef Tim Love is running behind. His executive assistant calls to say he will be 20 minutes late. He’s on his way from Fort Worth to talk about Love Shack Denton, his latest restaurant about to open just east of the Square. For months, passers-by have peered through the windows, observing the building’s transition from barbershop to burger joint. It’s almost ready — but not quite.
DMN file photo
Tim Love, pictured in 2007 just before the opening of his first Love Shack at the Fort Worth Stockyards, is preparing to open the burger joint’s third location, in Denton.
The 2007 Iron Chef America winner, instantly recognizable for his many television appearances on cooking and morning shows, walks through the front door without his crisp chef’s coat and signature white Stetson. Despite his busy morning, he appears relaxed in faded jeans, cowboy boots and a worn T-shirt that reveals a tattoo inked on a buff upper arm. He sits down and leans back in his chair as construction workers keep the place hopping, with sparks flying and the sound of drills and saws buzzing, and hammers pounding away.
This will be Love’s third gourmet hamburger establishment by the same name, Tim Love’s Love Shack, one of several restaurants he has owned over the years that run the gamut from casual to fine dining. But this one is special. It’s Love’s first venture in his hometown.
“My mom wanted me to do a restaurant in Denton — that’s the main reason I’m here. She’s excited,” says the 39-year-old culinary rock star who spent the first 18 years of his life here.
“I wanted to bring something back.”
Long before Love became a celebrity chef, he spent summers in Tennessee working on his father’s farm.
“I’ve raised almost every vegetable under the sun growing up as a kid, and same with animals,” Love says. “I raised chickens and rabbits and lambs and goats and steers.”
After Love graduated from Denton High School, he went back to Tennessee to earn double degrees in finance and marketing at the University of Knoxville. While making a little cash in various restaurant jobs, he found his calling.
“I fell in love with it,” he says. “I wanted to cook for a living.”
Love never went to culinary school, but he gained a solid foundation based on experience.
“You learn from every ingredient you touch.”
Love spent his mid-20s in Colorado, snowboarding when he wasn’t cooking for crowds. He scooped up the Taste of Breckenridge Grand Award three times and the Taste of the Mountains Award, four. He met his wife, Emilie, at the Uptown Bistro in Frisco, Colo., where he was chef. Eventually the two moved back to Texas, making their home in Fort Worth, where they now raise their three children.
• Address: 115 E. Hickory St. • Phone: 940-442-6834 • Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday;
11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday • Opening date: early April • On the Web:www.shakeyourloveshack.com
In 2000, Love opened Lonesome Dove in Cowtown’s historic downtown Stockyards district, once the Grand Central Station of livestock, where visitors can still witness daily cattle drives. Love, who calls himself a “huge meat guy,” made his mark serving what he calls “urban Western cuisine” — not only traditional high-end steaks, but rabbit, elk, rattlesnake, wild boar and even kangaroo.
Love says people often try out-of-the-ordinary meat just to say they did it.
“But can I take it and turn it into something people really like?” he says. “That’s the challenge.”
More than a decade since opening, Lonesome Dove is packed and critics rave; in fact, just last week The Dallas Morning News published a four-star review of Love’s upscale restaurant.
Just around the corner from Lonesome Dove is the original Love Shack — all 140 square feet of it — next door to the White Elephant Saloon, which is also owned by Love. The second Love Shack is located near Fort Worth’s Trinity Park and the museum district.
“We’re a different breed,” Love says. “We’re not a fast-food joint. We’re a really cool, hip, burger spot.”
The concept was born out a “what the heck” situation, he says. Love wanted to offer food to White Elephant Saloon customers, and he also needed to find a way to use the leftover trim from Lonesome Dove’s popular garlic-stuffed beef tenderloin.
“We have a lot of it,” Love says. “It’s expensive meat to just throw away.”
It took about five months for Love to develop the perfect grind and mix for his unique burger.
“We do 50 percent prime brisket and then 50 percent of tenderloin,” Love says. The combination makes a “tremendous meat patty.”
The Love burger itself is simple.
“It’s not like we have all these crazy things on the burger,” he explains. “It’s not a burger made with foie gras and blueberries or whatever.
“It’s made from really top-notch, high-quality ingredients that are all house-made,” including the pickles and the ketchup and mayonnaise that go into Love’s special Love Sauce.
The Dirty Love Burger “gets a little more exciting,” topped with wild boar bacon and a quail egg. “It’s a beautiful thing,” he says. “It’s even better with a fried portobello on it. We call that the Love and the Boom Boom. It’s awesome. It’s what I eat.”
The next order of business was developing fries that are “not like anybody else’s,” Love says. “We do a thin, plain french fry that gets pretty crispy. They’re different.”
Love devotes a huge amount of time creating the perfect eating experience, down to the width of the tomato slice.
“All of it involves the texture of one bite,” he says. “It’s hard to develop a burger where [when] you bite into it, it still tastes the same all the way around.”
The three Love Shack menus vary. The Denton menu will include chicken, fish, hot dogs, soups and salads in addition to burgers, fries and onion rings. The Denton location is the only one that will serve grilled, cured pickles. Every Love Shack serves root beer on tap and milkshakes, too.
“We don’t have five shakes on the menu, we have today’s shake,” Love says. “And today’s shake could be anything.”
The same fare will be served from opening to close. The lunchtime crowd will order at the counter and seat themselves, whereas after 5 p.m. diners will be served by waitstaff, and to-go orders will be available for pickup at a window on the west side.
Bartenders will man a full bar and pour “fun, funky cocktails,” he says, and there will be a daily happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. Several flat-screen TVs are mounted overhead on nearly every wall.
“I’m a big sports guy. I don’t like missing any sports,” he says.
But the main focal point will be the stage flanking the east wall.
“You should be able to see the music from anywhere in the restaurant,” he says. Love says he’s a big proponent of live music, and the bands will “run the gamut.”
He says he wants his restaurant “to get heavily involved in the Denton music scene.”
“It’s such a great music town.”
Love envisioned the building to have “a spacious feel” with lots of windows and two 30-foot glass garage doors.
“The place is created to feel like you’re outside all the time,” he says.
The walls are constructed from reclaimed farm wood from South Texas. Patio seating with two giant maple trees will shade the north side, and diners can play outdoor pingpong, washers or cornhole. Love wants to create a relaxed atmosphere where customers will want to hang out for a few hours.
“The Love Shack is all about having fun,” he says.
Looking around on a recent afternoon, one can see there’s still plenty to do. Construction is not quite complete. The tables and chairs are stacked on top of each other. The staff has yet to learn the art of the food preparation and will be trained by Love himself. The city still has to give its stamp of approval, and is in the process of ensuring that the building is up to code and the health department is satisfied. So when does it open? Early April, Love says, but there’s no firm commitment yet as to an exact date.
“It’s got to be perfect,” he says. “My goal is for the food to be perfect, the service to be perfect, and whenever those things come together, that’s when we open.”