For chef-owner Jon Bonnell of Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine in Fort Worth, tonight was the first root beer of the rest of his life. After 24 hours of interviews by the national and even international media for his decision to stop using Dr Pepper in one of his restaurant’s signature desserts, he drove to the Texas town of Dublin, which until this week had made a very special version of the drink, and loaded ten cases of Triple XXX Root Beer into his car. Bonnell sees the change as his protest against a big company gobbling up a little one, with a significant loss of jobs in Dublin.
Of course, Bonnell’s root beer float wasn’t an appetizer. In that slot, we ordered one of the best starters we’ve ever tasted anywhere, something he calls Oysters Texasfeller. Yes, based on the New Orleans classic Oysters Rockefeller (learned while Bonnell worked at the Brennan family’s Mr. B’s Bistro in the French Quarter), the Texas spin makes its components more distinct than they tend to be in the original. There’s delightful sauteed spinach underneath, plus the oysters are fried, plus there’s no small amount of hollandaise. I’m not sure I can try any other appetizer at Bonnell’s.
As Bonnell grew up in a Texas ranching family, he not only learned a lot about great red meat but had more than enough opportunities to taste Mexican food. All those memories feed into his restaurant’s smoked chicken stack – a layering of tortillas and smoked local chicken, with accents of salsa verde, a peppery pico de gallo and a soothing dollop of guacamole. It is, after all, the perfect prelude to a frosty-mugged root beer float.