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Cowboy Cafe, Owners Mike and Jim Barnes' Refurbished Dive Bar on Lee Highway in North Arlington


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Correction it was the Charley Horse, owned by the people at the venerable Cowboy Cafe

Speaking of the Cowboy Cafe, it is now under new management. They are trying to upgrade the facility as well as the kitchen. This is a process I am told will take them through the first few months of next year. I sampled a crab cake apetizer with chipotle aioli and the cajun shrimp with a spicy cajun butter sauce over long grain rice, both of which were pretty tasty. They seem to be trying out new items each week. I wish them luck. I always like to support my corner bar, or in this case, my "in the middle of a long haphazardly developed block" bar.

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Maybe good timing or bad on their part. There is somthing of a development effort that is being attempted over that side of Lee Highway. Very interesting purchases in the last few months.

Can you fill me in? My shop is directly across the street from the Cowboy Cafe.

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I used to live right in that neigborhood, a street or two away from Lee Highway right by the 7-11 on the corner of Edison. At that time, the only thing that could get us out of our house was the smell of sausages cooking on the grill at Heidelberg during the summer.

When I lived there, the first restaurant there was some Vietnamese place, I think it was Pho ##, not sure of the number. Then it was a diner, I think that lasted for about a month, then it was something else and then Charley Horse. I only ever went to the Vietnamese place, the Charley Horse was coming in as I was on my way out, so it had an OK run there.

Interested to go back to the old neighborhood and check it out.

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About a year ago, I had a brief conversation with Frank Ruta, and he mentioned that he enjoyed Cowboy Cafe, and that it's surprisingly good.

And I remember thinking to myself, 'Yeah, so I've heard.'

I hadn't been to Cowboy Cafe in nine years. It was one of two restaurants that I had a stigma about, for reasons entirely unrelated to the restaurant itself. As strange as it sounds, it took some courage to go back there this past weekend.

"This has new owners, right?" I asked my server.

"For the past two years," she said.

"It's clean now."

The Culbertson brothers bought the crusty dive-bar from their employer, Charlie Campbell, and have turned it into something special. They've managed to clean it up without sacrificing any of the warm, cozy feeling this place had before; in fact, it's more comfortable because you're less likely to get creeped out by whatever fossilized thing you just felt on the bottom of your chair.

A pint of the great Star Hill Lager ($5) was in perfect condition, and exactly what you want with a Quesadilla ($6.75). The moment that quesadilla hit the table, I knew this wasn't the old Cowboy Cafe: It was (believe it or not) artfully plated, and hearty without being the least bit gloppy. Don't hesitate to get this quesadilla to split as an appetizer for two.

Both the Cowboy Burger ($9) and the Chiliburger ($9) were ordered medium, but unfortunately arrived completely well-done, looking more like meat-loaf patties than hamburgers. And yet, both were good burgers, served on a grilled brioche, with fresh condiments, the tiny smear of chili having some curry in the nose. Despite the fries being ordinary and seemingly frozen, these burgers were good enough for me to order again, but I'll make doubly-sure they're cooked to medium next time.

Alert, alert. I rolled the dice on a daily special of Tea-Braised Pork Belly, and wow, wow, wow! Four plum-sized rectangles of thick, layered pork belly, bathing in a star-anise scented soy-based sauce. A huge serving of pork belly, with good mashed potatoes (I'm glad I got the potatoes instead of rice) and a great Mexican corn whose name escapes me. I was wondering what they'd charge me for this hefty dish, thinking at this place I might escape for $25. The charge? $11.50. Yep, $11.50. I was so sure this was a mistake that I mentioned it to my server. Yep, $11.50.

Well, I have nine years of catching up to do, so unfortunately, Cowboy Cafe is going to have to get used to seeing me.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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Duck confit on the chalkboard tonight, and with no time to cook, I gave it a whirl. Very nice. It was served with a sweetened ancho chili sauce with cherries and accompanied by mashed sweet potatoes that finished with a hint of vanilla. The plate was rounded out with some house andouille sausage. Just what I needed on a cold winter night after long days of shoveling snow. The specials board continues to experiment. Earlier in the week I saw an oyster stew that looked good, though I did not try it.

Oh yeah, Renee McCullough was singing, and she sounded great with her kicking band. She played a mix of covers and some songs from her new album. Too bad us old folks could not stay for more of her set.

It's nice to have a place like this in the neighborhood.

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The last time I was in here was about 4 years ago since a coworker raved about their burgers and suggested I try them on half price burger night, which included takeout. I went in with my then two year old and the place was so smoky that we placed our order and then waited in the car. The burgers were pretty awful so we never went back. After reading about pork belly, oyster stew, and duck confit here, I might have have to head back over. Would these types of entrees be available at lunch or only dinner?

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In case you are in the mood, these good folks are flying in crawfish from New Orleans every weekend for crawfish boils every Saturday night starting now (actually a couple of weeks ago) and continuing throughout the summer. The flyer says "all you can eat" but I believe you can also get just a single serving if you prefer.

crawfish boil.pdf

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In case you are in the mood, these good folks are flying in crawfish from New Orleans every weekend for crawfish boils every Saturday night starting now (actually a couple of weeks ago) and continuing throughout the summer. The flyer says "all you can eat" but I believe you can also get just a single serving if you prefer.

crawfish boil.pdf

They had this as a chalkboard item last night ($15 for a single serving). Amazingly, they were staying open until 2 AM.

Also, they're having a tasting of all the Starr Hill offerings later this month with the owner of the brewery.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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I saw a Cowboy Reuben ($9.50) on the menu at Cowboy Cafe last night that merits attention - it's made with housemade pastrami. I tried to order it, but they didn't have it (presumably because they were out of housemade pastrami).

Cheers,

Rocks

Did you ever get back to try it Don? I went two nights ago. That place has a lot of house made menu items but I've been looking for great Reubans around DC. I thought the Pastrami itself was pretty good, if a little under-salted. It was the first time I'd grabbed a salt shaker in a while. I also wish they had offered a little more meat with the sammy. Was curious if you'd given it a go, or what you thought of the other menu items like the "tater tots"

Say hi next time. :(

I was also there two nights ago, and had the Texas Chili ($7.50, with cheese and onions, no beans), the homemade Tater Tots ($5), and a pint or three of Starr Hill Jomo Lager (a bargain at $5). Service was as friendly as always, but the food itself disappointed me for the second straight visit. The chili was okay in that bitter, Texas way, with pools of melted yellow cheese around the bowl, but I was disappointed in the tater tots - a huge order for $5 - that really weren't "tater tots" so much as they were potato croquettes, almost with a liquid center, it's as if someone breaded and fried milky mashed potatoes. There were eight of them, each the size of a plum, and came with a ranch-dressing dipping sauce - I left three on the plate because it was just too much food.

I silently (and only slightly) downgraded Cowboy Cafe in the Dining Guide, but didn't feel like it was worth drawing attention to.

There were a couple industry pros down at the end of the bar - I assume one was you?

Cheers,

Rocks

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Say hi next time. :(

I...

I was quietly taking notes about mid bar...

I thought the same about the tots, hence the quotes. I was wondering what would happen if they used just enough of that potato glue to bind a small dice of cooked potato, and then made them smaller so each one had a higher ratio of crunch.

I love that they are making so much stuff in house. The pastrami was nice, ham, jalapeno poppers, pickles, etc.. but think they could firm up the execution a bit. I think I have to give it another shot

Did you see that grill? Dante's inferno, back of the house. I almost thought they still allowed smoking when I first walked in.

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I was quietly taking notes about mid bar...

I thought the same about the tots, hence the quotes. I was wondering what would happen if they used just enough of that potato glue to bind a small dice of cooked potato, and then made them smaller so each one had a higher ratio of crunch.

I have played around with this and found that mixing shredded russet potato that I have microwaved until they are just tender mixed into a combination of pate e choux and mashed potatoes give the best results. For extra crunch they can be rolled in panko, but that makes them less of a tater tot, but wonderfully crunchy.

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Sold. As of yesterday. I am told it went to the same folks who own Lost Dog Cafe South Arlington and Lost Dog Cafe McLean (which is a different ownership group than the North Arlington location). According to the web sites that would be Wes Clough, Jim Barnes, Mike Barnes, and Mike Danner. No changes are anticipated. Or so they say...

Wow. So that little Westover neighborhood is the Ground Zero for two local chains (Lost Dog and Lebanese Taverna.)

I miss that little hood!

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Wow. So that little Westover neighborhood is the Ground Zero for two local chains (Lost Dog and Lebanese Taverna.)

To the best of my knowledge, there are no plans to convert this place into another Lost Dog outpost. The name remains the same, as should pretty much everything else. They do have a brand new exit sign, however, pointing the way to the rear exit in case of emergency.

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To the best of my knowledge, there are no plans to convert this place into another Lost Dog outpost. The name remains the same, as should pretty much everything else. They do have a brand new exit sign, however, pointing the way to the rear exit in case of emergency.

Speaking only in the general case, and having no specific knowledge about this situation ... the danger when a larger (perhaps lesser) restaurant group acquires a smaller (perhaps better) restaurant exists because things behind the scenes have the potential to become melded with the larger, lesser restaurant group (suppliers, corporate personality, etc.) - this, regardless of what the initial buzz may be. For real life examples, think of instances in the corporate world when a smaller entity has been bought out by a larger one.

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This sucks, I was just there a couple weeks ago for a nice reasonably priced lunch.

I chatted with one of the new owners last night. He seemed like a good dude. Of necessity, there will be new folks involved in creating the chalkboard specials menu (which was always infinitely more interesting than the standard printed menu). I would reserve judgment until they have had a chance to show us their chops.

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I was on my way to Arrowine, and the allure of Cowboy Cafe's sign called out to me: "Hot food, cold beer," it said. There was an open parking spot right there, I flipped into the parking lot, and was inside within thirty seconds, seated at the bar. On the way in, I noticed a folding sign sitting on the sidewalk, with an arrow pointing out towards Lee Highway, accompanied by the word, "Cold," and an arrow pointing the opposite direction, in towards Cowboy Cafe, accompanied by the word, 'Warm."

Cowboy Cafe has Abita Mardi Gras Bock ($5) on tap right now.

Often, in bars or pubs that don't pump big money into chefs, there is strong Latino kitchen help (hell, there's often strong Latino kitchen help even if they *do* pump big money into chefs). So one of my ordering strategies is to "go Latino," and in this case it paid off. Green Chili Pork ($12.95) was a big boneless shank (I think it was a shank), coated with piping hot green chili sauce, and accompanied by mounds of black beans and white rice. My bartender gave me a bottle of Tabasco which I shook liberally onto the entire dish.

It was a quick, 45-minute in-and-out, and a well-cooked blue-plate-special sort-of dinner. I keep waiting for Cowboy Cafe to falter (it changed ownership awhile back), and maybe it's because I order well, but I seem to have pretty good luck here. Maintained in Italic, mainly for its character and neighborhood feel - the food is just good enough not to knock it down.

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