Abel Gonzales, who has achieved international fame as a repeat winner of the State Fair of Texas' Big Tex fried food award, now has his own restaurant. Called Republic Ranch, it's in soft-opening mode at 3121 Ross Ave., in a space that has seen a number of concepts open and close, such as Salt Lounge, Bungalow Beach Club, Southern Comforts, Ormsby Catering — oh, don't make us go through the list, it's too painful.
This is the first restaurant for Gonzales, but it's really an extension of his longtime catering business.
"I've been doing a lot of this food on the catering side, which has been headquartered in this very kitchen, so I know the space very well," he says. "Some of the previous tenants had DJs and a nightlife component that put them in a rough spot in the neighborhood. When I got the opportunity to take over the space, it seemed like a natural evolution."
Although Gonzales has made a name for himself as the king of kitschy fried foods — like fried butter — he grew up in the restaurant industry, working in the kitchen of his father's restaurant, A.J. Gonzales' Mexican Oven, in the West End. He has the chops, both in the kitchen and front of the house, as a charming and gregarious host.
Rather than fried foods, his menu at Republic Ranch spotlights two of Texas' favorite cuisines. "It's a blending of Mexican food and barbecue," Gonzales says. "It's what I've been doing in my catering work and I know people like it."
He's doing tacos with fillings such as rib-eye, chicken, and pulled pork.
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Wynne McNabb Cunningham