M and O Station Grill and the adjoining Leonard’s Department Store Museum sit just blocks from the trendy restaurants of West Seventh and are unassuming temples to burgers, fries, and Fort Worth history. Boxes of potatoes and onions greet me, ensuring M and O’s commitment to freshness, as I enter the simple yet spacious restaurant. After getting over the savory haze of grease permanently settled over M and O, I notice the black and white photos that dapple the walls. The photos capture Fort Worth in a bygone era, an era dominated by Leonard’s Department Store. While younger Fort Worthians and non-natives may have no clue what Leonard’s is, the name is sure to ring a nostalgia-tinged bell for older residents. Luckily for the grill’s patrons deprived of a Leonard’s-infused childhood, a Leonard’s Department Store Museum adjoins the restaurant. However, I enjoy living in the present, and my stomach is grumbling, so I opt for a hearty lunch before exploring the wonderfully curated Leonard’s Department Store Museum.
Bypassing the museum entrance, I make my way to the bar to order. M an O has a diverse and daunting menu, but the tattooed cook helps me navigate the many tempting selections.
“The Toluca Burger is the best hangover cure in Fort Worth,” the cook offers.
I read the description for Nathan’s Toluca Burger: “chorizo, one fried egg, jack cheese, grilled jalapenos, and sliced avocado.” Being neither hungover, just bleary-eyed from a long night spent with Netflix, nor a fan of spicy food, I keep exploring the expansive menu. M and O is the rare type of restaurant where the staff will let you know you’re looking rough from the night before and give you some friendly curative advice. I finally decide on the M and O Original Burger. I am one step closer to experiencing burger heaven, but one obstacle keeps me from those pearly, greasy gates. The cash register has stopped working, but my new friend, the fry cook, tells me not to worry; he can ring me up later but not to rush, because M and O is one of those rare restaurants where the staff treats their neighbors like neighbors. M and O trusts and respects their clientele, which has helped establish it as a trusted and respected Fort Worth institution.
Finding a seat near the TV playing College Gameday on mute, I eagerly anticipate what the menu has described as a cheeseburger with all the fixings, doused in M an O’s “house dressing,” a tangy tomato sauce. I exchange a “Go frogs!” with a grandfather and grandson decked out in purple paraphernalia as a pair of cops wolf down their Texas-sized burgers. Then the moment arrives.
A waiter brings out my M and O Original with a side of hand-cut fries. The presentation is simple, the burger comes in a plastic basket lined with wax paper, but the food itself commands your attention, and a good amount of stomach space. I’ve added a fried egg to my burger and the yolk drizzles over the rest of the toppings after the first bite. The fresh veggies sit atop a thick beef patty that complements the light French fries. As impressive as its commitment to fresh ingredients is M an O’s vast array of options. When I ordered, the cashier asked me if I wanted to add a fried egg, avocado, or grilled jalapenos to the M and O, which has about every other topping you could want. Furthermore, you can choose to substitute your side of regular fries with sweet potato fries.
My blissful burger lunch leaves me in a satisfying stupor, but after a few minutes of watching college football, I rally and make my way into the Leonard’s Department Store Museum. The museum, an easy two-step trek from your table, captures the vitality of a Fort Worth institution. From the 1920s through 1970s, what started as a mom and pop store grew to take up six blocks in Fort Worth and operated its own subway system from the Trinity River to downtown Fort Worth. Anyone who lived in the city during those years will certainly have a fond Leonard’s memory to recall, as evidenced by the numerous index cards pinned above the guest book where the museum encourages visitors to jot down a memory. These index cards bring the artifacts (photos, advertisements, and candy-colored merchandise) to life, recounting Christmases, Sunday afternoons, and school field trips revolving around the department store.
The M and O Station Grill and its Leonard’s Department Store Museum tell the story of a Fort Worth institution while keeping one in operation in the form of an exceptional burger joint. The cook has fixed the cash register so I stop and pay, conversing with my newfound friend, and leaving, I know this will be the first of many visits to M and O Station Grill.