Forbes Cross takes a new idea and a great chef downtown 

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I'm thinking that this may be the consensus response to this restaurant, which defies categorization. "It's not really a Mexican restaurant," says Cross, who dropped the word Southwest from the name shortly before opening it. "But it's not a burger place, either. We have steaks, meatloaf, ribs. It's an American neighborhood restaurant, I guess."

That's what Applebee's calls itself, too. But trust me, there's no comparison. Most of the dishes I tasted at Hickok's were as satisfying as what I've found in any saloon with culinary pretensions, and Peterson's cooking lives up to most of his (and Cross') pretensions. A plate of Texas steak tartare, for example, with its sinus-clearing rojo vinaigrette and puffs of fluffy fry bread on the side, was superb. And where else in town can you score juicy chicken wings slathered in a roasted-garlic-and-agave glaze that can be dipped in house-made mango ketchup? If that's snooty, it's the kind of snooty I can fall in love with. (You can get the traditional cayenne-based buffalo wings, too, and they're very good.)

The carnitas tacos, made with tender braised pork, were gorgeous and easy to love, drizzled with just enough caramelized onion, roasted peppers and pepper-jack cheese not to overpower the fragrant meat. Ditto the dazzlingly punchy red-chili-chicken tacos. (The grilled-sirloin variety was just fatty enough to be less than perfect.) Fans of the cheap street tacos that you can find in Kansas City, Kansas, may have to get over a little sticker shock here; the side dishes — sweet-pepper rice and wonderful salt-and-pepper frijoles — justify the price.

I didn't love everything I tasted at Hickok's Bar & Grill, but I enjoyed a lot of it, including the beef-and-chorizo meatloaf (it needed to be spicier and a little more moist) and the fish and chips, which were also battered with that feathery beer concoction and served with a kick-ass cabbage slaw blended with fiery chiles. In this case, the batter needed to be hotter and crunchier. (Though I suspect that the laid-back server took his time picking up the plate from the kitchen because the fries were soggy, too.)

I should have ordered some of that mango ketchup or, better yet, Peterson's roasted-jalapeño ranch dressing as an alternative to the traditional — and boring — tartar sauce that came with the fried cod on the fish-and-chips platter. I'm surprised that Peterson didn't think of that himself. He's not one for modest seasonings, which is particularly evident in his version of a favorite comfort soup, corn chowder. Peterson's chowder had a little fire and smoke, thanks to those chopped green chiles, grilled chicken and cured bacon. It was one of the most restorative cream-based soups I've enjoyed all winter.

Peterson has dotted his menu with other good creamy dishes. Starters like the supple fondito, made with goat cheese, and the thick queso espinaca are filling enough to endanger the main course. After three or four bites, I was content to leave the rest to my dining companion, who eats spinach only when it comes camouflaged.

After an appetizer like that — or even an order of chips and smoky, sassy house salsa (roasted peppers and oven-charred fresh tomatoes) — followed by a full meal, dessert would be overkill. Still, I tasted the featured chocolate layer cake. It turned out to be its own kind of overkill, all thick, fudgy icing and grating sweetness.

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