Queso 'Qontroversy'

Landmark Austin restaurant boiling mad over Fort Worth queso controversy

Austin restaurant boiling mad over Fort Worth queso controversy

Matt's El Rancho bob armstrong queso
Much ado about queso. Photo courtesy of Matt's

Queso is a topic sufficiently serious in Texas that it's the subject of a new lawsuit between two restaurants. On June 28, Austin's own Matt's El Rancho filed a lawsuit against Horseshoe Hill Cafe, a Fort Worth restaurant owned by chef Grady Spears, for featuring its trademarked Bob Armstrong Dip on its menu.

Bob Armstrong Dip is the loaded queso named for former Texas Land Commissioner Bob Armstrong, who was a regular at Matt’s El Rancho. Back in the '70s, proprietor Matt Martinez Jr. supposedly created a special queso per Armstrong's request, souping it up by adding guacamole and crumbled taco beef.

Obviously Matt's did not invent queso. But the restaurant is well known for the dish: Southern Foodways Alliance, a group that documents food in the South, did a small film on it, as did Bon Appetit magazine. Matt's trademarked it in 2015.

That said, Spears has a history of putting "Bob Armstrong dip" on menus at some of his prior restaurants, such as Grady's Line Camp Steakhouse.

According to KXAN, the lawsuit states that Horseshoe Hill's "Bob Armstrong Dip and Chips" is too similar to El Rancho's Bob Armstrong Dip, and alleges "trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and unjust enrichment."

Matt's El Rancho seeks monetary damages and a ban against Spears using "Bob Armstrong Dip" in the future.

The lawsuit also includes a copy of a letter indicating that Matt's tried to keep the matter out of court, offering to resolve the matter if Spears stopped using the name.

It also says that Matt's sent Horseshoe Hill multiple cease-and-desist letters and verbal warnings; apparently Spears did not respond.

However, since news of the lawsuit emerged, Horseshoe Hill Cafe's website has been updated, with a newly-labeled item called "Famous Lawsuit Dip."

And on June 30, Spears posted a link to the Dallas Morning News' story on the lawsuit on Facebook with a rather unrepentant-sounding introduction that says, "The Dip That Caused a Lawsuit."

He appears to be doubling down. On July 1, he posted an offer stating that he's "celebrating America with the 'Famous Lawsuit Dip,' $4 all week at Horseshoe Hill. Come and Get it!!"