Thursday, March 31, 2011

Love Shack Denton, Denton, TX

Love, actually

The man, the myth, the menu promise to make dining on the Square a while lot juicier
01:32 PM CDT on Thursday, March 31, 2011
By Ellen Ritscher Sackett / Staff Writer
Chef Tim Love is running behind. His executive assistant calls to say he will be 20 minutes late. He’s on his way from Fort Worth to talk about Love Shack Denton, his latest restaurant about to open just east of the Square. For months, passers-by have peered through the windows, observing the building’s transition from barbershop to burger joint. It’s almost ready — but not quite.
DMN file photo
DMN file photo
Tim Love, pictured in 2007 just before the opening of his first Love Shack at the Fort Worth Stockyards, is preparing to open the burger joint’s third location, in Denton.
The 2007 Iron Chef America winner, instantly recognizable for his many television appearances on cooking and morning shows, walks through the front door without his crisp chef’s coat and signature white Stetson. Despite his busy morning, he appears relaxed in faded jeans, cowboy boots and a worn T-shirt that reveals a tattoo inked on a buff upper arm. He sits down and leans back in his chair as construction workers keep the place hopping, with sparks flying and the sound of drills and saws buzzing, and hammers pounding away.
This will be Love’s third gourmet hamburger establishment by the same name, Tim Love’s Love Shack, one of several restaurants he has owned over the years that run the gamut from casual to fine dining. But this one is special. It’s Love’s first venture in his hometown.
“My mom wanted me to do a restaurant in Denton — that’s the main reason I’m here. She’s excited,” says the 39-year-old culinary rock star who spent the first 18 years of his life here.
“I wanted to bring something back.”
Long before Love became a celebrity chef, he spent summers in Tennessee working on his father’s farm.
“I’ve raised almost every vegetable under the sun growing up as a kid, and same with animals,” Love says. “I raised chickens and rabbits and lambs and goats and steers.”
After Love graduated from Denton High School, he went back to Tennessee to earn double degrees in finance and marketing at the University of Knoxville. While making a little cash in various restaurant jobs, he found his calling.
“I fell in love with it,” he says. “I wanted to cook for a living.”
Love never went to culinary school, but he gained a solid foundation based on experience.
“You learn from every ingredient you touch.”
Love spent his mid-20s in Colorado, snowboarding when he wasn’t cooking for crowds. He scooped up the Taste of Breckenridge Grand Award three times and the Taste of the Mountains Award, four. He met his wife, Emilie, at the Uptown Bistro in Frisco, Colo., where he was chef. Eventually the two moved back to Texas, making their home in Fort Worth, where they now raise their three children.
• Address: 115 E. Hickory St.
• Phone: 940-442-6834
• Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday;
11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday
• Opening date: early April
• On the
In 2000, Love opened Lonesome Dove in Cowtown’s historic downtown Stockyards district, once the Grand Central Station of livestock, where visitors can still witness daily cattle drives. Love, who calls himself a “huge meat guy,” made his mark serving what he calls “urban Western cuisine” — not only traditional high-end steaks, but rabbit, elk, rattlesnake, wild boar and even kangaroo.
Love says people often try out-of-the-ordinary meat just to say they did it.
“But can I take it and turn it into something people really like?” he says. “That’s the challenge.”
More than a decade since opening, Lonesome Dove is packed and critics rave; in fact, just last week The Dallas Morning News published a four-star review of Love’s upscale restaurant.
Just around the corner from Lonesome Dove is the original Love Shack — all 140 square feet of it — next door to the White Elephant Saloon, which is also owned by Love. The second Love Shack is located near Fort Worth’s Trinity Park and the museum district.
“We’re a different breed,” Love says. “We’re not a fast-food joint. We’re a really cool, hip, burger spot.”
The concept was born out a “what the heck” situation, he says. Love wanted to offer food to White Elephant Saloon customers, and he also needed to find a way to use the leftover trim from Lonesome Dove’s popular garlic-stuffed beef tenderloin.
“We have a lot of it,” Love says. “It’s expensive meat to just throw away.”
It took about five months for Love to develop the perfect grind and mix for his unique burger.
“We do 50 percent prime brisket and then 50 percent of tenderloin,” Love says. The combination makes a “tremendous meat patty.”
The Love burger itself is simple.
“It’s not like we have all these crazy things on the burger,” he explains. “It’s not a burger made with foie gras and blueberries or whatever.
“It’s made from really top-notch, high-quality ingredients that are all house-made,” including the pickles and the ketchup and mayonnaise that go into Love’s special Love Sauce.
The Dirty Love Burger “gets a little more exciting,” topped with wild boar bacon and a quail egg. “It’s a beautiful thing,” he says. “It’s even better with a fried portobello on it. We call that the Love and the Boom Boom. It’s awesome. It’s what I eat.”
The next order of business was developing fries that are “not like anybody else’s,” Love says. “We do a thin, plain french fry that gets pretty crispy. They’re different.”
Love devotes a huge amount of time creating the perfect eating experience, down to the width of the tomato slice.
“All of it involves the texture of one bite,” he says. “It’s hard to develop a burger where [when] you bite into it, it still tastes the same all the way around.”
The three Love Shack menus vary. The Denton menu will include chicken, fish, hot dogs, soups and salads in addition to burgers, fries and onion rings. The Denton location is the only one that will serve grilled, cured pickles. Every Love Shack serves root beer on tap and milkshakes, too.
“We don’t have five shakes on the menu, we have today’s shake,” Love says. “And today’s shake could be anything.”
The same fare will be served from opening to close. The lunchtime crowd will order at the counter and seat themselves, whereas after 5 p.m. diners will be served by waitstaff, and to-go orders will be available for pickup at a window on the west side.
Bartenders will man a full bar and pour “fun, funky cocktails,” he says, and there will be a daily happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. Several flat-screen TVs are mounted overhead on nearly every wall.
“I’m a big sports guy. I don’t like missing any sports,” he says.
But the main focal point will be the stage flanking the east wall.
“You should be able to see the music from anywhere in the restaurant,” he says. Love says he’s a big proponent of live music, and the bands will “run the gamut.”
He says he wants his restaurant “to get heavily involved in the Denton music scene.”
“It’s such a great music town.”
Love envisioned the building to have “a spacious feel” with lots of windows and two 30-foot glass garage doors.
“The place is created to feel like you’re outside all the time,” he says.
The walls are constructed from reclaimed farm wood from South Texas. Patio seating with two giant maple trees will shade the north side, and diners can play outdoor pingpong, washers or cornhole. Love wants to create a relaxed atmosphere where customers will want to hang out for a few hours.
“The Love Shack is all about having fun,” he says.
Looking around on a recent afternoon, one can see there’s still plenty to do. Construction is not quite complete. The tables and chairs are stacked on top of each other. The staff has yet to learn the art of the food preparation and will be trained by Love himself. The city still has to give its stamp of approval, and is in the process of ensuring that the building is up to code and the health department is satisfied. So when does it open? Early April, Love says, but there’s no firm commitment yet as to an exact date.
“It’s got to be perfect,” he says. “My goal is for the food to be perfect, the service to be perfect, and whenever those things come together, that’s when we open.”
ELLEN RITSCHER SACKETT can be reached at 940-566-6845. Her e-mail address is .

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Soup's On ~ Soups in Denton

SOME LIKE IT HOT: A little spice, a lot of warmth served up in local soup

Published in the Denton Record-Chronicle, Thursday, January 13, 2011

Text and photos by Ellen Ritscher Sackett

What better way to stave off the wintry chills than a piping hot bowl of homemade soup? Almost every Denton restaurant offers at least one soup on its menu, and many have revolving selections that change daily. Narrowing down this list was a challenge, but here are a few you can count on to warm you up when the temperatures drop.

Mr. Chopsticks

$7.25 for a large bowl.
1663 Scripture St. 940-566-5671.
Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

This slightly sweet, slightly spicy Vietnamese rice noodle soup makes more than a meal. Pho lovers can add chicken or beef to Mr. Chopstick’s version, which is made from a chicken-based broth rather than the more traditional beef stock. According to owner Chai Tamprateep, the quality of the broth is “crucial.”

“To have good soup, you have to have good broth,” he said.

His pho is steeped with onion, garlic and spices, which include anise, cinnamon stick, cardamom and fresh ginger. Limes, bean sprouts, jalapeno slices, cilantro and plum sauce sides come served on a plate covering the bowl, ensuring the soup will be hot when it arrives at the table. Other condiments, such as soy sauce and chili paste, are already on the table available for additional soup doctoring.

This 25-year-old Asian restaurant, which moved from Hickory Street to its current location north of the University of North Texas campus, features Chinese, Thai and Japanese cuisines. Other best-sellers? “We sell a lot of hot and sour and egg drop soup,” Tamprateep said.

Los Toreros
2900 Wind River Lane, Suite 134. 940-390-7693.
Open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.

Those who live on the south side of town can indulge in this healthy pick from Unicorn Lake’s new upscale Mexican restaurant, Los Toreros, which took its recipe from its big sister restaurant, El Matador.

The two versions are virtually identical. They both start with chicken cooked in a tomato-based broth chock full of vegetables, including corn, carrots, celery, onion and red and green peppers. Each is topped with crispy tortilla strips and avocado.
The only difference? The cheese. El Matador’s version is laden with mozzarella, while Los Toreros comes with a slice of queso fresco. Los Toreros’ portion is for smaller appetites, but it also comes with a side of Spanish rice. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Cup $4, bowl $5.
219 W. Oak St. 940-565-1638.
Open 10 a.m. to midnight daily.

Tomato basil ranks right up there as the most popular soup in town, if the number of restaurants that boast a recipe is any indication.

Banter’s won this feature spot for being the most unique, with low-fat cream cheese blended with crushed tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil. The recipe came from Michelle Kuzov, who sold the restaurant to Stephen Johnson and Ellen Ryfle in January.

Ryfle said Banter lovers need not worry; the atmosphere of the artsy downtown hangout will not change. It will still offer live music, feature local artists and continue the Thursday open mic night, one of the few left in the area. The menu will undergo a slight revision in February, but favorite dishes, including the tomato basil soup, will remain.

Try these other deserving tomato basil soups when you’re out and about town: Bochy’s, for its superb garlic infusion, Hannah’s Off the Square, for its heavy, cream-based, don’t-start-your-diet-today concoction; and Round Belly Cafe inside the Antique Experience of Denton, for one unnamed ingredient that chef Baldemar Rivera says keeps customers coming back for more.

Ramen Republic Noodle House
Regular $5, large $6.50, monster $8
210 E. Hickory St. 940-387-3757.
Open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
This is not the curly, compact, low-budget ramen that goes on sale at the grocery store in packages of 10 for $1. These are long, thin, elegant noodles that swim in broth hot off the stove.

First-time customers to Ramen Republic are walked through the five-step process of building their noodle dishes. Picking the bowl size is the first big decision — big, bigger, biggest — followed by selecting an all-natural, low-sodium vegetable, garlic beef or ginger chicken broth.

Next, choose from one of four types of noodles and add the protein, either tofu, plain or sesame ginger chicken, slow-roasted pulled pork or Asian beef mini-meatballs. Tenderloin tips or the salmon filet are available for an additional charge as well as extras such as baby spinach, fresh basil, edamame or egg.

Lastly, a small bowl filled with your choice of veggies from the complimentary bar can be tossed into the mix while your soup is prepared behind the counter. In minutes, the meal is complete.

Ramen Republic is a place where strict vegans and shameless carnivores sit side by side, where the bland meets spicy, and hot meets cold. Owner Charlie Foster, who opened the Asian-inspired restaurant near the Industrial Street area last June, said, “There are over 1 million different bowl combinations available.” A meat-eater’s suggestion: Try the pork.

International Foods of Denton
609 Sunset St. 940-383-2051.
Open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

For a simple soup that’s good and good for you, try the lentil soup from International Foods of Denton, one block south of University Drive. This restaurant, which opened its doors to Denton over 16 years ago, specializes in Mediterranean, Persian, Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine.

The lentil soup is “very healthy,” said Kim Pourmorshed, who owns and operates the restaurant with her husband, Ali.

“It’s good for your stomach, your body and your hormones,” she said. In addition to crushed lentils, the soup contains a blend of carrots and onions, herbs and some secret spices that make it special, Pourmorshed said.
The ingredients are blended into a thin, smooth soup that goes down easily, a good choice for a sensitive tummy, and reheats well. Customers can ask for a side of pita bread as well, perfect for scraping the bowl to get every last drop.

The Abbey Inn Restaurant and Pub
Cup $3.99, bowl $5.99.
101 W. Hickory St. 940-566-5483.
Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 11 a.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday.

The Abbey Inn’s French onion soup is made with beef and chicken stock added to a sweet onion, sherry and butter reduction. But what makes this version memorable is the homemade croutons — soppy-soft bite-sized pillows made from sourdough, wheatberry, pumpernickel and marble rye breads — covered by a thin layer of melted Harvarti cheese, which holds in the heat and contains the flavors.

Next time you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and check out the recent renovations in the lower level of the restaurant on the southeast corner of the downtown Square. What was once the Boiler Room, dedicated to live music, is now the Abbey Underground.

Co-owner Tim Trawick said they have added seating and are “trying to create a cozy pub environment,” which will feature 99 bottles of beer on the back wall of the bar. For now, the menu will be the same upstairs as down, so either way you can have your soup and eat it too.

Good Eats Grill
Cup $2.99, bowl $3.99, add-on to a meal $1.49.
5812 N. Interstate 35. 940-387-3500. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

It’s winter, so think summer, as in Indian Summer Soup — one of three of Good Eats’ soup offerings, which also include a daily special and tomato basil.

“It’s our best-selling soup,” said kitchen manager Eric Wright. The golden yellow comfort food looks as warm as it tastes, made with melted American cheese, chicken, onion, margarine, garlic, mushrooms and corn with an ever-so-slight kick from poblano pepper.

Denton is fortunate to be home to one of only three Good Eats restaurants left in Texas from a chain serving ranch-style food that started off with a bang in 1986 by E. Gene Street. Street also began the Black-eyed Pea country-style chain and several other successful Dallas-based restaurants and became a founder of Consolidated Restaurant Operations Inc., which oversees the operations of successful chains in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, such as El Chico, Cantina Laredo and III Forks as well as Good Eats.

Unlike other repeateries whose menu items are often at least partially premade, Good Eats uses all fresh produce and creates all of its recipes in-house from scratch, which makes its ranch-style meals particularly mmm, mmm good.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Freebirds World Burrito, Denton, TX

Freebirds’ barrage on the senses has flavor

A version of this article was published in the Denton Record-Chronicle on Thursday, September 16, 2010

By Ellen Ritscher Sackett / Staff Writer

Over the last 20 years, Freebirds World Burrito’s Texas-focused chain has developed something of a cult following.
Freebirds fanatics are those willing to drive for miles to get their fill of the restaurant’s burritos, tacos, nachos and the like. They hotly debate the merits of Freebirds over its national competitor, Chipotle, and describe in detail their favorite combinations from a choice of 3 trillion possibilities. They fill up “fanatic cards” with stamps, redeemable toward rewards based on accumulated purchases.

Now, fortunately, local fanatics won’t have to fill up their gas tanks to get to the closest Freebirds. As of today, Denton has one of its own.
Earlier this week, Freebirds Denton opened its doors in two days of mock trial runs, which doubled as benefits for its two local causes: the University of North Texas College of Music and the Denton State Supported Living Center. For a $5 donation, customers were invited to chow down on a custom-made meal and to experience the Freebirds culture. From its start as the joint venture between two college roommates to its more recent corporate expansion, Freebirds’ philanthropic, “change the world,” be-yourself attitude appeals largely to the college crowd and the ever-optimistic — a perfect fit for Denton.
DRC file photo/
DRC file photo/
Holding a burrito high, “Libby” sits on a custom chopper at Freebirds World Burrito. The Denton location of the Texas-centric chain is now open at Rayzor Ranch Marketplace.

Earlier this week, Freebirds Denton opened its doors in two days of mock trial runs, which doubled as benefits for its two local causes: the University of North Texas College of Music and the Denton State Supported Living Center. For a $5 donation, customers were invited to chow down on a custom-made meal and to experience the Freebirds culture. From its start as the joint venture between two college roommates to its more 
Until Monday, I was among the uninitiated. Peeking through the glass windows, I could see the Statue of “Libby” suspended from the ceiling, busting through the Berlin Wall on a Voodoo custom chopper. (Later I learned this representation of freedom is found in every Freebirds restaurant.) As soon as I walked through the door, I was hit with a barrage of rock ’n’ roll and greetings from more-than-helpful employees.
A young, nose-ringed gentleman loudly suggested over the music that I try the famous burrito. He led me to the cafeteria-style fresh food line where I was introduced to Miyaka, a friendly employee with a movie-star smile who made recommendations from the freebies, extras and sauces as we went along.
Our completed collaboration was a foil-wrapped cylindrical creation stuffed inside a spinach tortilla, made with grilled chicken, black beans, rice, guacamole, lots of cilantro, red onion, roasted corn, salsa and who knows what else I agreed to. Common sense aside, I also agreed to chips and queso. Fortunately, I was starving.
As I properly unpeeled the foil, I began a lengthy journey toward the other end of the burrito. I didn’t quite make it through the seismic Tex-Mex portion. (I did, however, in spite of my big eyes and stuffed stomach, find some room for the creamy white cheese queso.)
My husband went with the more manageable carnita tacos, slow roasted since morning and slightly spicy. He gave the Sweet Leaf Tea the thumbs up, and I washed down my meal with a soda (no Coke, Pepsi). Maybe next time we’d go for a beer or try a frozen margarita. At meal’s end, we opted to throw out our used foil rather than add to the restaurant’s decor, as suggested, with artistic expressions. The new restaurant was already dotted with odd-shaped animals and shiny aluminum-foil sculptures.
The eager employees all wanted to know how we liked our first visit. We liked it. Was it, as one Facebook fanatic described, “the most bodaciously epic masticating flavorful adventure of the taste buds”?
Well, that statement might be a bit over the top, but then, "over the top" would describe Freebirds perfectly.
ELLEN RITSCHER SACKETT can be reached at 940-566-6845. Her e-mail address is .
World Burrito
2700 W. University Drive at Rayzor Ranch Marketplace. 940-565-5400. $.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hannah's Off the Square, 100-mile Meal, April 20, 2010


By Ellen "EJ" Sackett
Originally published in the Denton Record-Chronicle, DentonTime, April 15, 2010

Nine summers ago, Sheena Croft arrived in Denton with nothing but her cat, her car and a small overnight bag. Excited to start a new life in Texas, her boyfriend, now husband, was about to begin graduate studies in art at the University of North Texas, while Croft, a trained chef, planned to travel around Texas to learn about its cuisine. 
They packed all of their belongings in a huge Ryder truck and drove in tandem from southern Georgia, stopping to spend the night in New Orleans. The next morning, they woke up to find their truck gone.

They did, however, have an apartment ready and waiting. The property management company provided them with towels and tooth- brushes. Croft’s aunt sent a care package of clothes and helped them with immediate expenses. But the stress of starting over in a new place took its toll. At a shopping excursion at Sears, the couple had a minor melt- down. It got the attention of a clerk, who called in the store manager, who listened to their story and offered them a line of credit at zero percent interest. The Sears manager also handed Croft a section of the Denton Record-Chronicle with an article about a new “Tex-French” restaurant that was opening in two weeks, called “Hannah’s Off the Square.”

“I put on clothes from my aunt and drove to Hannah’s,” Croft said.
She was determined to convince the then-owner, Eric Hill, that she was the perfect person to be chef. Unfortunately, he already had hired someone else, but Croft didn’t give up. She told him: “I know this cuisine. I know your customer base. I worked at a restaurant just like this for three years. Let me create a menu.” 

Almost a decade later, Croft is still creating menus as the restaurant’s executive chef, never leaving her Southern roots far behind. “We didn’t have fast food,” said Croft,
referring to her years growing up in southern Georgia and northern Florida. Instead, her family ate what was readily available to them. “My chicken was shark tail, alligator, snapping turtle — they were all mystery white meats,” Croft said. “We’d get mussels from the river, go down to the creek and get crawfish, go deep-sea fishing where the Suwannee River enters the Gulf of Mexico. We were down there every other weekend, bring back whatever, fishing in the river behind our house, getting mullet, smoking the mullet, gathering hickory nuts for the fire, drying sassafras leaves from the tree in the backyard for gumbo filĂ©.” Even now when Croft goes home for Christmas, she can count on being served either quail or squirrel. “My mom gets her .22 out and goes into the front yard,” she said.

Croft became particularly mindful of using fresh, local ingredients a few years ago when she read the book Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100-Mile Diet, by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon. The book inspired her to create a meal served family-style for Hannah’s patrons using only ingredients found within a 100-mile radius of Denton — all the way down to the salt. The 100-mile meal has now grown into a biannual event. Previous such meals were held in the fall, when fresh, local produce is abun- dant. However, Hannah’s upcoming 100-mile meal is the first to be held during the spring. “There’s not as much in the spring as in the fall,” Croft said. She called it “a challenge. I just want to see if I can do it.”

The 100-mile-diet concept is related to the Slow Food movement, whose focus, in part, is reducing the environmental impact of how food is brought from farm to table. “It’s also the way of preparing food — the idea of things being cooked simply within their season, as fresh as possible,” Croft said.

The dishes served Tuesday night will be based on what produce is available “right then,” Croft said. “The food really does dictate the recipes.”
The menu will include soup; simple salads; sauteed greens; roasted and braised meats including beef, pork and chicken; egg dishes; and fresh strawberries and whipped cream for dessert. The meal will be accompanied by local wines selected by wine steward Jason Lastovica.

“My large food vendors have contracts with local farmers. I can order through my regular supply,” Croft said. She will also get some specialty items from small farms “at the last second.” She’ll use herbs grown in her own garden, a stash from her larder of canned goods and red wine vinegar from other seasons and 100-mile meals past, and produce from local growers through the Denton Community Market and The Cupboard Natural Foods. In addition, she has been promised amaranth (Chinese spinach) from the community garden at Bowling Green Park. “I have a plot there,” Croft said. “I put in tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, chili peppers, all kinds of stuff. I’m really excited to be able to get some things from there for the next [100-mile meal] in the fall."


Hannah's Off the Square Restaurant
111 W. Mulberry St. Denton, TX 
$75 per person, limited seating

Friday, April 2, 2010

Eating Out(side) in Denton

By Ellen "EJ" Sackett
Finally, it’s safe to sit outside. Winter is over, so you can dine in the open air without wishing you hadn’t.
I can’t name all the Denton-area eating establishments with outdoor seating, but here are several.
Denton Record-Chronicle/Ellen Sackett
Denton Record-Chronicle/Ellen Sackett
Patrons Jana and Jim Lampe enjoy medium-sized cups of coffee on the patio at Zera Coffee Co. on East McKinney Street.
On the downtown Square, enjoy a cosmic cup of coffee in front of Jupiter House, savor specialty ice cream at Beth Marie’s, or devour a typical English meal with a cold brew at Abbey Inn — that is, if you can find an empty chair.
One block south, locals and college students go to Sweetwater Grill & Tavern’s enclosed patio for the feel of outdoor eating year round. Rooster’s Roadhouse and Fuzzy’s Taco Shop on Industrial Street offer picnic tables in front and more outdoor seating in the back, and if you crave drinks and live music, head down a few doors to Dan’s Silverleaf.
For a more upscale dining experience, listen to the gurgling fountain on the backyard terrace at Hannah’s Off the Square, enjoy a cool breeze on the patio at the Greenhouse Restaurant or relax with a glass of fine Italian wine behind the renovated Victorian-style home that is Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant.
For outdoor Tex-Mex, think On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina off Interstate 35E, or stop in at Mig’s Beer Garden at Miguelito’s on East McKinney Street at Bell Avenue, then go next door for some Mexican hot chocolate at Zera Coffee Co.
Want someplace scenic? For a wide open vista of North Texas spaces, head for WildHorse Grill at Robson Ranch near Ponder, or look beyond Interstate 35 from the west porch of Good Eats at North Loop 288. End the day by going to the Pourhouse Sports Grill patio to watch the sunset over Unicorn Lake.
Don’t let spring showers put a damper on your outdoor dining. Don your raincoat, dodge the drops, don’t wait and don’t forget — it’s Texas, after all.
The weather is sure to change, and 100-degree heat is just around the corner.
Originally written for Denton Record-Chronicle, DentonTime, April 1, 2010

Monday, March 8, 2010

Buffet King Chinese Cuisine, Mongolian Grill & Sushi, Denton, TX


By Ellen "EJ" Sackett

If eating out at a Chinese buffet is your thing, you're not alone. Buffet King, Denton's newest such restaurant has only been open a few months, yet it's drawing the crowds. Easily accessible near the southeast intersection of I-35 and Loop 288 near the Golden Triangle Mall, expect a wait on a Friday and Saturday night, but not for long. The line moves quickly. The dining room seats hundreds at a time and the serve-yourself style lends itself to an almost fast-food experience.  

While not exactly cheap dining, customers certainly get their money's worth. The fixed-price buffet has an extraordinary amount of options from which to choose--over 200, in fact. You'll find what you expect at a Chinese buffet, like Sweet and Sour Chicken, Pepper Steak and Lo Mein. But this restaurant also offers a sushi bar with several kinds of Nigiri and Japanese-style rolls as well as a Mongolian grill station, where customers choose from variety of meats and veggies that are cooked on a large circular grill while you wait. 

Oftentimes quantity affects quality in buffet-style dining, but here the food doesn't have a chance to dry out or get cold. The meat dishes are flavorful but not too spicy, and the vegetables aren't overcooked. The food tastes fresh, the way it often looks at a buffet, but rarely is. Seafood lovers can chow down on unlimited amounts of crab legs, shrimp and mussels. Don't forget to try the tasty pork potstickers, found near the hot and sour and egg drop soups, and make a point to try the green beans that have just the right amount of crisp to them.

Children have options too. There's pizza and chicken drumsticks, and rows of desserts to tempt the sweetest sweettooths. Fortunately, for those who are trying to watch their weight, there's a little hope, as fresh fruit, such as cantaloupe and grapes, are available in addition to the puddings, cakes, soft-serve ice cream and other sugary delights. 

While most customers clammer for the buffet, diners can also order off the menu. Lunch specials and combinations plates offer good values and can be made to suits one's taste, be it mild, medium or hot. Take out is also available. The restaurant is cheery and clean with bright chandeliers, neon signs and flat-screen TVs, the service is friendly, and the food, while not exceptional, caters to the hungry. For large parties, quick business lunches, and family nights out, Buffet King rules.


Buffet King
2251 S. Loop 288, Denton, TX

Lunch ~ Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Dinner ~ Monday through Thursday, 3:31 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 3:31 p.m. through 10 p.m.
Sunday ~ All day dinner buffet from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. 

Also posted on . 

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Vercelli's Pasta and Pizza, Krum, Texas

By Ellen "EJ" Sackett
Earlier this week we bid a sad adieu to the 2010 Winter Olympics held in Vancouver, British Columbia. Some of us will miss duking it out with our northern neighbor, but I, for one, found myself rooting for the Canadians as well. Not only did they snag most the gold medals won at any Winter Olympic Games, they were true sportsmen and women, and good-humored, gracious hosts. Canada has lots of reasons to be proud.
For the Denton Record-Chronicle/Scott Sackett
For the Denton Record-Chronicle/Scott Sackett
Authentic poutine is on the menu at Vercelli’s Pasta and Pizza in downtown Krum, Texas. 
In their honor, I say we chow down on a Canadian favorite: poutine — French fries topped with white cheese curds, covered in a beef-based brown gravy. Its origins aren’t precisely known; however, most agree the poutine craze began in Quebec in the 1960s. Now it’s served up in greasy spoons and fast-food chains throughout the country. Even women’s figuring skating bronze medalist Joannie Rochette is known to indulge. Canada’s quintessential comfort food is also referred to as one of Canada’s guiltiest pleasures — and is another source of national pride.
Fortunately, we don’t have to travel to the Great White North to find it — in fact, we don’t even have to cross the county line. Authentic poutine is on the menu at Vercelli’s Pasta and Pizza in downtown Krum.
Why is a French-Canadian dish available at an Italian restaurant in a small North Texas town? Jane Flores, who owns the restaurant with her mother is originally from Quebec, and they brought the recipe with them.
Their basic poutine is made from hand-cut French fries. The poutine gravy is imported from Quebec and the white cheddar cheese curds are shipped overnight from Wisconsin. The rubbery cheese has to be squeaky. (Squeaky? That’s the sound the curds make when you bite into them. It means they are extremely fresh.)
Vercelli’s also offers an Italian poutine, which substitutes a rich, tomatoey meat sauce for the gravy. You can also try frites sauce or frites italienne, versions of the two recipes without the cheese. (But then it’s not really poutine.)
By the way, while you’re at Vercelli’s, don’t forget to congratulate the Italians. They might not have won big at the Olympics, but they sure take the prize for lasagna.
Vercelli’s Pasta and Pizza, 208 W. McCart St., Krum, TX 940-482-6051.

A version was originally published in Denton Record-Chronicle, March 4, 2010