Tuesday, November 24, 2009

FARE SQUARE ~ The Night Before Thanksgiving

Everybody knows what's for dinner the day after Thanksgiving--turkey leftovers! But what do Americans eat the night before? Take a guess. Give up?

Pizza! According to Pizza Marketplace, Thanksgiving eve is one of the top three nights during the year for pizza delivery. (The other two are Super Bowl Sunday and Halloween.) It makes perfect sense. After a long day of menu planning and pre-holiday preparations, who the heck wants to cook?

Since Denton is a two-college town, finding decent pizza is a piece of...well...pie. There are plenty of places that deliver, but if you wait until you're hungry to pick up the phone, you may be sorry. While these restaurants will do their best to handle the volume of orders, expect a longer wait than usual for your pizza to show up at your door. Even so, be nice to the delivery person and give him or her some love--in the form of dollar bills, if course. (Delivery drivers have to eat too, y'know.)

You can find a complete listing of local pizzerias in the Yellow Pages, so I won't list them here. However, for your convenience, here's a few favorites, listed in no particular order:

J & J's Pizza On the Square
118 W Oak St, Denton, TX
(940) 382-7769‎
Chicago-style crust ~ Voted Best Pizza by University of North Texas Daily

Fera's Pasta & Pizza
1407 W Oak St, Denton, TX
(940) 382-9577‎
Formerly Bari's ~ Located near the UNT campus

Hotbox Pizza
214 E Hickory St, Denton, TX
(940) 387-5800‎
New to Denton ~ Offers whole-grain pizza crust, pesto as an optional sauce

Vercelli's Pizza and Pasta
208 W. McCart Street, Krum, Texas
(940) 482-6051
Features lunchtime pizza buffet as well as evening delivery

TJ's Pizza Wings and Things
420 South Carroll #102, Denton, TX
(940) 382-8777
In Denton since 1991

Olive Branch Pizza
1776 Teasley Lane, Denton, TX
(940) 566-2239
Locally-owned ~ 24 years

Double Dave's Pizzaworks
220 W University Dr, Denton, TX
(940) 243-3283‎
Features deep-dish pizza, Offers daily buffet. Order online at www.doubledaves.com


Friday, November 20, 2009

Ravelin Bakery, Denton, TX

Hi, I'm EJ, and I'm a breadaholic. This is why I have to force myself to drive past Ravelin Bakery when I'm in the neighborhood. But occasionally I do stop to partake in whatever slice of yumminess jumps out at me through the glass-covered cases. Usually it's one of any number of muffins, which are my true downfall, although I'm really, really partial to the Russian Tea Cookies. Ravelin's lemon bars are most excellent too and give me a jolt in my jaw, if you know what I mean. There are so many choices, I rarely get out of there without an assortment.

So anyway, Thanksgiving is coming, and Ravelin gears up for the big occasion, focusing all its attention on baking pies and breads and some other baked goods to have on hand when family comes for a visit. So here's the skinny (yes, that's supposed to be funny!) about the best bakery in North Texas, also posted on www.goodtastebuds.com.

Eat slowly and carry a big fork,

~ ej

Take One Home for Thanksgiving

By Ellen "EJ" Sackett

Have I got pies for you! Ravelin Bakery is baking pies, sweet pastries and other doughy delights to order for the holidays. With Thanksgiving less than a week away, make haste while the batter's hot. You'll be sure to impress the family with a crust that's flakier than Grandma's. But don't wait until the last minute to decide; it gets pretty busy in the Ravelin kitchen this time of year. Orders are available for pick-up through Wednesday, November 25 (except Monday when the store is closed).

Here's the Thanksgiving Menu:

9" Bread Pudding ~ $32.00
9" Old-fashioned Chocolate Cake ~ $40.95
Pecan Pie ~ $20.50
Chocolate Pecan Pie ~ $21.50
Pumpkin Pie ~ $13.75
Sweet Potato Pie ~ $13.75
Buttermilk Pie ~ $16.50
Key Lime Pie ~ $16.00
Apple Pie ~ $18.50
Cherry Pie ~ $23.00
Apple Almond Tart ~ $23.00
Cherry Almond Tart ~ $23.00
Cherry Struedel ~ $16.00
Apple Struedel ~ $16.00
Pumpkin Bread ~ $4.95
Mini Croissants (1 dozen) ~ $11.00

Cranberry Pecan Bread will also be available on the day before Thanksgiving in addition to Ravelin's fresh artisan breads, made with their own starter. Breads available daily include country sourdough, hearty five-grain, three seed, Bavarian rye, French loaf and baguettes.

Be on the lookout after Thanksgiving for Ravelin's holiday table, which will include baked goodies you can give as presents, such as packaged breads and cookies, fruitcake and traditional German Stollen.

Even if you don't need help with your holiday meals, stop by Ravelin's sometime for a sumptious breakfast pastry, cookie or coffee cake, and pour yourself a cup of coffee to go with. Ravelin also bakes cakes in a variety of sizes to order with one or two day's notice. While you're there, don't forget to pick up a loaf of one of the specialty breads--the list changes daily.

Ravelin Bakery is a not-so-secret secret. Owners Eric and Pamela Helland don't have to advertise, nor do they have a website. Nonetheless, the word is out. Since they opened their doors to Denton eight years ago, they built their success on providing quality baked goods made with whole, all natural ingredients, 100% from scratch. What more need I say?


Ravelin Bakery
416 S. Elm Street, Denton, Texas
(940) 382-8561

Hours: Tuesday through Saturday ~ 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Sunday ~ 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Closed Monday

Thanksgiving Hours:
Closed Thursday & Friday, November 26 & 27
Open regular hours on Saturday & Sunday, November 28 & 29

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Yesterday evening at Hannah's

Last night I had a leisurely conversation with Chef Sheena Croft at Hannah's Off-the-Square. It was unusual to have her undivided attention as she is typically tied up in the kitchen. But last night she had some free time, so she came out to the table to chat with me and my husband.

Let me insert that we had a wonderful meal. I had the melt-in-your-mouth buttery sea scallops with the risotto, my favorite kind of comfort food. SS had the vegetarian special--mostly to please me, I think, since I considered that too. Both dishes were out of this world. The vegetarian plate came with mashed potatoes, spinach, and asparagus. I particularly liked the tomato au gratin, and SS was generous to share his with me. (Although I did trade him a scallop.)

Back to the conversation. One of the most important parts of running a fine-dining restaurant, as opposed to a repeatery, is getting fresh, seasonal produce and consistently high-quality meat and seafood. The problem with a set menu is that diners come to expect their favorite menu items. But what if the sea scallops are too gritty? Sheena has to send them back. She can't serve them if they aren't up to snuff and maintain the integrity of the dish. She told us that when she can't provide a menu item because of a bad food source, she'll get calls and comment card complaints from irate customers. But how can she serve less-than-quality food and keep up the restaurant's reputation?

Corporate-run repeateries buy their produce seasonally in huge quantities and freeze the ingredients for later use. They hire other companies to build the menu items based on the specifications of that restaurant chain's chief culinary chefs. Those menu items come to each restaurant's back door frozen. The individual repeatery then reheats the food and adds sauces or whatever before it comes to your table. So when you go to Applebee's or Chili's or any other those kinds of restaurants, the food is always the same. This mass-production is also why repeateries can afford to keep costs lower. Not so with a small, privately-run restaurant, that build everything from fresh and from scratch.

But the problem is, many customers aren't that discriminating, nor do they know to appreciate the differences between the two types of dining experiences. They want value for the buck, they want their expectations surpassed. Most don't want to gamble on their dining experience. It's a tough audience to play to, and the small restaurant business is tough to be in, when every meal is based on variables, especially if you are a true culinary artist as Sheena Croft is.

Good news. Hannah's new dinner menu is coming soon--maybe as early as next week. I've been informed: the sea scallops made the cut. (Whew!) And Sheena is considering offering the vegetarian plate that SS ordered as a permanent fixture on the menu. I vote yes.

BTW, the new lunch, brunch and bar menus are already out. I ordered Hermalinda's Chicken Tamale Plate--two chicken tamales with corn masa, made with scrambled eggs, cotija cheese, diced tomatoes and two small red and green salsa sides. That's the menu description, although mine also had black beans and a half of an avocado. I have no idea who Hermalinda is, but her chicken tamales rock! I could've used a lot more salsa, however, because tamales have a tendency to be a little dry. That's not a complaint, mind you. That's just my preference.

I must tell you something funny, though. Hannah's basic napkin is cream-colored to match their tablecloths, but they leave a cream film on my black pants. I've filled out many-a-comment card with a  request that they reconsider the use of these particular napkins, to no avail. Hannah's does have black napkins, and so unbeknownst to me until my conversation with Sheena last night, the servers have been informed to make sure I always have a black napkin. Sure enough, when SS and I arrived, one of the waiters ran over to our table, just as I was about to put that awful cream-colored napkin on my lap. I wasn't paying attention, but he certainly was! I think it's hilarious that I get this special treatment, but more to the point: shouldn't Hannah's just replace the napkins? I can't possibly be the only diner who wears black pants. (Maybe I'm just the only one willing to speak up.)

I'm currently waiting for FedEx to deliver my new MacBook Pro. I'm already drooling thinking of all the possibilities once I get it in my hot little hands...!

Here's a photo of Hermalinda's Chicken Tamale plate so you have something to drool over too....

Monday, November 16, 2009

FARE SQUARE ~ Hannah's Carrot Cake


By Ellen "EJ" Sackett

Have you eaten your vegetables today? Call it a serving or call it a religious experience; you can get your daily requirement in one fell swoop by ordering a slice of carrot cake from Hannah's Off-the-Square. Each cake is made with two pounds of carrots (never mind the sugar), sure to improve your eyesight and elevate your mood. It looks as incredible as it tastes, covered with cream cheese icing, spaghetti-length curly-Q strands of fresh carrots and a slice of orange. These aren't just for show. Combine the citrus with the crunchy and the creamy, and you'll have a sensory experience like none other that will leave you giddy for more. It's possible to get more, too. Order a few days ahead, and you can purchase an entire carrot cake to take home for $30 plus tax. (Psssst, the recipe is hush-hush, so don't even ask.)

Hannah's Off-the Square, 111 West Mulberry, Denton, Texas
(940) 566-1110
Lunch - Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Brunch - Saturday & Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Dinner - Sunday & Monday, 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Tues through Thurs 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Happy Hour - Monday through Friday, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

*Originally posted on www.goodtastebuds.com (October 26, 2009)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pourhouse Sports Grill, Denton, Texas


by Ellen "EJ" Sackett

You don't have to love sports to love Pourhouse Sports Grill--but it helps. Bright paintings of sports super heroes at their peak and large flat-screen HDTVs surround the spacious main dining room and hang above the bar. You can't ignore the action of a different game on every channel, which can be a bit distracting when you're trying to engage in dinner conversation. But hey, it's a sports bar. That's what it's all about. Almost.

This isn't the kind of sports bar that's full of rowdy fanatics, screaming obscenities at the televisions (although sometimes there are a few who get pretty excited). No, this is a classy place where you'd comfortable bringing your grandparents for drinks and a pleasant, not too expensive meal. The beer, wine, specialty drink and martini list is impressive, and there are daily happy hour specials. The menu covers the gamut, and the portions would feed a starving football team at the end of a too-close-to-call game.

You can expect to find typical bar food at Pourhouse, but with a whole lot more variety. Light up your taste buds with the trash can nachos, a serious amount of queso, chili, jalapeños, tomatoes and sour cream piled over red, blue and yellow corn chips. Instead of a plain 'ol burger, have one with a kick, like the Baja Burger made with Jack Cheese and fried jalapeños, or try to wrap your mouth around the bleu burger that comes with a sweet port wine sauce, roasted shallots and a huge hunk of bleu cheese on top. Another good choice is the Pourhouse's version of a club sandwich--the Homerun Grilled Club--cut into quarters, with turkey, ham, applewood smoked bacon, tomatoes, American cheese and barbecue sauce on sourdough bread. Combine it with a side of drippy, mayonnaise-y coleslaw, a big fat helping of big fat French fries or sweet potato fries and a cold, draft Franconia for a perfect sports bar kind of meal.

If you're looking for something you don't readily find in Texas, order the Classic Cuban sandwich that could pass for German, made with sliced pork and ham and covered with melted Swiss cheese on a grilled ciabatta roll with mustard and a dill pickle. Texans usually have to venture up north for a French Dipped Sandwich, but Pourhouse makes its own version of a pot roast beef sandwich on a French roll with carmelized onions, served au jus. That's French for "with its own juice", but here in North Texas we say, "Good for soppin'."

The Pourhouse's thin-crusted, wood-fired pizzas stand out for their fresh ingredients. The combinations, such as the BBQ Chicken or the Hawaiian made with ham and pineapple, might a little adventurous for some pallets but are worth a try. My favorite is the Margherita, made with sliced tomatoes and tomato sauce, mozzarella, sprinkled with fresh basil. Customers can also create their custom pizza from a selective list of ingredients. One pizza is plenty to share as an appetizer or will feed a hungry person as a meal.

Specialty main courses of the Pourhouse include: a chicken fried steak smothered with creamy gravy touted as "The Real Deal"; southern fried shrimp, hand-breaded and comes with cocktail sauce, creole tartar sauce, or spice orange marmalade; a juicy rotisserie chicken, a 12-ounce black Angus rib eye grilled to your liking and the chef's private recipe of shrimp creole, served over spicy rice, which our server from Louisiana said was her favorite dish on the menu. Each of these comes with two vegetable or potato side dishes.

Healthy-minded diners will go out of their way for the generous salads. The Rotisserie Chicken Chop Salad is an attractive arrangement of roasted chicken, tomatoes, corn, black beans and avocado layered over lettuce. The Country Cobb is equally delicious, made with smoked bacon, smoked turkey, mozzarella, avocado, tomatoes and a hard-boiled egg. Seafood lovers will favor the Seafood Cobb, and you can never go wrong with Chicken Caesar.

But who wants to be healthy? Finish off the meal with dessert. There's something for everybody's sweet tooth. Tops on my list is the brownie bottom sundae, starting with a chewy pecan brownie topped with vanilla ice cream, homemade chocolate sauce, and for overkill, a dollop of whipped cream. The warm white chocolate bread pudding soaked in a hot buttery rum sauce, is equally rich, and cobbler fans can take a chance on the unusual carmel-covered apple walnut concoction with a scoop of vanilla ice cream atop a hard, square wafer. For a lighter dessert, go for the tangy key lime pie.

The Pourhouse's lunch menu, offered Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., is reasonably priced at $6.49 and includes smaller portions of many dinner menu selections. A kid's menu is available too with the usual child-friendly choices: mac and cheese, corny dog, chicken strips, a kid's burger or a mini- cheese or pepperoni pizza.

Make sure to check out the theater-style media room, which boasts a gigonormous 110-inch TV/projector flanked by four smaller, but still large flatscreen TVs, and a state-of-the-art sound system. The room seats up to 75 people and is available for parties and business presentations. Semi-private areas for smaller parties from 8 to 18 people can also be reserved ahead of time with the events coordinator. Pourhouse also provides in-house catering.

But you say you're not a sports fan? You're still in luck. Pourhouse has one of the best outdoor seating areas in this part of Texas, feet away from the banks of Unicorn Lake. You may have to put up with some smoke or a rambunctious table, but the serene view at sunset with a glass of Merlot will take you down a notch. At that point, who cares about the noise or whose team is losing? You're the winner.


Pourhouse Sports Grill, 3350 Unicorn Lake Blvd, Denton, TX
(940) 484-7455 ~ www.pourhousegrill.com
E-mail: info@pourhousegrill.com
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.

*Originally posted on www.goodtastebuds.com (October 20, 2009)

Crickles & Co., Corinith, Texas


by Ellen "EJ" Sackett

If it weren't for a Facebook post from a friend who lives on the opposite side of Dallas from me, I would have never known about Crickles and Company, a yummy breakfast place, right in my own backyard. It's funny I never heard of Crickles before. There's not many restaurants in Corinth, Texas, and I know them all. Or so I thought.

But there's a good reason why this particular one missed my radar. Crickles and Co. subleases space in another restaurant, NY Sub Hub, in a strip mall off of Swisher Road, and is only in operation from 6:30 to 10 a.m. Only a free-standing easel in front helps to entice potential customers, and since this is not a heavily trafficked area in the morning, Crickles must rely largely on advertising and word of mouth.

There's not a lot of atmosphere given that the location is a sub shop, but the good food makes up for the decor. For a to-go-style joint, the breakfast menu was surprisingly extensive. It was hard to choose between the many breakfast taco combinations, which all use eggs and cheddar cheese as their basis. The Breakfast Taco Baskets also come with Rosemary Potatoes and homemade salsa. If you're hungrier, you can create your own ommelette from thirteen ingredients, or if you just want something light to take on the road, the breakfast croissants and sandwiches will do the trick. Pancake and French toast lovers can slather syrup to their heart's content here too.

I had a South of the Border Burrito without the sausage. The flour tortilla containing egg, cheese, potato, onion, and tomatoes arrived hot, wrapped in foil. For the price, I was disappointed in its size but not the flavor. It came with a side of the salsa, and the owner presented me with a taste of warm peaches and cream. Made with canned peach slices, the idea was better than the execution.

Still hungry, I went back for little extra something sweet. I was torn between the Sticky Bun and the Cinnamon Roll, tempting me on the counter. I went with the roll, covered with a cream cheese frosting, which melted into the pastry once warmed in the microwave--making it a truly sinful breakfast dessert. I was told by the owner that her daughter is the baker, who has culinary training and has worked at such fine dining restaurants as Craft Restaurant in the W Hotel and The French Room at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas.

A glance at the Crickles website gave me more insight. Sweets and pastries are their specialty, and in addition to the menu choices, they also offer cheesecakes, cookies, layer cakes, pies and cobbles, as well as squares and bars.

Crickles and Co. also caters. Some suggested themed meals are: a barbecue buffet, a gameday spread, an Italian feast, a Mexican fiesta and a Texas Chili buffet. Within each theme are a variety of main course options and side dishes as well as desserts.

If you're hungry and are on your way north from Dallas to Oklahoma during the early hours, or if you are headed south to Dallas on your morning commute, consider taking the time to exit Swisher Road for a bite at Crickles and Co. It's worth going a little out of your way.


Crickles and Co.
4271 FM 2181, Suite 308 (Off of Swisher Road in the Albertson's Shopping Area near Radio Shack)
Corinth, TX
Breakfast Served Monday through Saturday, 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
(214) 476-2568
(940) 497-2530

Burgundy Steak & Seafood Restaurant, Denton, Texas


By Ellen "EJ" Sackett

Now that New Years is out of the way, it's time to be thinking ahead to the next big holiday: Valentine's Day. With just over a month away, it's time to make those reservations now to take your sweetie out for an expensive romantic dinner.

In Denton, Texas, my choice for date night is Burgundy Restaurant, opulent without being pretentious, decorated in rich, warm golds and deep reds as the name suggests. It is located west of the Downtown Square, next to the Campus Theatre. (Unfortunately, the Campus is dark on Valentine's Day this year, but check its Web site at www.campustheatre.com for upcoming events to combine dinner at Burgundy with a live performance.)

At Burgundy, you'll be greeted by the door by Tony Huda or his wife, Melissa, whose heart and soul touches every aspect of the dining experience. Simply put, they love their restaurant and want you to love it too.

Before you are seated, cuddle up with a drink on the black leather couch by the entrance. If it's your first date, you may want to sit at the beautiful back-lit bar and chat with Tony or watch a bit of the ballgame on the big screen HDTV. Burgundy has a fine wine list and a full assortment of liquor. Take your time to decide. Dinner awaits, but there's no rush.

The dining room is cozy, but the tables are far enough apart that you won't be disturbed by neighboring guests. If you are fortunate, first-class jazz guitarist Joseph Gomez will be performing quietly in the corner, or you may hear Frank Sinatra piped in overhead. Kick off your heels under the table, ladies. What's a romantic dinner without a little footsie with your tootsie?

The servers are friendly, yet professional. They are informed about the menu, offered on a one-page board that isn't extensive, but selective. Burgundy mainly serves seafood and steak, although there is one lamb dish, a duck au poivre, and a chicken entreé as well. The Steak and Lobster Tail combo, rarely offered at Denton restaurants, is an occasional specialty of the house. The Shrimp Tower served over rice is excellent and reliable, and any of the steak cuts (Bone-in Rib-Eye with Peppercorn, New York Strip, and the Filet Mignon) are done to perfection as you like them. The Sea Scallop over spinach is another satisfying choice, and the Seabass In Orange Terragon Beure Blanc over Sauteed Zucchini and Squash never fails to please.

The portions are not large at Burgundy, so you may want to choose an appetizer or salad before the main course. A plain white bread basket comes with three choices of butter: sweet, fruit and jalapeño, and a sorbet sample comes between courses to cleanse the palette--other nice touches from the Hudas for their guests. Vegetarians may want to choose from the side dishes ala carte, but for $6 each, the amounts are small.

Follow dinner with dessert with coffee or a port wine, and then hold hands while you take a stroll around the historical Denton Square, lit year-round with twinkly white lights. This completes the perfect romantic evening--or who knows? Perhaps your night out at Burgundy will be the perfect prelude to a romantic evening in.


Burgundy Restaurant, 222 W Hickory Street, Denton, Texas
(940) 384-1800

Open for dinner only, Mondays through Saturdays, 4:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Closed on Sundays

*Originally posted on www.goodtastebuds.com (January 3, 2009)

Rudy's Country Store and B-B-Q, Denton, Texas


By Ellen "EJ" Sackett

It was 10:30 a.m. I had an outdoor party to throw and only a few hours to prepare for it. The guest of honor was a friend visiting from Japan, and we wanted to show him a good ol' Texas time. At first, I planned on going to the supermarket and picking up hamburger fixin's and a few sides from the grocery deli. But then it dawned on me: What could be better than to offer our Japanese guest barbecue?

I remembered a barbecue joint along the highway I hadn't been to in a while. It was a friendly place, where customers stood in line to place their order, choose their beer from an ice-filled trough, then chose from one of many folding chairs along the rows of tables lined up like a church social. Taking a chance, I stopped in to see if Rudy's could help me at the last minute.

The young woman behind the counter at the front of Rudy's Country Store was an expert in handling to-go orders and catered events. She offered several recommendations and gave me samples to taste. After considering the options, I ended up with a combination of smoked brisket, turkey, sausage, St. Louis ribs and a couple of chickens with sides of creamed corn and coleslaw. The price, on par with what I expected to pay at the grocery store, included one regular and one "sissy" bottle of Rudy's B-B-Q sause [sic], pickles, onions, jalapeños, cutlery, napkins and even a plastic table cloth! I was set.

For more money, I could've added pork loin and chopped beef, or one of the other sides such as potato salad, pinto beans, green bean salad or corn-on-the-cob. Dessert is another add-on, which includes a choice of banana pudding or peach cobbler, and ice tea, both sweetened and unsweetened, are available.

I made arrangements to pick up my order at 1 p.m. and it was ready to go when I arrived. Several employees armed with foil tins lined up to carry the food to my car. Each tray was clearly labeled, so unpacking the steaming contents once I arrived at my destination was a cinch. I have never thrown a party with such ease.

The party was a hit. My guests raved about the tender meat, and one of them even said it was the best barbecue he'd ever had. I could've made a meal on the creamed corn alone. My Japanese friend enjoyed the Texas-style tradition too. The best part? I had time to enjoy myself and my friends. The next time I throw a party, I'll remember Rudy's.


Rudy's Country Store and B-B-Q
520 South I-35 E, Denton, Texas 76205
(940) 484-7839
(Additional locations in Carlisle and Coors, NM; Norman, OK, as well as Amarillo, Austin, Brownsville, College Station, Corpus Christi, Del Rio, El Paso, Frisco, Laredo, Leon Springs, Lubbock, New Braunfels, Pharr, Round Rock, Sea World, Selma, Spring, Tyler and Waco, TX.)

*Originally posted on www.goodtastebuds.com (November 19, 2008)

Sweetwater Grill & Tavern, Denton, Texas


By Ellen "EJ" Sackett

Sweetwater Grill & Tavern has that worn-out, but loved-long look about it. This corner pub, one block south of Denton's downtown square, is a haloed hangout. Founded in 1996 by Restauranteur Bob Harmon and Chef Jimmy Meredith, it's overdue for an overhaul but draws a steady following nonetheless. Regulars include the line-the-bar locals, the take-off-your-tie happy hour cronies, and the too-hip-to-be-cool college kids. And then there are those like me, who simply need a Sweetwater fix.

If it's a nice day (and it almost always is), expect the garage-door style windows to be open to the patio. The air is filled with a mix of conversations bursting with laughter, classic rock playing in the background, and the drone of overhead ceiling fans whose sole purpose is to stir up cigarette smoke.

At first you might notice the crumbling cement floor beneath you, the weathered wooden tables and chairs, the sticky laminated menus, and wonder how all of this got past the last health inspector. But before long you'll be absorbed in conversation with friends, enjoying a few hours of free time with no responsibility. Forget the dingy surroundings. Instead, look up at the cheery colored lights strung overhead. That's the Tao of Sweetwater.

It might take a while for your twenty-something server in tattered jeans and a T-shirt to notice you. In the meantime, you eyeball the menu, equally split between good and bad for you. You contemplate one of Sweetwater's kiss-a** hamburgers—blackened, perhaps? With blue cheese and bacon? Jalapenos or guacamole? But you go with the old standby—Chicken Enchiladas. Your spouse debates getting the Southwest Pasta with grilled shrimp in a rich creamy sauce or the Frito Pie with a bowl of gumbo soup, but he ultimately decides on the 12 ounce Rib Eye. You note one particular line on the menu: ...Fried Bologna Sandwich...$4.99..... W/bottle of DOM...$195.00. Does anybody actually order this, you laugh? Then you remember why you're here.

Dinner takes a while, but no worries. Look up at the colored lights. Breathe in some of that second-hand smoke. Catch your server as he flies by and order the fried pickles and a frozen margarita, which will come long before the food. Talk over the rev of a motorcycle engine about something innocuous, like the weather or the last movie you saw, or trade jokes with the customers at the next table. Hum along with The Eagles, and squint to see the football scores on the TV inside the next room.

At last, the meal arrives. As always, the food is pretty much the same. The chicken enchiladas come with black beans and rice on a plate that's way too hot to touch with way more cheese than your diet allows. The rib eye comes medium rather than medium rare, but it's a good enough cut to eat without having to send it back. The mashed potatoes are sufficiently comforting, although the side salad is ho-hum: mostly iceberg lettuce slathered with creamy ranch dressing. It's predictable and familiar. But isn't that the point?

Peach is the cobbler of the day, but instead you choose the Bread Pudding smothered with hot Whiskey Sauce--worth every lovin' spoonful. You feel grateful to be American just so you can eat decadent desserts in a place like this. After a few minutes, the bread starts to expand in your stomach and you wonder how you're going to make it to the car. Seriously.

You eyeball a skinny co-ed in short shorts at a neighboring table, spooning the Smoked Shrimp and Scallops marinated in Pico Salsa into her tiny little mouth, and swear you're going to order that or the Grilled Vegetable Plate next time. At least you promise to forgo the Bread Pudding.

Then you remember why you came.


Sweetwater Grill and Tavern
115 S. Elm Street
Denton, Texas 76201
(940) 484-2888
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.
Sunday and Monday, 11 a.m. - midnight

*Originally posted on www.goodtastebuds.com (October 10, 2008) While the menu has since changed slightly and the prices have increased, the atmosphere remains the same.

Miguelito's Mexican Restaurant, Krum, Texas


by Ellen "EJ" Sackett

What’s the mark of a successful restaurant? If it works once, do it again. If two is even better, then why not? Go for three! Three's the charm.

That’s what Miquelito’s Mexican Restaurant has done. Owners Vinny and Diana Cruz started with “good” in downtown Krum, Texas and it's only getting better. After the Krum location proved successful, the Cruz's built a restaurant and bar in Sanger, easily accessed from Interstate-35 going to or from Oklahoma from Texas. Now Denton, the apex of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, has a Miguelito’s too, with a full-service bar and a large outdoor patio.

Its customers tend to be partial to whichever location they frequent. My favorite is in Krum. The restaurant itself is nothing fancy, well-worn (well-loved?) and out of the way—that is, unless you’re passing through town. There’s no daily specials, no dress code, no placemats or table cloths on the plain wooden tables. Those who repeatedly come to Mig’s—as it’s affectionately called by those of us who can’t get enough of it—come to eat.

Mig’s customers tend to be partial to their favorite dishes too, often sticking with one and never venturing beyond. A friend who has been going to Mig’s for years always orders the Number 9 from the lunch menu, which translates as two beef enchiladas with rice and beans. My husband orders the succulent grilled shrimp fajitas or the grilled chicken fajita nachos with added onions. I tend to go for the chicken and spinach quesadillas and add verde (green) sauce. That, with a side of Mig’s guacamole or a bowl of warm chile con queso is, as my husband says, “just about right.”

Those who love Tex-Mex can always get all of the standard fare: fajitas, nachos, quesadillas, flautas, tacos, enchiladas, chimichangas and huevos rancheros. Those who want more authentic Mexican food should order off the dinner menu and try the Beef Steak a la Mexicana made with filet mignon, or the Shrimp a la Parilla, made with the same butterflied shrimp as the grilled fajitas, but with cheese, zucchini, corn and rice. Where else can you get Nopalitos con Puerco en Chili Rojo: braised port with cactus strips? But hey, if none of that grabs you, order the cheeseburger. Surprise! It’s good too.

It’s best to scrape off some of the Monterey Jack cheese off of many of their selections, and beware of snarfing too many chips that come with the salsa before the meal, addictive on most days, occasionally too hot on others. Skip the Cheesecake Chimi, but find room for a bite of traditional flan or a warm sopapilla. (That’s Spanish for Mmmm, mmmm, good!)

Our deepest condolences go to Vinny Cruz, his family, and the Serna family for the passing of our friend, Diana Cruz, on June 12, 2009. She was a wonderful woman and a pillar of the North Texas community. She is greatly missed by all who knew and loved her.


Miguelito’s Restaurants:
241 W. McCart, Krum, TX (940) 482-7007
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Closed Monday

1412 N. Stemmons Blvd., (I-35), Sanger, TX (940) 458-0073
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Closed Monday

420 E. McKinney Ave., Denton, TX (940) 566-1671
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

*Originally posted on www.goodtastebuds.com (January 30, 2008)

Chestnut Tree Tea Room, Denton, Texas


by Ellen "EJ" Sackett

My blood pressure drops by degrees when I walk through the primrose and ivy-covered arbor into Chestnut Tree Garden Tea Room, on the south side of the square in historical downtown Denton, Texas. The soothing background music calms my soul, as does the soft lighting, the gentle clatter of silverware and dishes, and the murmur of light, friendly conversation.

I relax and soak up the warmth of the room. I am surrounded by faux greenery that creates the illusion of a garden courtyard. The sunny-yellow walls are the backdrop for a revolving display of paintings and photographs by area artists mixed among floral tapestries. An assortment of miniature chandeliers and standing lamps provide most of the light in the room, and the cheerful white tables are dressed with hunter green cloth napkins and fanciful salt-and-pepper shakers. Above me, grapevines intertwine with tiny white lights, a bouquet of baskets hangs from the ceiling, and birdhouses and butterflies abound.

I feel a bit like a little girl at a tea party except that I am surrounded by mostly middle-aged-and-older women as well as a few men. Charles, my waiter, brings a napkin-lined basket of mini-muffins to the table and takes my drink order. I choose the passion fruit-flavored tea and pop the irresistible muffins in my mouth, one after another, first smearing them with Chestnut Tree's extravagant honey and strawberry butters. I'm off to a good start.

It is late and the usual busy lunch crowd is thinning, so Charles has the leisure to spend some time with me. Based on his suggestions, I choose a variation on the tea plate sampler from the menu. We talk about the celebrities who have eaten at Chestnut Tree, including Kathy Bates and Renee Zellweger, as well as the Denton-based rock band, Midlake, that filmed part of their Hometown Texas town video for MTV in the restaurant. Noticing that I've downed another glass while we chatted, Charles brings me black current iced tea this time--his favorite--to sip on until my lunch arrives. I feel like I'm getting the royal treatment, even if I'm not Renee Zellweger or Kathy Bates.

Let's talk food. Any sandwich on Chestnut Tree's signature beer bread is a winner. While there are seven other bread choices, the beer bread makes an otherwise ordinary ham and swiss or turkey breast sandwich unforgettable. The egg and chicken salads, not too soggy nor dry, are cut above homemade. The chicken and basil quiche is a sure bet, but so are all five varieties of quiche that sell out every day. I could make a meal of the side broccoli salad it's so yummy, but if I wanted a just a salad for lunch, I'd go with the spinach or the Caesar. I suggest you save enough room for Chestnut Tree's most popular dessert—the Strawberry Pretzel, a typical southern dish made from Jell-O, whipped and cream cheese with a pretzel-butter crust.

Before I leave, Charles brings me a Peach iced tea to go (it is a tea room, after all), and I take a moment to check out the gift shop that I passed on the way in. I thumb through the restaurant's cookbook. If you can't make it to Denton to eat at Chestnut Tree, then order the book, which has many of this lunch spot's best recipes, for $12.95 plus tax and $5.95 shipping by e-mailing chestnuttree@verizon.net. In my opinion, it's worth double the price.

Try this popular soup recipe from the new Chestnut Tree Tea Room Cookbook, and let me know what you think:

Chestnut Tree Tea Room's Baked Potato Soup

4 large baking potatoes
2/3 C. butter or margarine
2/3 C. all-purpose flour
6 C. milk
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
4 green onions, chopped and divided
12 slices bacon, cooked, crumbled, divided
1-1/4 C. shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
1 (8-oz.) carton of sour cream

Wash potatoes and prick several times with fork; bake at 400 degrees for 1 hour or until done. Let cool. Cut potatoes in half lengthwise; then scoop out pulp. Melt butter in heavy saucepan over low heat; add all-purpose flour, stirring until smooth. Cook 1 minute, sitrring constantly. Gradually add 6 cups milk; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and bubbles. Add potato pulp, salt, pepper, 2 TBS. green onion, 1/2 C. bacon and 1 cup cheese. Cook until thoroughly heated; stir in sour cream. Add extra milk, if necessary, for desired thickness. Serve with remaining onion, bacon and cheese. Yield: 10 cups.


Chestnut Tree Tea Room
107 W. Hickory Street, Denton, TX (940) 591-9475
Tea Room Hours: Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Gift Shop Hours: Monday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Originally posted on www.goodtastebuds.com (January 29, 2008)

I Love Sushi Restaurant, Denton, Texas

I love sushi at I LOVE SUSHI!

by Ellen "EJ" Sackett

Good sushi? In TEXAS? Check out I Love Sushi, the Japanese restaurant in Denton, north of Dallas and Fort Worth. The place could use a renovation, and the name and Korean owners have changed several times, but never fear: as of January 2008, I Love Sushi will make you love sushi too.

To be honest, I like their sushi rolls the best. I just can't get enough of 'em. I ought to know, since I eat here at least four times a week.

Let me explain: A sushi roll is made for Americans, who tend to like food on the sweet side--it's definitely not a Japanese creation. If you want to eat real Japanese sushi, stick to what's called Nigiri. That's a bite-sized piece of fish, often times raw, draped over a clump of compressed rice with a little wasabi dabbed in between. If you're not sure you like Japanese food, first try the ever-popular California roll, made from (sometimes artificial) crabmeat. It's good. Really!

My favorite is called the Alaska Roll. (The name changes, depending on the restaurant.) At I Love Sushi, the Alaska roll is a California roll topped with raw salmon and avocado. Delish! I also like the Denton Roll (again, named as such at I Love Sushi) made with raw tuna, avocado and cream cheese. But the best of all is the Spicy Tuna Roll, made with, yep, you guessed it! I like it better than it likes me, if you know what I mean, but doesn't stop me from ordering it every time I go to I Love Sushi.

If you aren't into raw fish, that's okay. Order the Chicken Teriyaki or the Chicken Yaki Udon for the best chicken noodle soup ever. The tempura is mighty fine too. Order a traditional Bento box for a variety and to save a few pennies. Otherwise, bring plenty of Yen.


I Love Sushi, 917 Sunset Street, Denton, TX (940) 891-6060

*Originally posted on www.goodtastebuds.com (January 22, 2008)