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Restaurateur takes another shot at sports-bar dining

J.R.'s Grill

5220 Texas 121


817-571-1414; www.jrsgrill.net

Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily

Cuisine: Sports bar/American

Signature dish: Parmesan fried chicken

Entree cost: $12-$20

Essentials: Full bar; major credit cards; smoke-free; wheelchair-accessible

Good to know: Portion sizes are big; kids menu.

Recommended for: Fans of stick-to-your-ribs basics.

Posted 10:07am on Friday, Sep. 24, 2010

Johnny Ragland is lately better known as the "J.R." in J.R.'s Steakhouse in Colleyville, which he opened. But before that, he owned Gators, a popular sports bar in Euless. Now he's back in the sports bar game with J.R.'s Grill, a casual younger brother to his fine-dining steakhouse.

Located just up Texas 121 from its sibling, J.R.'s Grill shares some familial characteristics. Like the other J.R.'s, it is dark and handsomely appointed with comfortable booths. This location used to be Railhead Smokehouse and then Daddy Joe's Barbecue, but you'd never know it.

The dining room is divided into sections that enhance privacy; a game room with pool tables and a Golden Tee machine is glassed off. Nearly every wall boasts a flat-screen TV, sometimes two, but their presence feels discreet, making it feel less like a sports bar and more like a casual restaurant that just happens to have a surfeit of TVs.

It surely has a surfeit of burgers: 10, some one-of-a-kind, such as the Diablo ($9.50) with jalapeños, chili and cheddar cheese, or the Hamburguesa Asada ($10.50) with ancho barbecue sauce and two cheese enchiladas. Top of the line is the Prime Time Filet ($18), made from ground filet mignon and topped with caviar and Boursin cheese.

One theme that runs throughout the menu is prime rib. You can order it as an entree, in a 12-ounce ($17) or 18-ounce version ($20); in a French dip sandwich ($13) or the "Mount Blissful" ($13), its version of a Monte Cristo; in a prime rib soup ($5); or the way we got it, as an appetizer: the prime rib tacos, two to an order ($6).

These tacos ignored the current trend of using soft tacos and went old-school with crisp shells. The taco shells were impeccably crisp, thin and lightly salted. The insides were slathered with cheese grits, an unsettling discovery, but they did give the tacos body and held together the other ingredients -- chopped prime rib, julienned iceberg lettuce, crumbled white cheese.

Smoked chicken wings ($1 each in orders of six, 12 or 24) were probably one of the best parts of the meal. They were plump and juicy, with what seemed like a little more meat on the bone than your usual wing. The smoking added a fine jolt of flavor, and the skin was nice and crusty.

The server boasted twice that the chicken-fried steak ($14) was "hand-dipped." It was a large piece of meat, puckered here and there, with a golden crust that fell away in pieces so you could eat it solo. The whole thing was covered with creamy white gravy, speckled with cracked black pepper. The net effect was comforting, if somewhat bland.

We got it with "smashed potatoes," also featured at J.R.'s Steakhouse; they were made with red-jacket potatoes, producing a moist, almost sticky mash, with some soft potato chunks remaining and nice bits of red skin. Coleslaw ($4 for a side) was odd in that it had chopped cilantro, a quirky addition that seemed out of place.

Parmesan fried chicken ($14) consisted of a boneless chicken breast pounded thin like a cutlet, crusted with Parmesan cheese, then pan-fried. The outside was browned and had delicious crunchy bits, and the chicken was tender and moist. Drizzled over was a jalapeño-infused honey with little bits of candied jalapeño -- a great fusion of sweet and hot.

Excellent service elevated the dining experience; our server was warm and responsive, fielding unusual requests with aplomb. The beer selection felt outdated, with run-of-the-mill beers on tap. But wine was better, with elegant stemware and unexpected selections, such as a single-serving split of Kenwood Yulupa sparkling wine for a mere $6.

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