It happens to the most ambitious eaters among us: Perhaps we're too lazy to seek out somewhere new; maybe we just enjoy the comfort of familiar food and surroundings. But pretty soon we find ourselves in a dining rut, eating the same old things at the same old places.
Nothing like a new year to break out of old habits. Here are two recently opened eateries likely to be off your beaten path: One in the sleepy burg of Granbury, the other in the burgeoning dining hot spot of Roanoke. Sure, they require a few extra dollars in gas money, but both are definitely worth the drive. And, remember, there are few greater pleasures than to be able to brag to your friends that you've discovered an out-of-the-way place that serves some of the tastiest food around.
Buffalo Gap Steakhouse
1470 U.S. 377 S., Granbury; 817-573-4471; buffalogapsteakhouse.com
The back story: Buffalo is owned by Cleburne father-son team and restaurant first-timers Tony and Bob Allen. Paul Willis -- developer of several high-profile Fort Worth restaurants such as Fuzzy's, Yucatan Taco Stand, H3 Ranch and the former Pedro's Trailer Park -- was hired to design the menu and restaurant. The atmosphere is less Fuzzy's, more H3. This is a large, full-service, fine-dining restaurant where servers garnish baked potatoes tableside and dishes are served on white porcelain plates or in stainless-steel bowls.
The hits: Our meal started with a bowl of terrific lobster bisque ($5), rich, thick and containing not only bits of lobster but chunks of crawfish. The 12-ounce reserve Angus rib-eye ($20.99) came cooked precisely to the requested medium-rare. On the side was a miniature pitcher of au jus, but it wasn't necessary; it was already well seasoned with a crown of garlic butter. The fried chicken salad ($8) was big enough for two. Fresh mixed greens were tossed with tomato chunks, real bacon, diced red onion and a delicious bacon-honey-mustard dressing that was made in-house.
The misses: One of the specialties, a tenderloin and chile relleno combination ($21), garnered mixed results. A 4-ounce tenderloin medallion arrived perfectly cooked medium-rare. The pan-fried chile relleno, however, was small and flat, and its flavor was drowned in a pool of Monterey Jack cheese.
The bottom line: The decor has a weekend-cabin feel, with a fireplace, rustic tables and chairs (along with comfortable booths), and dark-stained pine walls decorated with taxidermy and Santa Fe art; it's all very cozy and warm.
Roanoke Grill and Tavern
205 E. Byron Nelson Parkway, Roanoke; 817-490-0099
The back story: This used to be a motorcycle shop; before that it was a Mexican restaurant. There's a bar to the right and a dining area to the left, with a few well-positioned flat-screen TVs set to sporting events. The bar is a massive wooden slab that co-owner George Denham retrieved from an old saloon near Ferris. The owners have also preserved a great towering tree out in back, around which they built a spacious outdoor patio.
The hits: The signature Big Tree Burger ($5.99) is named after that tree, and a fine burger it was: The half-pound patty was sprinkled with black pepper and fried on the grill, giving it a homemade personality. The texture was perfect: thick but not overwhelming, a little tender and crumbly, but not falling apart. Go ahead and get one of the sides ($1.99), because they're good. Onion rings were large, crunchy and sweet, with a mildly thick crust that went soft in parts. Sweet potato fries were a very good version of this increasingly popular item: slightly thin and coated with a seasoning mix that added flavor and crunch.
The misses: Chicken-fried steak comes in a sandwich ($7.99) with fries; it was a very soft version, if that's the way you like it.
The bottom line: Roanoke's hot restaurant scene is fueled by a wave of new restaurants coming in from Dallas and Fort Worth, but it has some homegrown spots, too. The friendly, small-town vibe here feels a little like Cheers.