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Food with a view: Primo patios in DFW

What's your favorite patio in DFW?
Posted 9:47am on Sunday, May. 13, 2012

"A view? Oh, a view! How delightful a view is!" - from Chapter 1 of A Room With a View, by E.M. Forster (1908)

There's certainly no scientific evidence that food tastes better when it is served with a view. Yet that doesn't seem to stop us from queuing up avidly, and sometimes enduring hour-plus waits, just for a spot on one of the most coveted dining patios in town.

Part of it probably has to do with what might be called the "busted free from prison" factor: After being holed up inside for most of winter (or after an especially soul-crushing hot summer, like last year's), we want to soak up as much palatable weather as we can, before things turn too cold or too hot. Texas weather can be described in many ways, but the phrase "consistently temperate" is not one of them.

A more powerful factor is our desire to escape the humdrum nature of modern life in a large, car-dependent American city. Too many of us spend our weeks making long treks to work on clogged highways, and then spend 10 hours a day hunched over a computer.

It's no wonder, then, that this area boasts so many unique patios, from the verdant expanse of Joe T. Garcia's to the hipster intimacy of Bolsa, to the newly refurbished Reata, where you can take a breather from the hustle and bustle of downtown Fort Worth. There something about looking up from your plate of food, at trees and blue sky and bright sunshine, that reminds you what it feels like to live a more civilized life.

But which are the best patios in North Texas -- the ones worth that extra drive across town, where you can turn an ideal spring evening into a night you won't soon forget?

We decided to send our writers out to survey the best of the al fresco scene, paying particular attention to a handful of simple rules:

1) We wanted patios where, in addition to tasty libations, you could also get a terrific plate of food.

2) We wanted patios that offered a proper scene -- buzzy, jovial environments where the party can carry on long after the last bite of dessert has been consumed.

3) Most importantly, we wanted patios that were destinations and that helped to shape the character of the restaurant in question -- not merely solid eateries that happen to offer outdoor seating. No offense to the Chipotle on West Seventh Street, which has a nice little wraparound patio where we often take our lunch, but that's not what we're after for this survey.

You may not agree with all of our choices -- in which case, we'd love to hear about places that we overlooked. Alternately, instead of disagreeing with us, you might be well-advised to start making reservations at these places (especially on this Mother's Day weekend), because time is not necessarily on your side.

By mid-June, the average temperature is expected to be in the 90s, at which point that storied table with a view is more likely to feel like a sauna in desperate need of a fan mister. Ah, Texas.

PLATINUM PATIOS

Joe T. Garcia's
It's hard to imagine that anyone reading a story about patio dining hasn't been to Joe T. Garcia's, which is the Fort Worth patio -- or rather, patios: The enormous, lush garden is actually a succession of several adjoining patios with different personalities and names like "Pool" (for a reason that is obvious), Mariachi (a covered space) and Los Portales. The nearly 80-year-old restaurant grows every year, and it has expanded from its original 16 seats to seating for more than 1,000. Celebrities and political heavyweights, including singer Kelly Clarkson, actor Owen Wilson, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others, have been spotted dining there, but the menu remains small and unpretentious -- fajitas, enchiladas and those famous turbo-charged margaritas. The place is still so old-school that it doesn't take credit cards, so bring cash and be prepared to wait. But once you get inside, the haciendalike patio will transport you, and it'll all be worth it.

2201 N. Commerce St., Fort Worth, 817-626-4356; joets.com

Ozona Grill & Bar
It's fitting that the two locations of Ozona are in College Station and in north Dallas near SMU. Ozona has the feel of a big college bar -- with a large, tree-shaded patio. It's so large you can usually find a place to sit even when the place is crowded -- which is often, when the weather's nice. The food may not be much to write home about -- it's the usual Tex-Mex fare -- but that's not why you come here. You come here when someone says, "Hey, let's go somewhere where we can sit outside, grab a quesadilla, wash it down with a beer, without dealing with Uptown." One thing that is like Uptown is the parking. There are two lots (which can get full at popular times) and there's valet, but street parking is as hard to find as a beater in the SMU parking lot.

4615 Greenville Ave., Dallas, 214-265-9105; ozonagrill.com

Fred's Texas Cafe

No matter how many gleaming new restaurants and shops pop up around Fred's, the quintessential Fort Worth burger and "cold ass" beer joint just keeps humming along, drawing loyal customers and big crowds. The patio has a lot to do with that success. At least three times the size of the tiny dining room, the patio is the place to enjoy Fred's funky atmosphere, ice-cold beers, fiery-hot Diablo burgers and cool live music. Remember: It's closed Mondays. (Fred's North, which just celebrated its first anniversary, also has a patio -- but it's much smaller, and conversely, the dining room is much bigger.)

915 Currie St., Fort Worth, 817-332-0083.

TRAIL-BLAZING PATIOS

Katy Trail Ice House

Why didn't someone think of this before? A bar and beer garden with an expansive patio that looks out onto the tree-lined Katy Trail, the Ice House has been a roaring success since opening last year. And "roar" is the operative word, as you certainly don't come here looking for a little peace and quiet or to have a discussion on the works of Proust. Despite the rustic setting, it's Uptown at its noisiest and, although the attire is social casual, rest assured that most of the clientele is going to be younger, healthier and better looking than you are, so just go with it. Hey, it's no accident that the place has been used to shoot Dallas reality shows like Most Eligible Dallas and Big Rich Texas. Be warned that street parking is next to impossible to find -- especially now that the Ice House has been joined by the latest outpost of Company Cafe next door and a huge, new residential complex down the street -- but the Ice House does provide a complimentary valet. The food at Katy Trail Ice House -- burgers, tacos, nachos, and fries -- is typical pub grub, i.e. something to keep your piehole busy between beers and conversation. The setting and the people-watching, however, can't be beat.

3136B Routh St., Dallas, 214-468-0600; katyicehouse.com

Woodshed Smokehouse

Tim Love's Trinity River restaurant is the patio of the moment in Fort Worth. Despite some initial controversy -- critics cried foul when the Trinity River Vision Authority gave Love a no-bid deal and spent nearly a million dollars toward building the structure -- crowds continue to flock to the picnic spot right by the Trinity Trails for Love's wood-fired delicacies. There's also a music stage on the expansive patio, games for the kids, community tables and tables for two -- and the interior, with its doors open to the outside, is almost as festive. And since it's right by the Trinity Trails, you can ride a bike up for a beer or take a post-meal hike to walk off some of those calories you consumed when you ate the Animal of the Day. Tip: If you want a quieter experience, get there before 11 a.m. and have a drink from the coffee bar.

3201 Riverfront Drive, Fort Worth, 817-877-4545. www.woodshedsmokehouse.com.

UP ON THE ROOF

Reata

Recently refurbished and expanded (the Luna Vista geodesic dome now seats up to 110), the rooftop at Reata maintains a sense of intimacy and escape, smack in the heart of downtown Fort Worth -- especially on the upper level, where you can get farther away from the traffic noise and sip a specialty margarita at the lengthy bar. But if you want to look down at all those cars, the recent renovation of the Sunset Deck put some tables in primo spots for a view of the busy corner of Houston and Third streets and of Sundance Square. Reata's "legendary Texas cuisine" is available if you want it, but we find this to be a cool spot just to relax and have a drink -- and maybe just one of those famous tenderloin tamales. (Rooftop open for drinks and dinner only, beginning at 4 p.m. daily; occasionally closed for private events.)

310 Houston St., Fort Worth, 817-336-1009. www.reata.net.

Bar Louie

All the restaurants in Fort Worth's West 7th development have some sort of outdoor-seating space, but Bar Louie's is above them all -- literally, with a rooftop bar/patio with great views of the Cultural District, west Fort Worth and sunset skies (you can also look down at all the people in the drive-through at the In-N-Out Burger across the street). Bar Louie has an extensive menu of small plates (we're fans of the Bavarian pretzel sticks and the truffle butter popcorn), flatbreads, giant burgers, sandwiches and entrees -- and an extensive cocktail and craft-beer menu to match. You might not be able to afford one of those cherry corner apartments in West 7th, but you can get a sample of the view from here.

2973 W. Seventh St., Fort Worth, 817-566-9933,

www.barlouieamerica.com

Campania Pizza & More

When this Neapolitan pizza palace opened in 2008, it quickly set itself apart from its more modest Dallas cousin with a large two-story layout and a rooftop patio overlooking Southlake Town Square. The semi-covered patio includes lounge-y chairs for just hanging out, a full bar and a water feature -- and live music that often echoes through the buildings in the Town Square. If you're a fan of wood-fired, thin-crust pizza, Campania offers one that is crispy without being too crackerlike. But it also offers this great escape from the shopping masses.

291 Grand Ave., Southlake, 817-310-3116, www.campaniapizza.com

The Den Bar & Grill and Rumour Lounge

If you're not up for Uptown crowds, then avoid this three-story bar/lounge/dance club on weekends. There's usually a cover band downstairs and DJs playing the latest club hits (LMFAO in the house!) elsewhere. But it does sport one of the largest, sweetest rooftop patios around, with awesome, sweeping views of Uptown and downtown. And there's something to be said for coming here on a super-busy night -- say, on Texas-OU weekend -- and watching the madness unfurl on McKinney Avenue below and contemplate just how many walks of shame there are going to be in a few hours. Maybe one of them will be your own.

2710 McKinney Ave., Dallas, 214-420-2500; denandrumorlounge.com

PATIOS WITHOUT PRETENSION

Fort Worth Food Park

Here's a place where it's all about the "patio," as it were, because ain't no one dining inside a food truck. But the cozy location in a humble lot on Weisenberger Street has a festive -- and often very crowded -- atmosphere with picnic tables and play areas, and a rotation of food trucks that are perfect if you are with someone or a group that can't really decide on a cuisine. Just split up, grab whatever catches your fancy and then gather at a table for a feast. The Fort Worth Food Park is open Thursday-Sunday; check website for hours and truck lineup. At this writing, this is Fort Worth's only food park -- but Cowtown Chow Down is scheduled to open (after a few delays) May 17 on North Main Street.

2509 Weisenberger St. (one block south of White Settlement Road), Fort Worth, 817-862-7289; fwfoodpark.com

Flip's Patio Grill

When we settled in for an evening meal at the north Fort Worth/Fossil Creek location of Flip's, the first thought that occurred to us was "this place needs a lake around it." As it is, the patio reminded us of someone's nice backyard deck, festooned with Christmas lights and anchored by an attractive tree in the center. Even on a relatively temperate night, the fan misters were going full blast, and for those who don't want to miss whichever DFW sporting event is happening, there's a large outdoor TV screen as well. Flip's makes good, juicy burgers, as well, although our "Scorcher" -- with wing sauce, pepper jack cheese and a choice of ranch or blue cheese dressing -- could have used a bit more heat. Note to nonsmokers: The patio is also the smoking section, and a lot of people were taking advantage of that.

6613 Fossil Bluff Drive, Fort Worth, 817-847-4424; www.facebook.com/flipsfortworth; also 415 W. Texas 114 at South Main Street in Grapevine.

The Ginger Man

The long-running and deservedly popular Ginger Man gets kudos for a lot of things -- a solid beer selection and a large, comfortable patio among them -- but its most notable feature just may be the clientele. Despite its location in the heart of Uptown, it doesn't attract the see-and-be-seen types. From the after-work crowd to the pre-game celebrants (the AAC is a short trolley ride and walk away), Ginger Man is surprisingly low-key. It doesn't matter how old you are or how you are dressed, it is easy to feel comfortable here. And sometimes that's all you want. (The Fort Worth location, which opened in 2007, also has a nice patio that manages to conceal itself despite being right on Camp Bowie Boulevard.)

2718 Boll St., Dallas, 214-754-8771; dallas.gingermanpub.com; also 3716 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth, 817-886-2327, ftworth.gingermanpub.com

Lee Harvey's

Lee Harvey's not only has the most distinctive name of any bar in town, it also has perhaps the most unique patio. After all, the place is pretty much all patio, as the interior is about as big as a 1978 Toyota Tercel. But the outdoor seating area is expansive, filled with a stage for local bands, wooden tables, benches and fire pits, which come in handy on nippy winter nights. Make no mistake: This is a dive bar. But it's a dive bar with a welcoming, comfortable atmosphere and what some say is the best burger in Dallas.

1807 Gould St., Dallas, 214-428-1555; leeharveys.com

Amsterdam Bar

This is the place to be on a Monday night, with live jazz inside this spot near Fair Park and a lively patio out back (with a tree in the middle of it!) full of what may be the most eclectic bar scene in town. If it's not Monday, you may not get the music but everything else remains -- cheap beer, friendly atmosphere -- so it's all good. Although the Amsterdam doesn't serve food, there just might be a food truck parked outside if you're feeling peckish. Or you can always head a couple of doors down to Pizza Lounge (open till 3 a.m. most nights) and bring back one of its tasty gourmet pies to go along with your drinks.

831 Exposition Ave., Dallas, 214-827-3433; theamsterdambar.com

PATIOS FOR HIPSTERS

Bolsa

If you want to see the evolution of Oak Cliff in action, from hard-scrabble working-class neighborhood to hipster hangout, then loiter on the patio of Bolsa, one of the restaurants that has helped turn this part of town into a foodie fever dream. Order a drink and one of the flatbreads -- maybe the exotically named Twig & Branch (arugula, caprino chevre, roast grapes) -- and just people-watch for a while. And, if you get tired of that, get back in touch with Oak Cliff's roots and walk across the street to El Si Hay, an old-school taqueria stand that is kind of like one big patio -- no roof, no tables, no chairs. It's just a bunch of people standing around scarfing down tasty, cheap tacos.

614 W. Davis St., Dallas, 214-943-1883; bolsadallas.com

The Foundry/Chicken Scratch

From the minute you step onto the gravel-yard patio fronting the Foundry and Chicken Scratch, a bar and restaurant sharing a property within shouting distance of the Belmont Hotel, you feel as if you've left the 214 area code for the 512. The whole place resonates with a laid-back Austin vibe, from the park-style wooden tables and benches and the stage for local indie bands to the fenced-off cactus garden and the number of children usually running around, during the daytime at least. It's a cool, casual way to kill an hour or three and to enjoy the Foundry's laundry list of good Texas beers or Chicken Scratch's new-generation take on the fried-chicken joint. Caveat: Though only recently opened, the place may already be getting too popular for its own good. Reportedly, some weekend nights have been slammed, so get there before the rest of Dallas discovers it.

2303 Pittman St., Dallas, 214-749-1112; cs-tf.com

BarBelmont

The patio bar at the Belmont Hotel has one of the best views of the colorful downtown Dallas skyline. Situated on a cliff overlooking the city, it's a great place to take in the visual cacophony, whether it's the ball at the top of Reunion Tower's new color palette (thanks to a recent switch to LED bulbs), the eye-searing lights of the new Omni Hotel, or planes on a path to land at Love Field. Added bonus: One of the most-vaunted new restaurants in town, Smoke, is also at the hotel. Granted, since the Belmont has added shade to the patio (allowing it to be used in inclement weather), it doesn't have the wide-open feel it once did, but the view remains unchallenged.

901 Fort Worth Ave., Dallas, 866-870-8010; belmontdallas.com

Sundown at Granada

Opened late last year directly next door to Dallas' beloved Granada Theater, this low-key, beautifully appointed beer garden, bar and restaurant features not one, but two patios, stacked on top of each other. You can lounge beneath enormous ceiling fans and listen to the piped-in music while sampling a few of the more than 60 beers on tap, or you can head upstairs, to the recently finished upper deck, and gaze down upon the bustling Greenville Avenue strip. The menu, overseen by chef Patrick Stark, is farm-to-table-focused, featuring lots of easily shared bar bites and satisfying staples like the signature Sundown burger, topped with root-beer-soaked onions, goat cheese and pecan-smoked bacon. Naturally, live music is going to be a key piece of Sundown's strategy, with owner Michael Schoder planning a busy schedule of mostly acoustic acts atop his rustic oasis.

3520 Greenville Ave., Dallas, 214-823-8305; sundownatgranada.com

PATIOS FOR PEOPLE-WATCHING

Brio Tuscan Grille

At the center of the northern part of Southlake Town Square, Brio's patio looks out on a plaza that's one of the most "town square" parts of the massive complex: From a shaded area at the rear of the restaurant, you can watch kids scampering, dogs tugging at leashes, teenagers preening, occasional entertainment or music events, and even people who are actually in the Town Square to, you know, shop. Brio has one of those lengthy Italian-chain menus that is almost overwhelming, but we like it for brunch -- where one of the best items at this Italian spot is the French toast, a brioche stuffed with mascarpone cheese and topped with berries and a vanilla cream cheese drizzle.

1431 Plaza Place, Southlake, 817-310-3136; www.brioitalian.com

Central Market Southlake

Although the Fort Worth location of Central Market has a very welcoming outdoor space, the Southlake location's patio trumps it by being more set off from the parking lot, with a gated, fenced area filled with picnic tables, children clambering over playground equipment and musicians trying to be heard above the din. The Southlake location also has a cafe with an ever-changing selection of specials, a full breakfast menu during morning hours and a selection of salads, burgers and sandwiches during lunch and dinner. The patio can be noisy, but it's practically a monastery compared with what's going on in the seemingly ever-crowded store.

1425 E. Southlake Blvd., Southlake, 817-310-5600; www.centralmarket.com

PATIOS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT

Piola Restaurant and Garden

About to celebrate its fifth anniversary -- with a run interrupted for a few months by a fire a couple of years ago -- Bobby Albanese's charming Italian cafe in an 80-year-old house in the Cultural District remains unknown to a lot of people in Tarrant County. The interior is nice, but the exterior is a mini-oasis -- a spacious garden with water feature, bar and brick oven. On a recent mellow Thursday afternoon, we enjoyed a plate of buffalo meatballs with pepperoncini peppers, mushrooms, demiglace and capellini Alfredo. Even the construction on adjacent Mattison Avenue couldn't disturb the mellow vibe.

3700 Mattison Ave., Fort Worth, 817-989-0007; www.fwpiola.com

LightCatcher Winery & Bistro

LightCatcher is also about as close to a Hill Country-style spot as you can get in Tarrant County. The outdoor space is large and partly covered by a pavilion, but there are tables in the sun, shaded by umbrellas that struggled a little bit on a windy Sunday afternoon. The setting is rustic and peaceful, with plenty of trees for extra shade and a feeling that you are farther away from the city and its freeways than you really are. Wine is the big thing here, of course, but food is served Wednesday through Sunday, and there are Jazz Sundays 4-7 p.m. on some Sunday afternoons. Dinner reservations recommended.

6925 Confederate Park Road, Fort Worth, 817-237-2626; www.lightcatcher.com

Hannah's Off the Square

One of the best patios in the DFW area, the hidden oasis of Hannah's is a block south of Denton's town square. Executive chef Sheena Croft, who was cooking local before "locavore" became an annoying made-up word, serves up a good tapas menu and a great Sunday brunch. Try the Grand Marnier French toast and the pancakes with seasonal fruit inside and on top. Hannah's patio sits right next to a huge parking lot, but you'd never know it from the vine-covered walls and central water feature that separate you from -- well, everything. Hannah's is open daily for lunch and dinner, as well as Sunday brunch.

111 W. Mulberry St., Denton, 940-566-1110; www.hannahsoffthesquare.com

BURGERS AND A PATIO

Bronson Rock Bar & Grill

Our first impression of the patio at this promising burger joint in Old Town Keller was that it reminded us a bit of the patios at both Fred's and Love Shack So7, which are pretty good things to be reminded of when you're at a burger joint. The patio is spacious, with an outdoor bar and music stage, and a space that wraps so far around the building that there are tables in front as well, with a view of U.S. 377 -- or as it's known in Keller, Main Street. For a patio sandwiched between a busy highway and a frequently used railroad track, this one manages to give you a party atmosphere and a feeling of escape.

250 S. Main St., Keller, 817-431-5543; www.bronsonrock.com

Dutch's

The TCU burger joint, famous for its bodacious bacon bleu cheese burger and sweet buns, recently added a double-decker patio out back, which has added credence to Dutch's rep as a BMOC. The covered, open-air space has a couple of flatscreens on both levels, to keep an eye on the Frogs. And the second level provides a nice survey of the campus. The crowd is a mix of students and faculty unwinding and families from the nearby neighborhoods chowing down on one of the best burgers in town.

3009 S. University Drive, Fort Worth, 817-927-5522; www.dutchshamburgers.com

FOOD WITH A LAKE VIEW

Glass Cactus

The Gaylord Texan is an overwhelming place, and the interior of the hotel has several restaurants with a patio feel -- there's even a Riverwalk inside. But that all feels artificial, the hotel as theme park. The real patio is down the road from the mothership, where you'll find the Glass Cactus, a nightclub with a 13,000-square-foot patio/deck area with 180-degree views of Lake Grapevine. Most of the year, it's a bar and only open at night (which may account for why it feels like it's on the road to the Batcave in daytime), but it does serve a popular Sunday brunch during the summer.

1501 Gaylord Trail, Grapevine, 817-778-2805; www.gaylordhotels.com/gaylord-texan/glass-cactu s

The Point on Lake Worth

Driving down the dirt path, just past the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics plant, you think maybe you've been punk'd by friends, but when you roll up on the Point, an unpretentious 60-year-old bar and marina, you discover it is one of Fort Worth's best-kept secret patios. Serving burgers, catfish, chicken-fried steak and any number of other fried items, the Point is less about the grub and more about its lazy feel, with tables overlooking the dock leading out to Lake Worth. Sip a cerveza, watch the boats go by, maybe play a game of pool or soak up some live music, all the while wondering what took you so long to find this place.

1349 Bomber Road, Fort Worth, 817-246-9168; www.pointlakeworth.com

Compiled by Robert Philpot, Cary Darling, Christopher Kelly and Rick Press, DFW.com

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