I love making the trek to Denton. There's always less traffic, the weather is oddly agreeable, and restaurants are usually more low-key than in the big cities. And even though I'm getting older, I actually don't mind the college atmosphere.
Naturally, my trip to GreenHouse Restaurant & Bar in Denton was a smooth one. The place has a peaceful, dimly lit patio, the usual rubber-friendly bike rack found at most Denton establishments, and live music on Monday nights, courtesy of University of North Texas jazz students.
The menu is full of American dishes, like burgers, salads and sandwiches, with some unrelated stuff thrown in, like fried calamari ($8.99).
I typically have little faith in seafood ordered at a restaurant and bar combo, but my doubts were quickly quelled by the lightly breaded and tender fried calamari appetizer. Even though the accompanying Southwest sauce was entirely devoid of flavor, it mattered little -- we didn't need it.
When it came to the black bean tamales ($8.99), we were divided. My buddy, who happens to be a hard-core tamale aficionado, had nothing but nodding approval for the black bean tamale's masa consistency and filling. On the other hand, I need meat in my tamales, simply because the moist chicken or beef helps to offset the masa's density.
We tried the pulled-pork po-boy ($7.99), knowing that anything with barbecue pulled pork would probably appease us. The pork definitely had some tenderness going on, but the crunchy jicama slaw was too overpowering in texture and flavor. Dial down the slaw by about half, and you have got yourself a mighty fine sandwich with a tender-crunchy balance.
Our favorites were the Southwest chicken tacos ($9.99), with marinated chunks of juicy chicken in gooey cheese, wrapped in a slightly crunchy tortilla; and the sun-dried tomato sliders ($7.99-$9.99).
The sliders include beets, giant cucumber slices, sprouts, mozzarella and sun-dried tomato pesto. Of the dishes we tried, the sliders were the most distinctive. All of the ingredients were fresh and worked harmoniously; the pesto had a ground beeflike consistency that fooled us into thinking we were eating little juicy burgers.
There's also a special diet menu at GreenHouse, which you can view online. It includes dishes that are gluten-free, plates for people with allergies to nuts, and vegan alternatives like the portabella sandwich ($7.99) and quinoa bean salad ($7.99).
If you have a total disregard for anything diet-related, get a fruit crisp ($5.99), a warm and crunchy dessert made with a seasonal fruit filling (ours had tart cherries and raspberries), topped with vanilla ice cream.
In between bites, we sampled some cocktails. The lavender petal margarita ($7) with Reposado tequila, lavender syrup and Cointreau was ice cold and fresh; and the lemon sage martini ($7) -- with enough sage-infused vodka and Limoncello to ward off evil -- made for a highly potent drink option.
The signature drinks are just as elaborate as the best of them back in Dallas and Forth Worth, and there are dozens to choose from -- many of them hand-crafted in-house. And on the weekends there are some serious drink specials ($2 each) that include whiskey sours, frozen margaritas, Cuba Libres and the drink that got me started on boozing: gin Tom Collins.
If that's not enough, there's also a beer of the month. With such a dedication to libations, it makes us wonder why they didn't put the "bar" before "restaurant" in the name.