There’s no arguing the pleasures of his Dirty Love Burger with an egg on top; but putting a steakhouse in Denton was a clever move. Most restaurants in this college town vie for students, but few are aimed at the grown-ups. The wisdom of this strategy can be seen in the brisk traffic Queenie’s has enjoyed since it opened in April. Limited hours — dinner Thursdays through Saturdays, and lunch Fridays only — make reservations even more prized.
The menu has half a dozen steaks, wet-aged and dry-, sold by the ounce, plus two special cuts: the tomahawk for two ($85), a Love signature; and the vacio ($29), an Argentine-style flank steak. Some menu items are borrowed from his other restaurants, Lonesome Dove Bistro and Woodshed Smokehouse, such as the roasted mushrooms ($15) and the house-made sausage of the day ($8). But others are brand new to Queenie’s.
He likes lobster quite a bit here, with two appetizers including non-crabby lobster cakes ($12) and the pristine spicy lobster salad ($12), which we loved. It was like a ceviche, with chunks of soft, fragile lobster, diced tomato, red onion and Scotch bonnet chiles. What a complex mouthful that was: cool refreshing lobster and tomato versus the fiery heat of the chiles, with the onion adding sharp little pecks.
Love also does a wild entree of chicken-fried lobster ($50), which we spied at the next table. It was a whole lobster, still in the shell, but with the primary edible portions – claws and tail — de-shelled, breaded and fried.
Queenie’s version of the wedge was almost deconstructed, with butter lettuce ($9) in a smoked tomato-blue cheese vinaigrette. A stealthy Caesar is simply called the Romaine ($9) in anchovy-lime vinaigrette. You could make a meal of salad and one of the pastas such as the bucatini ($10) with sausage and celery greens. Bucatini, a delightfully thick, hollow spaghetti, was cooked until pliable with a little spring. The sauce was simple and light, more reduction than sauce, with lots of flavor from the crumbled sausage.
In addition to steak, there is a menu category humorously dubbed “Texas vegetarian,” with pork, lamb chop and halibut. The pick was pheasant confit “chop” ($28), as clever a dish as you could imagine. It looked like a regular chop, with a bone jutting out, but the chop consisted of chunks of pheasant formed into a mound, with a bone inserted for effect. Once prodded with a fork, the pheasant fell off in bite-size bits, each bite a gratifying combination of tenderness with crusty edges.
One dish — the sweet potato-red onion chile relleno ($24) — truly is vegetarian, and it was a show-stopper. A large chile was split open and filled with a heap of sweet potato, cut into little cubes and cooked until just barely soft, mixed with corn kernels and the occasional black bean, under a (too) thick blanket of melted cheese. It was a smart approach; treated as they were, the two vegetables offered some all-important “chew.”
The chile was placed over two visually attractive pools, one a rather sweet corn puree, the other a puree of black bean. A pretty plate, it made for a stunning, thoughtful vegetarian option.
A la carte sides included steakhouse classics such as truffle mac and cheese ($12) and grilled asparagus ($10). They’re done family-style; the young but sharp servers have been trained to carefully dole them out onto your plate. Creamed spinach and kale ($9) included the firm leafy green that’s a hot foodie trend and stars in a salad at Woodshed. It overwhelmed the more delicate spinach; meanwhile, “creamed” meant the greens were simply cooked in cream, with an intensely lemony flavor, and topped with a too-thick layer of cheese.
The restaurant’s physical transformation is incredible. Eye-catching slats of wood now clad the exterior, reminiscent of Woodshed’s wood-and-steel decor. White tablecloths and floor-to-ceiling drapes make the dining room feel elegant and upscale, with a floral display in the center. It shows how much you can achieve with just a few little touches. The place was named for Love’s mother, who is nicknamed Queenie; she should be proud.