Two elements of On the Patio, the 7-month-old sports bar/restaurant in Azle, beckon upon entering its spacious interior. The first is its spacious exterior.
“Patio” seems inappropriately modest to describe an 80-by-35-foot, aircraft-carrier-worthy deck, large enough to accommodate a sizable oak sprouting up through its floor, as well as around 100 patrons who can drink, eat, and be merry sports fans thanks to five big-screen televisions.
Back inside, the second Patio aspect yanking my attention is its profusion of wood-grained coziness. With its booths accented by banquettes of Tabasco red, a 25-foot-high slanted ceiling, and a fireplace big enough to spit-roast a few wild boars, On the Patio’s interior resembles either your favorite hunting lodge, or a ski chalet transplanted from Aspen.
On the Patio checks off all the sports-bar boxes of casual comfort, attentive wait staff, 24 local craft and imported beers on tap, neon-lit beer signs and a Texas-sized abundance — 42 — of big-screen televisions.
And sure enough, the menu features plenty of familiar items: ballpark-style nachos, bacon-wrapped jalapeños, cheese fries, along with a hubcap-sized chicken-fried steak.
But On the Patio isn’t content to play it sports-bar safe. Instead, its kitchen has decided to venture on unconventional side-trips — be it to Maryland with its crabcakes, Italian-American seafood with its shrimp Alfredo, the Gulf of Mexico with its shrimp lettuce wraps, or full-on Chinese wok with a sirloin stir-fry — all in the name of a hybrid approach to predictable classics.
To borrow a baseball image: This Patio throws a culinary changeup as much as a reliable fastball.
My first hint of the kitchen’s gleeful detours are the half-dozen wings ($6.99) ordered as part of a regular $22 special of one appetizer and two entrees.
These bone-in wings are fried to guarantee a snappy, bronzed exterior, and their interior is all delectable moistness. But it is their swabbing in a sweet Thai-chili sauce that puts some complex Asian sweet-heat sass into an often prosaic dish.
As a Marylander, I feel compelled to see how this sports-bar kitchen bravely ventures into its appetizer of “mini” crabcakes ($7.99). While I applaud the kitchen for offering up five cakes, each the size of those pillow mints you find at any airport Hilton, their Lilliputian size prevents the cakes from delivering that full briny crab goodness. And while they are nicely sauteed, the advertised “house sauce” is noticeably AWOL, so the lead-singing crab is left stranded without its backup band.
The Thai-influenced wings make me more intrigued at how this typical sports bar will handle a wok for its sirloin stir-fry ($13.99). The answer is fairly deftly. This dish has an open-door policy on vegetables — squash, carrots, cauliflower, bell peppers, onions and broccoli — and the meat is pleasingly tender and bears the markings of a teriyaki sauce-driven marinade, endowing it with an attractive dark-chocolate hue.
It’s probably not a coincidence that after all these gastro-ventures into Asia and the Chesapeake, the Patio burger ($8.99) is a home-grown, risk-free bet. It certainly has Texan dimensions, standing 5 inches tall from bun to sturdily toasted bun, and is anchored by a thick patty of cooked-to-order beef draped in a melted swatch of American cheese. Its desired crunch comes from the traditional trio of sliced onion, tomato and lettuce. This burger offers such a marvelous hit of minerally rich beef that it easily works without the benefit of any condiment.
Patio’s fascination with hybrid sports-bar cooking culminates with its strawberry shortcake-sundae dessert ($6.99). In many ways, the best part of this sweet is its simple, deeply flavorful scoop of vanilla ice cream, flecked with nubbins of honey-glazed pecans and slightly tart, diced strawberries, and ornamented with chocolate-sauce stripes. The dessert maybe should have stopped there, but when it ushers in four slices of ultimately dry shortcake, well, that’s one party crasher this dessert does not need.
This shortcake is an apt metaphor for the pros, and the occasional shortcomings, of On the Patio as it makes a game attempt to deliver all the familiar trappings of your neighborhood sports bar while boldly heading off in culinary directions that often lead to intriguing, if not always successful, destinations.