Sweetwater Grill & Tavern has that worn-out, but loved-long look about it. This corner pub, one block south of Denton's downtown square, is a haloed hangout. Founded in 1996 by Restauranteur Bob Harmon and Chef Jimmy Meredith, it's overdue for an overhaul but draws a steady following nonetheless. Regulars include the line-the-bar locals, the take-off-your-tie happy hour cronies, and the too-hip-to-be-cool college kids. And then there are those like me, who simply need a Sweetwater fix.
If it's a nice day (and it almost always is), expect the garage-door style windows to be open to the patio. The air is filled with a mix of conversations bursting with laughter, classic rock playing in the background, and the drone of overhead ceiling fans whose sole purpose is to stir up cigarette smoke.
At first you might notice the crumbling cement floor beneath you, the weathered wooden tables and chairs, the sticky laminated menus, and wonder how all of this got past the last health inspector. But before long you'll be absorbed in conversation with friends, enjoying a few hours of free time with no responsibility. Forget the dingy surroundings. Instead, look up at the cheery colored lights strung overhead. That's the Tao of Sweetwater.
It might take a while for your twenty-something server in tattered jeans and a T-shirt to notice you. In the meantime, you eyeball the menu, equally split between good and bad for you. You contemplate one of Sweetwater's kiss-a** hamburgers—blackened, perhaps? With blue cheese and bacon? Jalapenos or guacamole? But you go with the old standby—Chicken Enchiladas. Your spouse debates getting the Southwest Pasta with grilled shrimp in a rich creamy sauce or the Frito Pie with a bowl of gumbo soup, but he ultimately decides on the 12 ounce Rib Eye. You note one particular line on the menu: ...Fried Bologna Sandwich...$4.99..... W/bottle of DOM...$195.00. Does anybody actually order this, you laugh? Then you remember why you're here.
Dinner takes a while, but no worries. Look up at the colored lights. Breathe in some of that second-hand smoke. Catch your server as he flies by and order the fried pickles and a frozen margarita, which will come long before the food. Talk over the rev of a motorcycle engine about something innocuous, like the weather or the last movie you saw, or trade jokes with the customers at the next table. Hum along with The Eagles, and squint to see the football scores on the TV inside the next room.
At last, the meal arrives. As always, the food is pretty much the same. The chicken enchiladas come with black beans and rice on a plate that's way too hot to touch with way more cheese than your diet allows. The rib eye comes medium rather than medium rare, but it's a good enough cut to eat without having to send it back. The mashed potatoes are sufficiently comforting, although the side salad is ho-hum: mostly iceberg lettuce slathered with creamy ranch dressing. It's predictable and familiar. But isn't that the point?
Peach is the cobbler of the day, but instead you choose the Bread Pudding smothered with hot Whiskey Sauce--worth every lovin' spoonful. You feel grateful to be American just so you can eat decadent desserts in a place like this. After a few minutes, the bread starts to expand in your stomach and you wonder how you're going to make it to the car. Seriously.
You eyeball a skinny co-ed in short shorts at a neighboring table, spooning the Smoked Shrimp and Scallops marinated in Pico Salsa into her tiny little mouth, and swear you're going to order that or the Grilled Vegetable Plate next time. At least you promise to forgo the Bread Pudding.
Then you remember why you came.
Sweetwater Grill and Tavern
115 S. Elm Street
Denton, Texas 76201
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.
Sunday and Monday, 11 a.m. - midnight
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I'm a staff writer, special contributor and digital producer for the Dallas Morning News and dallasnews.com, and I've written numerous features for the Denton Record-Chronicle. My articles and columns have been published in D Magazine, FD Luxe, Edible DFW, Crave DFW, 360 West, HOME, and other newspapers and in-print and online magazines.
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