Keller's Lonesome Lizard deserves to be jumping

Old Downtown Keller is one of those quaint shopping areas that you take your mother to when she comes to visit for a week. The antique stores and gift shops -- excuse me, shoppes -- draw a small but steady amount of traffic during the daytime.

It was nighttime, though, as we approached Lonesome Lizard Texas Cuisine and the area seemed nearly as quiet as a country road. We didn't know what we'd find. Bar food? Greasy spoon? Barbecue?

A low-slung house had apparently been converted to a restaurant, we noted as we arrived. Promising.

We stepped inside to find that the inner walls of this old house had been removed to create a wide dining area that, with a low ceiling and flickering candlelight, nevertheless felt cozy and peaceful. Very promising.

The decor was spare and elegant, leaning heavily on old photographs. There's more coming, an owner later promised us, but we liked the simplicity just fine.

As we sipped ice water from mason jars -- Lonesome Lizard is BYOB and we hadn't thought to B our favorite W -- we perused a menu that spoke heavily of the Lone Star State, but not with a twang.

There's nothing chicken-fried about Lonesome Lizard's lunch/dinner listings, which aim for sophistication at moderate prices. Chef Nate Gay and co-owner Miley Smith are trying to incorporate lots of Texas-grown or Texas-made ingredients, including Texas-produced olive oil from a store two doors down from the Lizard.

We couldn't resist starting with an order of good old mushrooms ($8), described as mushrooms stuffed with sausage and buffalo, complemented with cowboy candy sauce. Four good-size beauties arrived propped up on firm squares of smoked-Gouda grits.

The side of lizard entree ($9) is a chicken leg cooked in a rich, Rahr-beer-based sauce. Brown butter shrimp ($16) is a pile of jumbo shrimp sauteed in an almond browned butter sauce, cuddled up to more of those delectable Gouda grits. The rib-eye steak, accompanied by Yukon gold mashed potatoes, is very generously sized for its $13 price.

For dessert, we were tempted by the Texas-shape waffle topped with candied pecans, but we went for the Texas Gulf rum chocolate cake ($4) instead, not realizing that we'd ordered a show. Chef Nate gave the performance, circling the cake with rum, which he lit and then sprinkled with cinnamon, turning the fire into fireworks. Fun and yum.

The name of the Lonesome Lizard, by the way, comes from a critter that has taken up residence in a stump in front of the restaurant's porch.

Let's hope this upstart dining spot finds a well-deserved customer base so that the lizard isn't lonesome for long.