Summertime calls for getting away, even if just on a gallon or two of gas, and there’s no better day trip than off-the-beaten-path dining destinations worth the drive.
The perfect candidates include places patrons can sit and stay awhile; leisurely venues in quaint locales where crowded streets and busy stoplights are few, or even nonexistent. Here are four restaurants that meet these criteria — one north, one south, one east and one west of town — where the made-from-scratch food is just as delicious as the relaxing vibe.
Crank up the A/C, pack your appetite and hit the road.
Earl’s 377 Pizza
The wood-fired pizza, with its chewy, flavorful focaccia crust made with hearty wheat flour, is the star at Argyle’s newest restaurant, Earl’s 377 Pizza. But so is the open-air atmosphere with spacious patio.
Bedecked with vintage military-themed and Americana decor, the restaurant is the new home for former Rodeo Goat and Fred’s Texas Cafe chef Keith Grober, who teamed up with Chad Kelley of Denton’s Barley & Board to create a menu of what they call “Argylian-style” pizzas. Don’t miss the forager, topped with sweet onions, mushrooms, spinach and truffle oil, or the dessert pizza made with Nutella and marshmallows.
The name Earl refers to a fictional war hero who built the restaurant for his wife, Isabella. Servers are happy to share the quirky backstory, as well as recommend menu items, like the Crawfish & Artichoke Fonduta (Italian for fondue), which comes topped with melted provolone and served with focaccia crisps.
Patina Green Home & Market
Doubling as a home goods store and antiques shop, Patina Green Home & Market sits on McKinney’s historic town square. It’s worth the drive not only for chef Robert Lyford’s farm-fresh fare, but for his wife Kaci’s salvaged architectural finds, all of which are for sale.
Lyford visits with farmers weekly (many in Collin County) to source ingredients for his flavor-forward sandwiches, soups and sides. Open daily for lunch, the restaurant also serves a multicourse “market dinner” paired with beer and wine just once or twice monthly, offering two seating times that often sell out.
For the BLT sandwich, Lyford uses local greens, heirloom tomatoes, applewood smoked bacon and house-made ricotta, for which he shares the recipe, along with his Texas Caviar.
Wilfong’s Cajun Shack
Situated right on U.S. 377 with brightly painted tables and chairs, rows of cactus plants and colorful signage, Wilfong’s Cajun Shack might be missed with a blink. There’s no stop sign, much less a stoplight, in Bluff Dale, an unincorporated community 15 miles before Stephenville and home to the outdoor restaurant.
Owned by Stephanie Wilfong, who also owns neighboring Kenny Fred’s Bluff Dale Deer Processing and who works as a wild game butcher during hunting season, the BYOB, cash-only dive is popular with locals and passers-by for spicy Cajun cuisine, lively music and patio-sitting. Wilfong serves a chalkboard menu that includes peel-and-eat shrimp, jalapeño potato salad and freshly-shucked Louisiana oysters on the half-shell. When the temperatures really rise, she’ll add cold shrimp cocktail to the list.
“When you’re sitting in the heat, you might not want to eat gumbo,” says the blue-eyed, bandanna-clad beauty. Wilfong’s is open Friday nights and Saturday and Sunday for lunch and dinner, but only April through the first weekend of October, during hunting’s off-season. (She’ll close earlier if need be, so call ahead if you plan to visit in September.)
While technically in Fort Worth, Cafe 1187 is south of Benbrook Lake in a rural ranch home amid wildflower-paved back roads, providing for an ambiance resembling that of the Texas Hill Country. Owned by Michele Tezak and commemorating 20 years, the charming cafe is popular for its salads, sandwiches and homemade desserts, like the blackberry and apple kuchen — German for “cake.”
Tezak recently reopened after a lengthy hiatus due to a leg injury, and her regulars are thrilled — some are even making private party reservations for the holidays already. Tezak’s dinner menu changes weekly, but don’t miss the filet mignon with blue cheese butter, if it’s available.
Crawfish & Artichoke Fonduta
• 1 pound cooked crawfish tail meat, with juice
• 1/4 cup celery, small diced
• 1/4 cup onion, small diced
• 1/4 cup roasted red pepper, small diced
• 1/4 cup chopped green onions
• 1 1/2 cup mayonnaise
• 1 pound pepper jack cheese, shredded
• 1 pound cooked artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
• 1/4 cup Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce
• 1 teaspoon Tabasco Habanero Sauce
• 1/2 tablespoon celery salt
• 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1 teaspoon black pepper
• 1-2 slices provolone cheese
1. Heat oven to broil.
2. Using a rubber spatula, fold in all ingredients, except provolone cheese, together until smooth.
2. Transfer to a ceramic pan, top with provolone cheese, and broil until bubbly, about five minutes.
— 427 U.S. 377 N, Argyle, 940-464-4444, www.earls377pizza.com
Makes 1 pound
• 1/2 gallon whole milk
• 3 ounces lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon sea salt
• 1/2 cup creme fraiche
1. In a pot over medium-high heat, warm the milk to 190 degrees. Remove pot from heat and whisk in lemon juice and salt. Let the curdled milk sit for 30 minutes to allow the curds to bind.
2. Strain the curds from the whey. (Whey may be reserved to use when boiling pasta.) Once the liquid is drained, allow the cheese to cool to room temperature. Place the cheese in a food processor and add the creme fraiche. Blend until smooth. Ricotta will keep in refrigerator for one week.
• 1 pound fresh black-eyed peas
• 1 bell pepper, diced
• 1 small sweet onion, peeled and diced
• 1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
• 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
• 1 tablespoon grain mustard
• 2 tablespoons grape seed oil
• 2 teaspoons sea salt
1. In a sauce pot, bring 4 cups salted water to a boil. Blanch the fresh peas for 10 to 15 minutes until they are tender. Strain and cool to room temperature.
2. Combine cooled peas with remaining ingredients. Allow mixture to marinate for at least an hour before serving. Top with crumbled feta, cornbread crumbs or crispy bacon pieces, if desired.
— 116 N. Tennessee St., McKinney, 972-548-9141, www.patinagreenhomeandmarket.com
Wilfong’s Shrimp Cocktail
• 1 pound boiled shrimp, peeled and
tails removed, cut into 1/2-inch
• 1 cup chopped red onion
• 1 cup peeled and diced cucumber
• 1/2 cup chopped celery
• 1 jalapeño, seeds removed, minced
• 15 ounces chopped tomatoes
(Wilfong prefers Pomi brand)
• 1 cup fresh chopped tomatoes
• 1/2 cup ketchup
• 1 cup cocktail sauce
• 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
• 2 tablespoons lime juice
• 1/4 cup Louisiana hot sauce
• 1 avocado, cut into chunks
• Salt, to taste
1. Chill all ingredients.
2. Combine all ingredients, except avocado and salt. Lightly stir in avocado and add salt to taste.
— 28595 U.S. 377, Bluff Dale, 254-728-3238
Blackberry and Caramelized Apple Kuchen with Candied Orange Zest
For the pastry:
• 3 cups flour
• 3/4 cups sugar
• Pinch of salt
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 1 1/2 sticks cold butter, broken into pieces
• 2 eggs
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 2 teaspoons orange liqueur
For the filling:
• 1/2 stick cold butter, plus 2 to 3 teaspoons
for the saucepan
• 2 apples peeled, seeded and sliced
• 1 1/3 cups sugar
• 6 to 7 tablespoons flour
• Pinch of salt
• Pinch of cinnamon
• 4 cups fresh blackberries
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
• Zest from 1/2 orange
For the candied orange zest:
• 1 cup water
• 1 1/4 cups sugar
Strips of zest from 1 orange
1. For the pastry, mix the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a food processor with the cold butter until mixture resembles coarse sand.
2. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with the vanilla and the orange liqueur. Pour into the flour mixture in short pulses until just incorporated. Remove dough and gently form into a ball. The dough may be a little dry but it will come together. Do not knead the dough. Refrigerate for one hour.
3. Meanwhile, make the pie filling. Melt 2 to 3 teaspoons butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add apples and 3 tablespoons of the sugar and saute until caramelized.
4. In a small bowl combine flour, salt and cinnamon.
5. Add blackberries, remaining sugar, vanilla, orange zest and the flour mixture to the pan. Taste and add more sugar, if desired. Gently stir the fruit until thickened and flour is incorporated, about 4 to 5 minutes, making sure not to scorch fruit. Add butter, stir and cool to room temperature.
6. For the candied orange zest, bring the water and sugar to a gentle boil until sugar is totally dissolved. Add the orange zest and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove strips to a plate to set. (Remaining syrup may be used to sweeten iced tea or glaze a poundcake.)
7. Divide chilled dough. Use two-thirds for the bottom of the cake and remaining third for the top. If dough is sticky, roll it out between two pieces of plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough rounds until slightly firm.
8. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
9. Grease a springform pan or pie pan with butter or nonstick spray. Place the bottom dough round in the pan and press gently to fill bottom and sides. Fill pan with fruit filling and then cover with top dough round, tucking the edges together with a fork so filling won’t leak out. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until golden brown. Cool and dust with powdered sugar, if desired. Garnish with candied orange zest, fresh mint and whipped cream.
— 8780 Farm Road 1187 E., Fort Worth, 817-443-1473, www.cafe1187.com