By Earin Lipinsky
Denton Live July-Dec 2012
What makes a great city? Argue all you want about amenities, but great food makes a great city. Whether it’s a Mediterranean dive, a taste of Italy, hanging out for local music, or sneaking in to taste a sushi master at work, we found four hidden gems of the local food scene that bring the taste of Denton to life. At Green Zatar, the authentic lamb kebabs, garlic-laced hummus and Persian tea put us in the mood for a spontaneous getaway to the Mediterranean. Pizza more your style? The Mellow Mushroom challenged our assumptions about crust and cheese by adding steak and three kinds of the gooey stuff on top. To hang out, eat local, drink beer and hear great music played by the jazz fanatics at the University of North Texas, we chose The Greenhouse. And finally, we got tired of hearing everybody rave about Chef K at Keiichi. Now we know what all the buzz is about.
Keiichi Japanese Restaurant
500 N. Elm St. (940) 230-3410
You’ve always heard not to judge a book by its cover. Plain red brick and dark tinted windows hide this gem, Keiichi Japanese Restaurant. Better than Nobu! rave its fans. With barely a corner-store sign to guide traffic toward Denton’s most authentic Japanese, however, it’s no wonder Keiichi remains one of the best-kept secrets around.
The mysterious sushi chef, Keiichi-san, or K as regulars call him, stands behind a small bar-like cutout surrounded by 10 eating spots. He patiently listens to the orders of newcomers as they peruse the extensive selection, occasionally smiling and nodding when they order his favorites. Fresh sticky rice clings to seaweed wrap as he slivers the fish for each piece.
Though it is easy to jump right into ordering the always-popular California roll, instead try the Tasmanian Sea trout seasoned with ginger and jalapeño mint citrus soy, lightly served over sticky rice. Or order the marinated tuna served with fresh guacamole. Or the white seaweed salad with its interesting texture and unique taste.
Chef K’s signature rolls include the snow crab and avocado roll, which packs a perfect punch with fresh ginger and homemade wasabi. Also deemed a favorite by regulars is the spicy tuna roll. Chef K retrieves the marinated tuna from the refrigerator below the preparation bar, then tightly stuffs and rolls it right before you. Ramune, a Japanese soda, complements his creations, but there are also wines, five sake choices, and a small array of Japanese beers. Chef K glances up every now and again to double check for the look of satisfaction on his customers’ faces. He’s only open evenings Tuesday through Saturday and if you can’t make it when the doors open at 5:30 p.m., you might need a reservation.
609 Sunset St. (940) 383-2051
For the past decade, locals have been popping by the Pourmorshed family store and restaurant to sample Mediterranean favorites: dolma made of tender grape leaves stuffed with rice, tabbouli salad with fresh chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, and gyro dinners of lamb kebab on homemade pita bread.
Ali and Kim Pourmorshed do all the cooking and try to use local ingredients from organic farmers when they can. Kim makes the Persian tea herself with fresh herbs. “You know what they say – if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself,” says Hormat, Ali and Kim’s oldest daughter, her voice lightening with laughter. “If my mom wouldn’t bring it home for me and my brother to eat, there’s no way she is going to let us put it on the table.”
There’s no pretension about the setting. Green Zatar, started out as International Foods of Denton, offering 70 kinds of imported beans, 10 different kinds of olives, African herbs, even Asian skin-bleaching soaps. But since 2002, the Pourmorsheds have slowly converted their shop into a restaurant without so much as a recipe book. Everything is fresh, from the pita bread and hummus spread to the Greek salads and meat kebabs. The latest addition to the menu: Zatar bread, hand-tossed pita with feta melted on top. Warm pita wraps around another favorite, the gyro lamb. One of the key spices used to flavor the food at Green Zatar is saffron. “My mom actually jokes that saffron is like putting gold in our food because it is the same price as buying gold,” Hormat says chuckling. Luckily, the prices don’t require an armored truck from Fort Knox.
217 E. Hickory St. (940) 323-1100
It’s early in the day and the pizza ovens are already a-cookin’ down in Denton’s new arts district. Mellow Mushroom is a new arrival from Georgia, serving pizza-loving locals a variety of 15 pizza choices, with a choice of more than 50 ingredients to build your own crust-rising creation. The bar offers dozens of beers on tap and in the bottle, recently adding Green’s Gluten-Free Beer.
Pizza tradition gets a slight makeover at the Mellow Mushroom. Try the freshly baked thick crust topped with zesty pesto chicken, three types of cheese and a literal Caesar salad. (Who said you have to eat your salad before the meal?) Just as the Caesar pizza is known for its bold combination of appetizer-meetsentree, the Philosopher’s Pie challenges the pizza conventions: Thick crust slathered with strips of steak, portobello mushrooms and artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives and feta, provolone and mozzarella cheese. (It’s a Denton favorite apparently.) These same ingredients can also be added to any calzone, even though the most popular of the calzones, the house calzone – simply entails fresh spinach and mushrooms, ripe Roma tomatoes and creamy mozzarella cheese all rolled into hand-tossedcrust.
With restaurants scattered in 18 states, it would be easy to run this pizza shack just like any mainstream crust-baking oven operator, but each Mellow Mushroom is a product of its environment and the Denton location is no exception. The beer is locally brewed and the ingredients for the pies are local, too.
600 N. Locust St. (940) 484-1349
Bikers, pedestrians, and pedicab riders who live near downtown like to gather at The Greenhouse, a Denton icon since opening in 1998. As soon as you walk into the tavern-like restaurant, you hear the clink of beer mugs on the bar and the chatter in the dining room. On a sunny day, everyone heads to the patio to lounge and eat. On Monday and Thursday nights, the restaurant comes alive with jazz played by students from the famous College of Music at UNT nearby.
The menu choices range from Chilean blue mussels to just-off-the-grill fillets to vegetarian tacos filled with ripe avocados and fresh grilled peppers. “We’ve tried to keep a menu that is good for mixed couples. Not every family eats the same,” says Ken Curran, The Greenhouse owner. He loves the Denton bar and restaurant scene, which offers everything from dive bars to special occasion restaurants. “It’s an eclectic town and you’ve got eclectic choices,” he notes. “As nostalgic as I am for the good ol’ days, these are the best times to be in Denton. There’s more going on now here than there ever was.”
The hottest commodity at The Greenhouse is the open-fire mesquite grill. Tender steaks sizzle, the marinade bouncing off the meat like grasshoppers. Chicken and seafood roast slowly. Savor the taste of jalapeño honey butter over Mesquite-grilled salmon, or spice it up with mango pico de gallo sprinkled over the slow-roasted chicken. If meat doesn’t strike a chord with you, indulge in melt-in-yourmouth pizza crust smothered in warm marinara sauce, soft artichokes, ripe black olives andonion, topped off with feta cheese – just one of the many vegetarian options available. To top the night off, enjoy the twist of lemonsage custard and raspberries topped with homemade whipped cream or the decadent crème brûlée.