A white neon marquee burns an alligator into the night air, pointing the way toward Frilly's Seafood Bayou Kitchen in Denton. For more than a decade, this dim brick eatery has been an outlet for Cajun culture and cooking, which the kitchen describes as a swamp version of Creole cuisine notable for its creamy, full-flavored sauces. The alligator on the sign is not a red herring, as you can order it fried from the menu along with frog's legs and pickles, two other fried delicacies served in papered plastic baskets with Cajun mayo or bourbon sauce.
Gulf Coast seafood is the main event and is proudly on display in the crawfish trio and the house special, blackened catfish st. charles, which is topped with crawfish and crabmeat in an herb butter sauce. Po boys arrive on a hoagie roll rather than french bread, and entrees of fresh grouper or chicken and andouille jambalaya are spooned over dirty rice and can be washed down with gallon pitchers of iced tea. Aware that Cajun meals are social happenings, the catering staff can whip up a seasonal crawfish boil if your event falls within several weeks of the creature's Mardi Gras celebration. Live local acts, including Joe Tucker, create a multisensory immersion for diners.
Hints of French and Italian cuisine mingle with Texas culinary traditions at Dino’s Steak and Claw House, where chefs deconstruct classic surf and turf inside a vintage bank building. In the kitchen, they slice fresh garlic and heirloom tomatoes between trips to the grill, which sizzles with 8-ounce beef fillets and 20-ounce porterhouses. Lobster can be ordered with a crabmeat crust or a puffy jacket of ravioli and a pistachio-froth scarf. Meals unfold atop white linen tablecloths dotted with fresh floral arrangements, and chandeliers illuminate the dining room with a glow as warm and inviting as a welcome mat made of jalapeños. Work by local artists accents the entire scene, and grand-piano ticklings turn up the classiness to a glass-shattering 11. A black-marble bar adds an extra layer of luxury, which extends to a patio made for al fresco dining.
The staff at The Dive Bar & Grill work hard to cultivate a versatile, laid-back atmosphere, accommodating large parties of revelers and small, relaxed groups of friends. With a friendly, unrushed attitude, servers present the eatery’s duo of flexible menus—one for the bar and another for the restaurant. At the bar, diners pair beer and wine with chorizo-seasoned potato croquettes, seafood-stuffed quesadillas, and strawberry-studded salads served in portions designed for sharing with friends and gregarious diners at the next table. Meanwhile, The Dive Bar & Grill’s restaurant menu plays to a variety of tastes with a crispy pan-fried beet slider, glazed and grilled cuts of mahi mahi, and seafood pasta perfumed with precious saffron.
Circle S Catfish Grill is a labor of love for the Shipp family, with elder son Adam managing the day-to-day affairs, wife Kelli and parents Randy and Patti taking time from their retirement or teaching careers to pitch in, and younger brother Nick employing his training under Wolfgang Puck to design many of the recipes on the menu. Like a fancy state dinner with coloring-book placemats, the restaurant fuses a family-friendly ambience with elegant dishes, such as Angus beef sirloin, grilled salmon, or Nick's specialty bread pudding topped with crème aunglace. Collected artifacts of Americana, buzzing neon, and a huge flat-screen TV adorn the walls, surrounding vinyl and chrome furnishings that evoke the image of a mid-20th-century Route 66 diner. Freshly cut fries sidle up to plates of fried catfish or grilled chicken, and housemade salsas, tartar sauces, and cocktail sauces pair up with tilapia, chips, and succulent fried shrimp.
Ruggeri’s Italian Kitchen’s experienced culinary crafters whip together an expansive lunch and dinner menu brimming with homemade Italian dishes. A plate of thin spaghetti ties tongues in a web of noodles and slow cooked bolognese sauce ($16) while a meal of italian sausage and peppers serenade mouths with a harmonizing trio of bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes ($18.95). The pescatore diavalo ($19.95), a savory blend of shrimp, calamari, mussels, scallops, and artichoke hearts, bobs in a pool of marinara sauce to give land-locked tongues a more authentic taste of the sea than a fricasseed ship hull. Though Ruggeri's offers an array of meat options, including chicken, veal, and beef, plantivores can sink their bicuspids into a tomato & blue cheese salad bedecked with fresh basil vinaigrette and shallots ($8).