Day-trip Denton

The line cooks, dishwasher and servers turned to me and stared. I stared back and stammered out a question, asking if this was the restaurant, which of course, it wasn’t. It was the back door to the kitchen.

I had been pulled in by a colorful sign advertising donuts by a restaurant called Back Dough. Back Dough sells donuts through the back window of Queenie’s Steakhouse on Friday and Saturday nights.

I opened the back door to their kitchen on a Wednesday afternoon. The staff humored me and I walked away knowing where to get late-night donuts.

Situated close to several colleges, the largest of which is the University of North Texas, Denton is a college town with all the quirks that come with that status. Donuts at midnight through back doors, a haunted bookstore and a weekend celebrating home-brewed wassail are a few of the quirks that comprise Denton.

My donut incident happened at the end of my day in Denton, during my walk to the A-train, the train that runs between Dallas and Denton. The A-train is green and white, quiet and clean.

I happily read a book in the air-conditioned whisper-quiet train during the ride there and back. The A-train is an effortless way to avoid Dallas traffic and its final stop in Denton deposits visitors a 10-minute walk from the center of downtown.

Denton lacks chain stores in its historic downtown area. I would forgo Google, TripAdvisor, Yelp and whatever new app that tells you where to eat. Try popping in somewhere that looks good.

This tactic lead me to The Loophole, a bar with the front windows blacked out, a long wooden bar top and pool tables in the back. The spot was relatively empty when I wandered in. A few locals on lunchbreak were scattered among the tables. I sat at the bar a few seats down from an employee going over paperwork.

From the bar, you can watch the kitchen, a small operation with 2 ranges, a few deep fryers and one chef on duty. The menu is robust despite the small kitchen. I sipped on SeaQuench Ale, a sour beer that isn’t too sour with a slight salty hint and a citrus finish, while looking at the Televisions, all displaying a unique pick of daytime TV– a soap opera, a crime show, Grease and a martial arts movie played without sound or subtitles.

The bartender bounced between talking to the chef and telling me about places to visit in Denton. I compiled a list longer than my daytrip could handle and started planning a return trip.

I was ready to eat when my sandwich, the Loophole Cheesesteak, traveled the few steps from the kitchen to my spot at the bar. Unabashedly, the cheese on the cheesesteak is white cheddar cheese whiz. The cheese whiz and shaved rib-eye create a savory mess that I devoured, hunched over my plate.

Photo by Vivian Farmer.
Photo by Vivian Farmer.

Belly full, I nursed a second beer (Rouge Dead Guy, a red-orange beer with a bitter finish) and prepared to walk out into the summertime heat.

The Denton Country Courthouse-on-the-square is worth a visit for a little local history and free air conditioning. Topped with 5 domed roofs and decorated with pillars, the building looks like a small castle or a large church. It sits in the center of downtown, the roads surrounding it form a square.

There are drinking fountains and public restrooms inside, always handy amenities for travelers, and historic exhibits detailing the life of the namesake of Denton as well as pioneer life.

In the basement, in a corner across from the elevators is a small exhibit unlike the rest of the museum. Carefully painted pecans glued together make up a scene of Snow White and the seven dwarfs in a small glass case. The petite pecan people became famous after pecan salesman B. W. Crawford made hundreds of reproductions of famous figures and scenes using pecans.

Pecan people created by B.W. Crawford. On display in the Courthouse on the square, Denton, Texas, Jully 12, 2017. Photo by Vivian Farmer
Photo by Vivian Farmer.

From the nutty to the spooky, Denton is a hotspot for ghosts. There is a ghost tour run by Shelly Tucker, a passionate story-teller of everything spooky.

I stopped in at one of the haunted spots, a bookstore in a renovated opera house, Recycled Books. I went in because of the books and realized it is one of the reportedly haunted spots.

The store is huge, stretching back several directions and branching downward and upward. Large leather tomes are stored in glass cases on the first floor. At the entrance is a section with local authors and, on stepping into the store, I almost bought one of the books. I resisted the urge to add another book to my reading list and began browsing the store, section by section.

Recycled Books in Denton, Texas, July 12, 2017. Photo by Vivian Farmer.
Photo by Vivian Farmer.

Recycled Books is the largest book store I’ve ever been in and the offering of books and subject types is varied enough to keep readers of all types happy. I understand how ghost stories can easily proliferate from this building. The carpeted floors creek and on the mezzanine in the literary section, sounds seem to come from nowhere. A sigh, a bird call, the shuffling of pages, a register ringing up items– the sounds are muted and don’t seem to come from any particular place. A trick of the architecture or ghostly visitors? I asked the staff.

Manager Lacey Richins has not had any supernatural encounters herself and she stays away from the ghost rumors. She says the store is spooky at night when the breakers are turned off. Ghost hunters have come and done readings of Recycled Books’ supernatural activity.

“Don’t tell me what you find, I work here!” Richins says.

Richins has worked at Recycled Books for 9 years but she still finds new sections of books such as a hot air balloon section she discovered the other day.

Popular summertime picks are Steven King books, Game of Thrones merchandise and board games.

“Board games are going crazy right now,” Richins says.

Richins herself is currently reading The Master and Margarita, a Soviet satire that was described to Richins by a few friends as an addicting book.

A book in Recycled Books, Denton, Texas, Jully 12, 2017. Photo by Vivian Farmer
A book in Recycled Books. Photo by Vivian Farmer.

Denton also has a thriving writing scene. Richins says a group called the Spiderweb Salon perform locally. The Spiderweb Salon is comprised of artists working out of north Texas. The group was originally made as a way for artists to support each other. The group performs readings and musical performances around north Dallas.

I had already been planning a return trip to Denton when Richins gave me one more reason to revisit.

In December, Denton celebrates Wassail Weekend. Wassail, I learned, is an archaic English word for hot mulled cider. Merchants all along Denton’s main street brew family friendly cider and give it out for free. Visitors vote on the best wassail as well as listen to live music and take selfies with Santa.

I moved on from books to the perfect complement for a good book– coffee.

Jupiter House Coffee is one large open room, lined by brick walls and filled with community-style tables.

I asked the barista for his favorite and he served me the house cold brew with a shot of vanilla. The cold temperature mutes vanilla’s more floral notes, making a refreshing drink.

After my coffee break, I checked the time and decided to make my way back to the A-train. During my walk to the A-train, I found the aforementioned back door to Back Dough.

“There’s always something to find in this town,” Richins had said, and I agree.