Saturday, March 5, 2016

Afternoon on the Square in Denton, Texas

Tri-Five Classic Chevy Car Cruising/Dining Experience

Afternoon on the Square in Denton, Texas   

-Alan Arnell

Not all quaint places that this ‘57 Chevrolet lover cruises to require a long drive out into the country. Denton,Texas is an excellent destination to travel to for spending a weekend afternoon dining and exploring, all the while, still having that small town experience.

Drive to Denton via Interstate 35 East

My weekend travel started with a jaunt on Business State Highway 121 to Lewisville.  The next leg of the trip was north on Interstate Highway 35 East (I-35E).  

I-35 is a major national highway that runs from the Mexican border to almost Lake Superior in Minnesota.  The Texas portion is called the Main Street of Texas; because the highway links three of Texas' four largest metropolitan areas, which are DFW, Austin and San Antonio.  I-35 is also the superhighway of the Great Plains and a critical route for businesses benefiting from the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Both north and south of Dallas-Fort Worth I-35 splits into two branch routes where separate branches direct the traveler through either Dallas or Fort Worth again returning to an unified interstate beyond the twin cities of DFW.  Since I-35 primarily is a north and south highway the split section of I-35’s two parallel paths is named East and West.  The East Split is for Dallas and the West Split is for Fort Worth.   I-35 also splits into a I-35E and I-35W in Minneapolis–St. Paul, Minnesota.

The section of I-35E from I-30 to Lewisville is named the Stemmons Freeway. I-35E in its North Dallas trek is presently undergoing much needed construction to improve and increase traffic flow. The plan is to increase the size of highway to and from Downtown Dallas to up to 20 lanes of traffic.

The construction, I witnessed, on my drive to Denton from Lewisville was started in late 2011.  This section of construction when finished will provide over 16 lanes for traffic flow and include elevated toll express lanes. The additional lanes will hopefully ease traffic flow along the I-35E corridor, which is heavily congested, especially near Lewisville Lake. The project includes extending the HOV lanes further north from the Sam Rayburn Tollway/SH 121 interchange.  Also a pedestrian bridge from the main campus of the University of North Texas to Apogee Stadium, which opened in October 2012, will be installed over I-35E. The project is slated to be completed by May 2017.  

AGL Constructors are the leading contractors for the highway expansion project. The whole project will cost $4.8 billion in total, with the first phase totaling $1.4 billion. The funds for the project are provided by Denton County’s regional toll revenue, bond funding and some state and federal funding as well.

Driving I-35E on this Saturday afternoon was uneventful despite the multiple traffic cones, barrels and lane switches.  A rarity during the this round of construction of I-35, even for a Saturday afternoon.  Once we were in Denton, we took the Dallas Drive Exit to snake our way through the city past the T-corners of Eagle Drive and Bell Avenues to downtown Denton’s Courthouse Square.

History of Texas’ Courthouse Squares

North Texas is well known for its small town squares that have great food and shopping.  Denton is no exception.

Denton has a vibrant town square that usually only exists in a small town.  The Square is sufficiently compact to have a single focus of restaurants and shopping.

Denton as with many of Texas’ town squares today are a step back into history, to a time when small towns were magnets for a populace that lived primarily on farms and ranches. Many squares took on their current appearance around the turn of the century.  Their commercial structures and courthouses dating from an era when buildings were festooned with decorative facades. - See more at:

The Denton courthouse square with its dignified courthouse set among shade trees and lawns remains a strong center of commerce for the city in a sort of a touristy/college town style.  The City of Denton’s present court buildings, grocery stores and normal shopping centers have mostly over the years drifted out of the the city’s center to its outer loops and I-35E.

Denton Courthouse Square

Denton’s Historic Courthouse on the Square was built in 1896, making the building over 100 years old. The building is a living landmark for Denton County.  The Square has daily entertainment, shopping and dining experiences. A visitor to the Square will have many opportunities to listen to live music, grab a drink, or even an old-fashioned ice cream sundae or hot dog.  The Square goer only has to walk a few steps from the Courthouse to find fun filled entertainment, shopping and food and drink.

Despite the many choices of eateries, I knew I wanted the chicken fried steak at Cartwright’s Ranch House.  Make sure you are hungry when you order the chicken fried steak at Cartwright's, because the steak is a plate filling piece of pan fried meat the size of a frisbey.

When we arrived at the restaurant at 4:00 PM.  Only a few customers were seated at that time. During our meal, I noticed that tables within the restaurant were starting to fill up.  Most of all the restaurants in Denton at peak times are usually full and have a waiting list.

The hostess at Cartwright's was very nice as she helping us pick out a table with a street view.  I enjoy being able to watch the comings and goings of people on the Square. I had the chicken fried steak with 2 sides. The steak was great, very tender and maybe the best tasting fried steak I have had in quite a while. The meal came with 2 sides, of which I chose pinto beans and mashed potatoes.

Cartwright's has a great atmosphere with friendly staff.  The biscuits just melt in your mouth! I have eaten there many times and enjoy all the items on the restaurant's menu. I recommend.

Besides Cartwright's, the Square offers a large selection of places to shop and eat and includes a history museum.

List of restaurants and Night Spots on the Denton Square:

Court House on the Square Museum is located within the the historic Denton Courthouse.  The museum is free and features rotating exhibits depicting Denton County history along with a historical courtroom on the second floor.

The Loophole Pub is a bar and restaurant that has a pool table and serves until midnight.

LAS Burgers was the first gourmet burger place to honor local musical legends on a rooftop patio and bar.

The Chestnut Tree Tea and Cafe serves caprese paninis and sandwiches on beer wheat bread. Even though beer is served, the cafe is still good for the 8 to 80 crowd.

The Abbey Inn provides authentic, freshly prepared English cuisine such as bangers and mash and cottage pie.  The Inn is known for its great selection of imported and domestic lagers, ales, stouts and great wines.

Wine Squared is a great place to sit, chill, and enjoy some wine with your significant other.

J & J’s Pizza is Chicago style pizza, Italian beef and brewski.  They have live music and if you want you may order an artichoke topped pizza.

Hooligans is a two story bar and grill that offers great food, drinks, music and games.  Amenities include a 33 foot long bar, full menu, 17 flat screen TVs, trivia and poker activities, pool tables, two lounge areas and patio seating.

Jupiter House Coffee is a coffee house with snacks and pastries that features a sidewalk cafe.  A great place for the college crowd to meet, study and hang out.

Andy’s Basement Bar and Grill features cheap drinks and okay service, but with a friendly staff, live music and good times.

Barley and Board has in-house brews and also serves brunch, lunch and dinner.   There is a  full bar with cocktails.   

Dix Coney Island is a diner and hot dog joint that also serves great burgers.

Performing Arts and Theater on the Square in Denton

Fine Arts Theater is a retro local-family owned indie movie theater.

Campus Theater is just off the square, but must be mentioned.  The theater hosts performing arts groups that include the Denton Community Theater, Music Theatre of Denton, DCCB and is home to Tejas Storytelling.

History of Denton, Texas

Beyond the square, Denton is a thriving-growing city.  The City of Denton is the county seat of Denton County. As of 2010 Denton’s population was 113,383.

Through a land grant, Denton County was established in 1846 and the city was incorporated in 1866. The county and the city of Denton were named after pioneer and Texas militia captain John B. Denton. The arrival of a railroad line in the city in 1881 spurred the population and also helped to establish the University of North Texas in 1890 and Texas Woman's University in 1901.

After the construction of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, finished in 1974, the city of Denton saw rapid growth,  In 2011, Denton was the seventh fastest-growing city with a population over 100,000 in the country.

Denton is located on the north end of the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex in North Texas on Interstate 35 East. Denton is known for its active music life; the North Texas State Fair and Rodeo, Denton Arts and Jazz Festival, and the Denton Music Festival all of which attracts over 300,000 people to the city each year.

Besides our enjoyment of good food, on this beautiful cloudless Texas day, my wife and I strolled through two of the the Square’s antique malls.  The antique stores that I like to look around in are the Downtown Mini Mall I and Downtown Mini Mall II. The stores are fun places to wander about looking at merchandise.  The two malls are definitely worth a stop-in if you are on the square.

The Mini Mall I has an upstairs loft with I think the best and unique items for sale.  The Downtown Mini Mall II has a basement that on this day’s visit was closed.  The basement is a great place if you like Army/Navy store items.  I was unable to find out if the basement closure was temporary or not.  If you want to wander through either of these stores properly, you will need at least an hour for each. Both stores cater to the odd and unusual items.  If you like swords, guitars and midwest Americana you have come to the right place.

Stores on the Denton Square that I like to Frequent:

Recycled Books is a multi-story used book and CD store. The store features multiple rooms full of volumes that cover a wide variety of genres and topics,

Sky Guitar is a huge place of interest for me.  So much so, that I skipped it on this trip to keep myself from buying another guitar.  I bought my Fender StarCaster from them just a year or so ago .  The store offers acoustic and electric guitars, drums and has a musical instrument repair shop.

Cupboard Natural Foods is a great place to purchase natural/organic foods and body care products.  They also have a breakfast and lunch cafe.

More Fun Comics and Games features, of course, comic books, along with graphic novels, games and collectables

Mad World Records offers new and used vinyl records for sale along with CDs, DVDs, T-shirts and collectibles.  

College Town

Denton is a college town and has 2 major universities close to the Square.  The largest is Univeristy of North Texas (UNT).  UNT is a public institution of higher education and research committed to a wide array of sciences, engineering fields, liberal arts, fine arts, performing arts, humanities, public policy, and graduate professional education. North Texas was founded as a nonsectarian, co-educational, private teachers college in 1890,

Texas Woman's University, (TWU) is a co-educational university. While male students are accepted into all programs, the school is better known as the largest state-supported university for women in the United States. TWU’s nursing doctoral program is the largest in the United States.

TWU was established in 1901 by an act of the Texas Legislature. TWU was first a Girls Industrial College in 1903 and bestowed its first degrees in 1904. The college changed its name in 1905 to the College of Industrial Arts and Sciences (CIA) and offered programs in a variety of liberal arts, fine arts, and science programs.

TWU made another name change in 1934 to the Texas State College for Women (TSCW) to reflect its growing reputation as a premiere institution of higher education for women in the state.

In 1950, TSCW became the first-nationally accredited nursing program in the state. The nursing program opened at the original Parkland Hospital in 1954. In 1957, the school changed its name for the fourth time to Texas Woman's University.

Despite the urban crawl from DFW, Denton is still thought of as a college town.  Although, Denton is not totally dominated by its university student population. The two universities have over 45,000 students enrolled which is less than half of the city's population.

Denton is a fun city. I attended UNT in the mid-80’s to earn my Masters Degree in Education.  I was married and had been a teacher for half a decade by that time. I received my undergraduate degree in 1980 from Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois, where Jodi and I first met as freshmen. Campus life has always been a part of who I am, and although Denton, TX and Normal, IL are separated by almost 900 miles, I cannot help but notice similarities in these two towns.  

As my wife and I dined at Cartwright's and shopped the square, I was reminded of that other time in my life when my wife and I met and fell in love at Illinois State University.  For me, being on the Denton Square was more than the great Texas outing in an interesting location.  Denton also gave me a pleasant nostalgic feeling of good times past.

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