Best Bar, Bakery, Boutique, Restaurant and Coffee House

Cretia's on McKinney

Cretia's really oughtn't work. It's one of those Jack-of-all-trades ideas that could be a mile wide and an inch deep. The thing is, from morning until way after dinner, you can eat, shop, drink and hang out in this bakery gone wild, and it's all good. Start with a cappuccino and croissant in the coffee bar on the way to work. This former army-navy store on McKinney Avenue, offspring of a Duncanville bakery, knows how to treat breakfast bread with European care. Their baking skills shine all day and all night, providing a wealth of breads, cakes, pies and cookies to enjoy on the premises or take home. Lunch includes a variety of moderately priced entrées, and at dinner the big guns come out with an array of fish, steaks and unique entrées. And all the while you can shop in their trendy boutique or drink or watch a ball game or hear a live band in their Ruby's Lounge Bar.
Two words: country store. Kids love Cracker Barrel's country store, which features all kinds of nostalgic toys and confections such as Walnettos (caramel blended with bits of walnuts) and maple sugar candy. There's no escaping the country store without making some kind of purchase for the kids, but most of the items are inexpensive and blessedly low-tech. The restaurant? The all-day breakfasts are popular with the little ones, especially the pancakes featuring pure maple syrup and various fruit toppings. Cracker Barrel also stocks old-fashioned bottled sodas such as Stewart's orange. Afterward, step outside and play a game of checkers from your rocking chair. It's a hokey place, but your kids will have fun, and chances are you'll find something acceptable on the menu, too.


Readers' Pick
Purple Cow 110 Preston Royal Shopping Center 214-373-0037
Nicola's Ristorante
When you settle into a groovy space you just feel a bit more suave. At least we think so. There must be some connection between décor and attitude. After all, the University of Iowa football program painted the visiting locker rooms pink--floors, walls, lockers, everything--just to pacify the opposition. They've won 20-some odd home games in a row. Nicola's prefers a neatly designed array of curtains, pillars, wrought-iron rails and chandeliers to pastel colors. Framed by floor to ceiling windows, the room suggests urban cool. The most prominent feature is a collection of eight distinctly different chandeliers hanging above the bar area. In the dining area, a series of booths pinwheel from a center pillar. Along the edge, curtained alcoves suggest privacy. There are curves and straight lines, rich fabrics and wood. Above, a cool mezzanine drapes elegantly over the main dining area. Simply put, it's a beautiful space.
It was always a nice diversion to visit the Yasemin Tea shop in Uptown. Owner Yasemin Mosby took pleasure in educating customers on the health benefits and customs of tea drinking, and she encouraged plenty of sampling before choices were made about what to take home. It's a little sad that she only operates her business through a Web site now, but her focus has remained as much on spreading knowledge as selling tea. The site offers an abundance of information for beginners, and the shop's selection includes five different categories of teas, as well as tools and tips on brewing. Check it out, especially if you are tired of getting the shakes from too much coffee.
If Denton friends are trying to persuade you to brave Interstate 35 for a visit, tell them they can seal the deal with lunch at Southern Fried Pie Company. That place will wrap anything into a pocket pastry, and we mean anything. Just perusing the café's menu of hand-held goodies will add five pounds to your figure. The main course selections include the usual suspects: meat and cheese, chicken pot, shepherd's. Each savory pie is partnered with a green salad (who needs it?). But the stars of the show are the desserts. The banana cream and coconut cream are probably to die for, but we can't get past the chocolate and peanut butter. It's the kind of comfort food that requires a nap afterward, so here's hoping your Denton friends have a nice couch.
Here's one for DART rail riders: Get off at the West End stop and walk into the building that houses Chipotle. Instead of taking a right into the chain restaurant (we've seen you, and you don't need another burrito), take a left into La Fiesta Fruits Café. Order the chicken soup. This ain't no Campbell's canned crap; this is authentic, bones and all. About four or five bites in, you'll want to hug someone. It's only natural, with such a perfect mix of vegetables, rice, meat and an unnamed hot ingredient that sneaks up on you in a good way. The guy who owns the place is no soup Nazi. He's quite friendly. Definitely huggable.
City Cafe
Jerry Jones orders it every time he lunches at this charming Parkie redoubt in the shadow of the Tollway. According to owner Paula Bruton, it's become so popular that it's now a constant lunch entrée as well as a dish they'll make as an off-the-menu dinner appetizer. It sounds so, well, odd. And then you taste it. It begins as a mound of the freshest spinach salad you ever tasted, topped with tart, sweet warm bacon dressing. Then it's smothered under a load of flash-fried chicken livers. The flavors and textures combine in a way that is as uniquely enjoyable as it is difficult to describe other than as one of those things you simply must try.

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