It would be difficult to deny that Denton's Fry Street has a reputation. The complexity of the drinks served at its somewhat-charming, mostly-grungy cluster of college bars rarely exceeds dropping a shot of something into a glass of something else. You'd be lucky to find anything on an area food menu untouched by hot cheese, ranch dressing or the baptism of a deep fryer, and hey, there's nothing wrong with that -- but man cannot drink by dives alone.
That's where Hickory & Fry comes in. This aptly-named bar is situated at the corner of Hickory and Fry streets, in the ground floor retail space of a high-rise student apartment complex across from the UNT campus. Helmed by Jack and Amy MacDonald, the husband-and-wife team behind Jack Mac's Swill & Grill in North Dallas, Hickory & Fry's craft cocktails and small plates are undeniably strange bedfellows to the 50-cent wells and questionably named shots available down the street.
The bar's plan to compete with the area's bottom-shelf prices is apparently to sell craft drinks for really, really cheap: cans of Four Corners Brewery's Local Buzz and Block Party beers for $2 a pop, not to mention Denton brewery Armadillo Ale Works' Greenbelt Farmhouse Ale for $2.50. You'll also find tallboys of Austin Eastciders Original Dry for $3, which is half what I've paid at comparable bars in the cider's namesake city. The place has plenty of local beers on draft as well, including Peticolas Velvet Hammer ($4) and Ballast Point Sculpin IPA ($3.50).
H&F's straightforward interior balances unfinished concrete, exposed pipes and bare bulbs against the higher pretensions of its drink menu, and the result is a space that draws attention directly to what's being mixed in front of you. Brad McKenzie, my bartender for the night, was more than happy to create drinks based on my favorite spirits and preferred flavor profile, and with cocktail prices generally falling between $5 and $7, I was comfortable to trust his improvisation, menu be damned.
The last time someone ordered a Campari cocktail on Fry was probably in the mid-1970s, but McKenzie produced a boulevardier ($6) rivaling the efforts of Denton's premiere mixology spot Paschall Bar -- and for something like two dollars less. But the best thing I drank all night was a cocktail he called the "Welhausen" ($6), a sour, pinkish combination of St. Germain liqueur, house-infused cucumber gin and a handful of muddled hibiscus flowers. Selections from the actual drink menu aren't slacking either, with my group particularly enjoying the Better Than Tea Home Remedy ($7), a soothing mixture of honey-infused vodka, lemongrass syrup and chamomile tea.
The bar's fairly insane drink margins are ostensibly made possible by the slightly higher prices of its food menu. These are small plates, and they're mostly interesting enough to keep your crowd ordering out of curiosity alone. The star of the lineup, at least on conversation-starting ability, is the kangaroo nachos ($9), with thin slices of 'roo atop flat, crispy wonton wrappers. Unfortunately, between each nacho's smear of delicious habanero jam and the slightly redundant dots of boysenberry sauce on the plate, I'm still not sure I know what kangaroo meat actually tastes like. For a few dollars less, queso con chorizo ($5) is gooey and inviting as liquid cheese should be, but if you put a gun to my head, I'd probably be unable to distinguish between the "house made chorizo" it supposedly contains and ordinary ground beef.
The mushroom pie ($6), essentially a baked caprese supported on quarters of portabella, would have been the best appetizer of the night had it arrived at a slightly higher temperature. The unlikely star of the show turned out to be the roasted veg tostadas ($6.50), with an appealingly substantial topping of black beans, zucchini, diced mushrooms and cotija. If you can't tear yourself away from meat, try the citrus-habanero pulled chicken tostadas ($6.50), the personal favorite of every employee I've asked so far.