Note: With this offering, your intrepid restaurant reviewer, Sparkes, is striking out to find interesting places to dine in Sherman and Denison and the larger Texoma area from Durant to McKinney and Gainesville to Bonham. We may even venture farther if intrigued by this or that. Following the trail pioneered by Theresa Francis in her Local Flavors reviews, we will endevor to provide information about local eateries, their pros and cons, ins and out, whys and wherefores. We always are open to suggestions, so if you have a favorite place we should check out or would like to know more about a spot you are considering, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will put it on our list for future consideration. If you believe we have rated your favorite place unfairly, let us know that too. And so, with the review that follows we are off on an interesting adventure, and invite you to come along.
If you decide to order the chicken-fried steak at Cellarman’s American Pub in Sherman, bring a friend, maybe two friends. You are going to need help. The CFS is huge, covering the entire platter. The sides I had, onion rings and beans, take up a second platter; so be warned.
Cellarman’s long has been known as one of Sherman’s favorite watering holes, boasting a wide selection of beers, ales and liquors, but locals often forget they serve an interesting menu of food as well. Two of us decided on the pub for a late lunch, arriving around 3 p.m. on a frosty afternoon. The bar side of the establishment was about half full already with customers anticipating Happy Hour, so we found a table on the restaurant side of the room. It is a rather noisy environment, with the too-loud-for-easy-conversation music that seems the norm these days added to the clatter of chatter from the bar patrons. There was only one waitress working the dinning side of the room, but since the late lunchers were few at that time of day, the service was quick and personable.
We started with New England Clam Chowder and Homemade Texas Chili. Available as a cup or a bowl, both hit the spot to take the chill off the afternoon. The chowder was warm, thick and creamy, with a goodly helping of clams — comfort food first class. The chowder is on the menu from October to March; we suppose this is to match the comings and goings of the clams.
The chili was excellent. It reminded me of my grandfather’s recipe, and that definitely is a good thing. It was thick with beef and carried the right amount of spices that linger briefly on the palate before slipping away. As it was called Texas Chili, it adhered to one of the most important tenants of true chili heads, “If you know beans about chili, you know chili has no beans.” You can look up Ken Finley’s 1975 copyrighted song, “If You Know Beans About Chili” to get the rest of the sentiment.
Meanwhile, back at the CFS, as mentioned above, the chicken-fried steak was huge, easily enough for two. The thin piece of steak had a expanse of GB&D (that’s Golden Brown & Delicious) crust, probably from a batter rather than a breading and was napped with traditional cream gravy. All in all it is a crunchy, tasty style of CFS. The sides of onion rings and beans were good, if not distinguished. Big rings fried with a crispy batter were abundant (far more than I could eat) and the beans were at least kissin’ cousins to the brand of Ranch Style Beans that are a Texas favorite.
Included on the CFS platter was a thick slice of Texas Toast. Toast might not seem worthy of a separate paragraph, but sometimes the little things count a lot. The thick toast served in most eateries is pretty indifferent; it is often lukewarm and chewy. This slice was crisp and buttery and obviously just had come off the grill.
While I was working on the chicken-fried steak, my friend was checking out a platter of fried oysters and chips. Cellarman’s has a reputation for their bi-values, and when in season, they offer several variations on the theme including oysters on the half shell and oysters Rockafeller. Recently they have added garlic baked oysters and the fried oysters with chips. The fried oysters were plump, nicely brown and crunchy and came with an interesting variation on the usual ketchup based, horseradish infused cocktail sauce. Cellerman’s version has distinctive smoky tang. It is subtle, not too strong and nicely adds a new level of flavor to the oysters. The platter came with a mound of chips (French fries for you non Angophiles) and a small bowl of coleslaw. Both were good, but nothing unusual.
Before the entrees arrived, we were joined by a third diner who went for a pizza. Cellarman’s offers a baker’s dozen varieties of pies with usual toppings from the Whole 9 Yards (just about anything you could imagine) to pizzas topped with Alfredo sauce or spinach and artichokes or all veggies. This time it was a Meat Eaters ten-inch personal pie with pepperoni, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, hamburger and bacon. I traded a piece of my chicken-fried for a slice and found it well worth the tasting although both of us agreed that the thin crust could have been a little bit crisper with another minute or so in the wood-fired oven.
Knowledgeable of the admonition “Always leave room for dessert,” we ordered a deep dish cookie and the old fashioned root-beer float. The deep dish cookie was just that, a chocolate chip cookie baked in a deep dish pizza pan. It was topped with whipped cream, a scoop of ice cream and a lacing of chocolate drizzles. What’s not to like? That said, it stuck to the bottom of the pan and took a bit of digging to get out. The cookie easily was enough for two. There should have been a photo of the Big Cookie, but it was half gone before the camera came out.
Cellarman’s touts their old fashioned root-beer brewed in house. While OK, it could have used more flavor and more zing in the form of carbonation. It seemed a little flat, and that meant that the delicious “bite” of soda with the ice cream was missing. Next time I would opt for the chocolate guinness cake or one of their baked-on-demand strudels.
If none of the above whets your appetite, the pub offers a good selection of other entrees such as quesadillas, soft tacos, and even dish of German sausage and kraut from Muenster (Texas not Germany) to supplement their burgers and sandwiches.
Overall, we would have to say Cellarman’s is a great place for the kind of food not found regularly in the Texoma area. And, of course, don’t forget the 99 bottles of beer on the wall.