Free (or Cheap) Fun in Murphy, Texas
A great diner and a serene natural setting are highlights in this small town.
The best suburbs of Dallas are clearly great places to live, but should you want to visit them? D Magazine online editorial intern Ryan Jones was dispatched to make a day of it in each of our top-ranked cities.The challenge: he’s got only $5 at his disposal. He's already explored Parker, Highland Village, Colleyville, Southlake, Prosper, Highland Park, University Park, and Flower Mound. Now follow us to Murphy, No. 9 in our 2010 rankings.
The staples of the small town café menu are all there — burgers, BLTs, roast beef, chicken fried steak — but when you ask Deno Spyropoulos what the most popular dish in his Murphy diner is, he'll tell you without hesitating. "Gyros," he says.
As his surname indicates, Spyropoulos is a native of Greece, from a small town three hours outside of Athens that, as he puts it, is up in the mountains with the sheep and goats.
His restaurant, Deno's, is a fixture of the Murphy breakfast scene. And the lunch scene. And the dinner scene. It became one of the city's first restaurants when it opened way back in the year 2000.
Seriously. No eatery in town dates back to the 20th century.
'"We were one of the first ones. It was us and Subway," Spyropoulos says with a hint of a Greek accent. After spending more than 20 years doing shoe repair, he abandoned his dying trade and settled in the food service industry in a town that lacked restaurants. But the number of dining options in Murphy has more than doubled since 2008, a sign of just how quickly the city is growing.
As of late June, the count was up to 33 businesses that sold food inside the city limits, but that includes grocery stores, fast food joints (of which I count at least 11), and specialty places like Starbucks, Saxbys, and Baskin Robbins.
So, despite the growth, competition is still relatively sparse for Deno's, and Spyropoulos has developed a loyal following. Not only does he recognize many of his customers, he knows some of their orders by heart - a task made easier because he's there from 7 am to 10 pm, six days a week.
The menu features plenty of American diner favorites (burgers are $3.55) mixed in with a few Greek touches, like his famous gyros ($5.50), Greek salads, and baklava. I took my chicken gyro to go, and asked Deno for parting advice on where I could find some fun around town. He drew a blank.
That's not surprising, really, as Murphy's rural setting seems to limit entertainment options. A good starting place is Tom Kimbrough Stadium, a $20 million shrine to high school football on Murphy Road that is usually packed on Friday nights in the fall. If there's no game going on, you can walk to the east end of the complex to find the Maxwell Creek Linear Park, which offers a basketball court, a covered pavilion, a nature trail, and a bizarre enclave of 10 benches arranged in a semi-circle and surrounded by trees. The spot would be relaxing if I weren't so convinced (based on absolutely no evidence) that it's used for some kind of ritualistic sacrifice.
But the real hidden gem among the Murphy countryside is Bunny Run, a small plot that borders the more traditional City Park. Where City Park provides access to all kinds of athletic fields and trails, all Bunny Run really offers is a small pond, a smaller pier, and a springy, wooden mulch trail around water that's easy on the knees. The real appeal, however, is in Bunny Run's seclusion.
You'll love getting lost in the seclusion of Bunny Run.
Though it never veers too far from civilization, trees and brush insulate the park from outside sights and sounds, and fluttering butterflies and chirping cicadas provide most of the company you'll find out there. The pond is fair game for fishing, although I wouldn't expect to catch much more than a guppy or two. More than anything, Bunny Run is the type of spot you hope to keep in your back pocket for whenever you need an escape from stresses of the big city.
And, ironically, it's the type of place that only seems to exist in small towns like Murphy.