The painted horse welcoming patrons to Kelly’s Eastside is an appropriate beacon to an establishment that was once a dark horse on the Plano dining scene. When Tim “TK” Kelly opened his doors in downtown Plano in 2003, he was one of only a handful of restaurants in a strip of retail dominated by antiques stores.
Fast forward 11 years, and Kelly’s is no longer the lone ranger in a now-bustling downtown district, but TK’s casual eatery is still a local favorite, churning out scratch-made bar food that’s a definite step up from the usual tavern fare.
“I always knew my food would carry the place,” TK says. “I wanted the bar scene, too.”
Kelly’s is nestled in a quaint strip of Avenue K and resides in a historic building that was once home to a blacksmith. TK says when they were setting up shop back in ’03, they would routinely find horseshoes buried throughout the building’s property, another nod to the restaurant’s unofficial equine mascot out front. The space needed a little TLC, which TK accommodated with a new tin ceiling, insulation, A/C and a thorough interior power washing uncovering the restaurant’s signature exposed bricks.
But it’s not just the bricks, the long wooden tables, cozy atmosphere and Texas artwork inside that draw crowds from Plano and beyond. Kelly’s has one of the best covered patios around. Securing a table outside on a warm weekend is no small feat. For a downtown that was once desolate come nightfall, Kelly’s popularity—and consistency—is a testament to its quality.
“There was nothing to bring people to downtown Plano,” TK recalls. But as his place and others grew up around the DART station and surrounding apartment complexes, “There was something to come down here for on Friday nights.”
Kelly’s menu is a varied mix of salads, sandwiches, grilled specialties, barbecue, Tex-Mex and, like any self-respecting bar, a killer burger. TK hand-breads his chicken-fried steak and chicken fingers and cooks his meats on a wood-burning grill, yielding unmatched flavor that comes at a slightly higher price point.
TK has also cultivated an enviable beer-on-tap menu, growing his selection from four kegs to 28. (His outpost in Allen boasts 52.)
“The client is becoming more educated when it comes to craft beers,” TK says. “When they come in, they already know what they want.”
And he is someone to listen to what his customers want. One of the more unique (and oft-requested) items on his menu is the BBQ Salad, an odd combination that was an invention of one of his regulars, who would come in and order a salad, brisket and sausage, and dump the meat on top of the lettuce. Voilá, a bestseller.
TK honed his cooking chops after graduating from Texas A&M and attending culinary school in Galveston. Following several years in Boston, where he concepted a barbecue joint, TK returned to Texas and “stumbled onto this place.”
And “this place” shows no sign of slowing. His Allen location, Kelly’s At the Village, is going strong, and despite the spike in downtown Plano dining competition, TK is bullish on the future of this formerly one-horse town: “We still have a large amount of new clientele.”
Kelly's Eastside Website >