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Oklahoma City Recap: Week One

Oklahoma City Recap: Week One

Oklahoma City & Bricktown Skyline at night, courtesy of the Oklahoma City CVB

I’ve been in Oklahoma City (AKA: OKC) just over a week now, and what a week it has been. For those who don’t know, my fiancé, Dave, accepted a six-month contract job here and I will be travelling back and forth a few weeks at a time. I figured while I’m here I would report back each Monday with my favorite food, and events happenings of the week.

As a food writer and cook and someone who works for a food magazine, I immediately felt the need to submerge myself in the OKC culinary scene. From my first day, when the Oklahoma City CVB treated me to Big Truck Tacos, or lunch with Oklahoma gazette food critic Greg Elwell at Picasso Café to random stops with Dave, I have found that there are an infinite number of fantastic places to enjoy a great meal, atmosphere and service.

It is a very heartwarming experience when you begin to talk to people about food. The excitement people display when you ask questions about which restaurants to visit remarkable. The people here in OKC are adamant about their favorite places; their likes, dislikes and the foods that touch a chord and move them. No different I think, than when we are talking to visitors about our Triangle area restaurants. It’s a personal thing, people feel vested in their community and want to share the excitement; which is very obvious in the expressions on people’s faces as they describe “that” place I “must” try.

There has been no end to the list of places to seek out. It keeps growing and growing everywhere I go and everyone I talk to, adding  to the fun and anticipation for what tomorrow may bring. All the people I have met, in just one short week, have been friendly and welcoming….Thank you for that =)

My first impression of OKC was that it is a quiet city, and while that may seem the case when driving around, it is simply not true. OKC is divided into multiple districts, all with their own personality, all drawing crowds .

Restaurant highlights of the week included Big Truck Tacos, Picasso Café, Pho Lien Hoa, Wedge Pizzeria, Bedlam’s BBQ, Rococo’s, Charleston’s, S and B Burger Joint and finally Beatnik’s Cafe. Whew! Listed below is a brief synopsis of each. Enjoy!

Big Truck Tacos:

This was my first introduction to the dining scene here in OKC and what a great way to begin my culinary tour of the city, thanks Elisa and Seth of Visit OKC. The “Taco Twins,” Cally  Johnson, aka “Tall Twin” and Kathryn Mathis, aka “Little Twin,” along with Chris Lower opened Big Truck Tacos in July 2009, offering “innovative Mexican  street food” using fresh ingredients and bold flavors. Ironically enough, Big Trucks was the winner of the America’s Favorite Food Truck against our one and only, Only Burger. What a coinky dink!

According to their website, and unbeknownst to me until later, “Tall Twins” favorite tacos are the Flaming Lips and CJ’s Verde Pork, both of which I ordered. The Flaming Lips is hickory-smoked tongue topped with pico de gallo, sliced avocado and queso fresco and the CJ’s Verde Pork is slow-roasted pork topped with tomatillos, roasted onion and poblano. There is no skimping on the fillings at Big Trucks, both arrived piled high on my choice of corn or flour tortillas, I chose corn. Both meats were moist and juicy with a perfect balance of flavor.  A collection of sauces sits at each table, color coded for their level of heat. This was my only disappointment. I am a spicy food gal and the hottest; the “OMFG” (no need for explanation) just didn’t have the level of mind numbing spice I was expecting, although the flavor was good. We also shared small sides of the guacamole and queso dip, both of which are excellent, my favorite being the guac. It was creamy and chunky, with just the right amount of salt and lime…delicious and addictive.

For the adventurous, try the 5th Amendment – They claim the 5th on this one, and won’t tell you what it is until the end of the day when they post it on Facebook. I happened to go back to Big Trucks the next day and ordered it along with the Cinco de Mayo celebratory beverage consisting of Bloody Mary mix and a Corona. My version of the 5th was some type of slow roasted chicken (I think) with onions, pickled carrots, cilantro, and probably more that I don’t remember. I never did go back and find out what exactly the filling was, I just didn’t care, it was just damn good!!

Big Trucks is quirky and colorful and draws a lively crowd daily. Don’t be surprised to see lines out the door at lunch and dinner, but the service is excellent and the staff  keep the line moving pretty quickly. Thanks Elisa and Seth from Visit OKC for the introduction to Big Trucks, obviously I’ve already been back, and the experiences have made it worthy of more visits to come.

The Big Truck Taco Truck is often set-up around the city and at special events. You can follow them on twitter and Facebook for regular updates.

TO GO: 530 NW 23rd ST, 405-525-8226

Picasso Cafe:

I wanted to come to Picasso’s based on the many recommendations I had received in my first few days here. When Greg Elwell, Oklahoma Gazette restaurant critic suggested we meet here for lunch, I was thrilled. I had yet to check out the Paseo Arts District where it is located and looked forward to seeing a new area of the city and trying a new restaurant.

The restaurant itself is warm and inviting. Walls are painted in muted tones of red and yellow and there is ample seating both inside and outside on the front patio overlooking the street; perfect for people watching. My lunch consisted of the half sandwich and salad combination for which I chose the club sandwich and beet salad. While the club was good, especially with the addition of shaved prosciutto and bourbon honey mustard, it was the beet salad that really made the meal a winner. Deconstructed on the plate, there was a pile of arugula, next to a nicely portioned amount of roasted beets topped with pine nuts with a perfectly fried round of goat cheese in the middle. Just the right blends of peppery, sweet and tart – I will be back for this again.

I didn’t get a chance to read Greg’s review prior to lunch, but will definitely take his recommendation on a future visit and try the pretzel or ahi tuna appetizer or the blackened tuna sandwich. You can read Greg’s full review here. One extra perk of dining with the city’s food critic, is owner Shaun brought us a sample of some spicy pesto chicken wings. I would have hoarded them all to myself, but that would have been rude. Thanks Shaun, those were delicious, loved the pesto!

I also happened to pop back in Sunday during a very happening brunch scene. Had I not already eaten, I would have enjoyed trying the fried fish tacos (someone at the bar beside me had ordered them and they looked goooooood!) or the omelet bar. Instead I enjoyed a delicious bloody mary while starting this post and absorbing the lively atmosphere.

TO GO: 3009 Paseo Dr, 919-602-2002

Pho Lien Hoa:

I am a Pho junky and must have it at least once a week to survive. Having not had a heaping bowl of broth, noodles and beef in weeks (and slowly dying inside), I high tailed it to the Asian District and pulled into the first parking lot advertising the Vietnamese soup. Joining me for lunch was Dave and two of his work colleagues. While Dave is not a Pho kind of guy, his colleagues and I had no problem slurping our way to the bottom of our bowls of Pho. The broth had a good beef flavor with faint notes of star anise, and the typical plate of sprouts, basil, jalapenos and limes that go with it was a heaping portion, and a very welcome site. The restaurant is one big open space with lots of tables and was clearly a very popular place for lunch. I have heard there are other places to get good Pho in OKC so if anyone reading this has a suggestion, please let me know in the comments section.

TO GO: 901 NW 23rd St, 405-521-8087

NOTE: Since writing this, I did actually check out Pho Cuong, also excellent.

TO GO: 3016 N Classen Blvd, 405-524-5045

Wedge Pizzeria:

Did you know I am also a pizza addict? Yup, love love love a good pie! Wedge boasts a “Rustic Italian Pecan smoked kissed Pizza,” and they deliver. Specialty pizzas are plentiful but on our first visit we decided to each build our own 5 topping pizza to go. Dave chose marinara sauce, roasted chicken, sausage, spinach, goat cheese and asiago, while I decided on garlic sauce, arugula, chicken, kalamata olives, goat cheese and fontina. Both came out with crispy crusts and a solid amount of toppings. I will admit I was fonder of Dave’s combination to start, the olives on mine overpowered the other toppings, but once removed, I was a happy camper. We also ordered two salads, a spinach salad with pears, spicy roasted walnuts, asiago and Dijon-balsamic vinaigrette and “The Wedge’” mixed greens with cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions, kalamata olives, fennel and a herb vinaigrette. Both were light and refreshing. I could have eaten a bowl of just the spiced walnuts alone =) while the fennel on the wedge added a really nice hint of licorice. I like their commitment to using ingredients from a local farm, and when in season, herbs and vegetables from their own garden, not to mention everything is made fresh daily.

We were back again last night for another pie to go. Actually we made our rounds; first stopping at the Bricktown location for a beer then stopping at the Western location on our way home for the pizza. We stuck with Dave’s original set of toppings, still good, but I do want to get back and try the “Truffle-Shuffle,” truffle oil, sage, crimini mushrooms, spinach, roasted chicken, parmesan and mozzarella. I know truffle oil is on the outs, but every now and again, I just need the earthy flavor it lends to a meal.

I love the atmosphere at both locations, though I find the one on Western just a little cozier and prefer the patio and grassy area out back. Both Dave and I commented on the service and agreed it was some of the best. The staff in both locations are very friendly and quick to answer any questions or offer suggestions.

TO GO: 4709 N. Western Ave, 405-602-3477 or 230 NE. 1st St, 405-270-0660

Sauced:

To keep on the pizza kick, I popped into Sauced in the Paseo for a quick peek, and loved the colorful graffiti like murals on the walls, relaxed atmosphere and large patio. Pizza can be ordered as a whole pie or by the slice with any of the toppings from the build your own menu. For a full experience, I would recommend dining with a group, ordering multiple, single slices with varied toppings and enjoy the eclectic variety that arrives at the table. I ordered a single slice with sausage and feta and loved it. From what I was told, they are in the process of expanding into the space next door with plans to open it up in the next few months. Sauced also offers salads and subs and even has gluten free pizza dough available upon request.

TO GO: 2912 Paseo Dr, 405-521-9800

Bedlam’s BBQ:

Of course upon hearing about Bedlam’s BBQ, Dave and I knew we had to check it out. Both of us are of the Lexington, NC kind of barbecue lovers; pulled over chopped and doused in the peppery vinegar sauce characteristic of Eastern style BBQ. Here in OKC things are done a little differently. The pork (they use a combination of shoulder and butt) is still slow cooked over wood (Bedlam’s uses pecan wood) but they also use a dry rub and there is no sauce finish. If you want sauce, you put it on. Now they offer two types of tomato based barbecue sauce, one hot and one mild, we both loved the hot. Great flavor and the level of heat, which lingered and built up on each bite, was spot on. They offer sandwiches, plates and combo dinners. Since we really wanted the full experience we went “whole hog” for it and chose the pick 3 meat combo with choice of two sides. Our picks included pulled pork, smoked chicken and sliced brisket, with mac and cheese and cowboy beans (somewhat spicier than regular baked beans). And if that wasn’t enough, we ordered an entire rack of their very meaty, very delicious pork ribs. All the meats had a wonderful sweet smoke taste and even though not sauced, still very moist. Sides were pretty standard but then again we didn’t get the (I still don’t know how we forgot this), which I  later learned are absolutely amazing.

Greg Elwell posted his review of Bedlam’s in last weeks Gazette, and I am ashamed I did not try the smoked ham…I LOVE ham!! Go here to read his review.

Bedlam is also home to an absolutely fabulous patio. It is huge, with three tiers that make their way down to a large stone fireplace. A small garden off to the side is full of collards, okra, tomatoes and hot and sweet peppers. Behind the fireplace is a large grassy area, perfect for kids to run around, making this outdoor space very family friendly. Inside the décor was Oklahoma centric with lots of Native American art on the walls and beautifully and colorfully woven tapestries the backs to the booths that outline the dining room.

I will be back sometime this week to enjoy the beautiful weather on the patio while wolfing down a plate of smoked ham and collards, washed down with a cold beer. It doesn’t get better than that.

TO GO: 610 NE 50th ST, 405-528-7427

Rococo’s:

On another recommendation from Greg, we also went out to the Northpark Rococo’s with one thing in mind, to try the crabcake appetizer. Not only did Greg tell me it was excellent, so did the couple sitting beside us at the bar when they saw us contemplating the menu. On top of the crabcake we also ordered the surf and turf appetizer, two skewers, one each of shrimp and New York sirloin served over jasmine rice with seaweed salad on the side. Let’s start with the crabcake. First off this is no ordinary crabcake and I can understand why this is such a highlight in people’s minds when Rococo’s comes up in conversation. The jumbo lump crab is not shredded or massacred to the point of being unidentifiable. Instead, as you fork your way through the massive cake in front of you, huge chunks of sweet, succulent meat are the star, thankfully not overshadowed by too much bread or filler. I also liked the Thai red chili cream sauce that came on the side (It had a nice light heat to it that enhanced the flavor of the crab) as well as the lightly dressed salad.

I have to admit though, and maybe it was because my expectations for the crabcake were set too high, it was the surf and turf on a stick that I enjoyed more. The shrimp and sirloin, cooked over an open grill, allows an outstanding grilled flavor to settle in, not to mention both the shrimp and meat were perfectly cooked, the sirloin practically butter in my mouth. I loved the addition of jasmine rice and seaweed salad (I can eat this stuff by the tons) and the Sambal sauce they were served with was a nice balance of sweet and spicy.

Rococo’s was more upscale than any of the other places we have been to (At least until tonight when we plan to check out Mickey Mantle’s), but the live jazz music and comfortable, unpretentious bar area, and of course the food, made for a very enjoyable evening. The menu overall is quite impressive and offers a good selection of just about anything anyone could want. I hope I have time to go back and try some of their other steak and fish dishes……or even splurge on a whole Maine lobster!

TO GO: 12252 N May Ave, 405-212-4577 or 2824 N Pennsylvania Ave, 405-528-2824

Charleston’s:

Charleston’s instantly became Dave’s go-to place for dinner after he first arrived in OKC (He arrived almost three weeks before I came to visit). Close to our temporary home, the menu consists of the meat entrees he prefers, especially a really good slow-roasted prime rib. Now that we’ve had the chance to dine there together, we have easily found several favorites to add to the tender and moist prime rib. So far our favorites include the hickory smoked salmon caeser salad, ribs’n’chicken combo and surprisingly, the enchilada plate with corn tortillas stuffed with grilled chicken and cheese, topped with a red sauce and served with sour cream, guacamole and tomatoes. Did I mention the French dip? That was good too.

The thing I have come to notice, and appreciate about Charleston’s, is that it is consistently and reliably good, as well as very reasonably priced. A plus in my book if I’m not looking to try something new and just want a meal I know is prepared well.

We are the kind of couple that when we dine out, usually eat at the bar, preferring the more relaxed environment bars tend to have. At Charleston’s this is no different, and in fact is a step above when it comes to customer service. Not only does a card placed in front of you read the bartenders name, but flip it over and you will notice your names written down so they too, know who you are. It may be slightly cheesy, but I think it’s a nice added touch and provides a more personal experience.

We are not usually the chain restaurant dining kind of people, however we do not have a Charleston’s in North Carolina and I was already won over by the time I found out. Yes, that sounds extremely snooty, but it simply comes down to the fact, that in my opinion, most food at a chain restaurant tends to be mediocre, with service to match. Charleston’s is a cut above and I look forward to more trips back.

TO GO: (Because it is a large chain, I am only noting the location we have visited) 5907 NW Expressway, 919-681-6686

S & B Burger Joint:

We happened to stumble upon this location of S & B Burger’s when we landed at Iguana’s for Cinco de Mayo. The parking lot across the street had been cleared of cars and tables and chairs set up for people to enjoy the various bands playing throughout the day. Next to the parking lot sat S & B’s, and the old-time diner look and feel was an immediate draw, a true “joint” so to speak.  After talking to several people, all of whom highly recommended coming back to eat, we finally made the trip early yesterday afternoon for a late lunch.

Top of my list of things to try were the Fire slider (add fried egg) and the chili lime slider. The fire slider came topped with roasted green chilies, sharp cheddar, fried onions and spicy ranch. The added fried egg, still slightly runny, was a decadent addition, one I loved. The chili lime slider topped with chili paste, cheddar crisp, avocado cream and cilantro-lime coleslaw was equally good. I loved the flavor of the coleslaw and the added crunch it provided, but it was the cheddar crisp that won this gal over. Had someone placed a basket of them in front of me, I would have devoured the entire thing, it was the perfect cheesy wafer.

Everything on the burger menu is available in slider form or as a full size burger. I happen to prefer the slider just so I can try multiple flavor combinations. Dave on the other hand would have preferred a full size burger over his sliders. For a side we ordered the 50/50 french fries and sweet potato fries and both agreed they were well seasoned and that the sweet potato were our favorite. I can’t wait for another visit just to try “The Elvis,” Peanut butter and bacon (of course) and lettuce, tomato and red onion. Nom nom nom!!

Not to get lost in just the burgers, we had the most FABULOUS and UNIQUE Bloody Mary’s. Just look at those beauties. The one on the left was Dave’s Bacon BM while on the right is my Jerky BM. Both came with four stuffed olives, pickled okra and hot cherry peppers. Considering it was a beautiful sunny day and we were lounging on the outside couches, these were enjoyed to the maximus!

There are two locations (we were at the 9th street locations) but only the May Ave location seems to be listed on their website. There is also no menu listed that I could find and had to go to Urbanspoon to look at pictures of the menu….wierd!!

TO GO: 20 NW 9th St, 405-270-0516 or 5929 N May, 405-843-8777

The Beatnix Café:

My last entry on this weeks culinary journey landed me at Beatnix Café after I dropped Dave off early to work. I wanted a place I could grab a light breakfast, a good cup of coffee and be able to work from my laptop for an hour or so. This was the place. Cozy, casual and welcoming, I immediately felt at home. The breakfast menu consisted of egg sandwiches, muffins and oatmeal, all of which sounded tempting. I however had already looked at their lunch menu (soups, salads and sandwiches) and had my heart set on trying the chicken salad sandwich…yes, for breakfast. I asked if this was possible and thankfully the lady behind the counter said yes. Yah!! This is a great sandwich y’all. The chicken is lightly dressed and blended with celery, grapes, green onions and walnuts and served on really good wheat bread. It made the beginning of my day perfect.

They also offer a convenient on-line ordering system, which I am guessing for busy professionals, makes it an easy way to enjoy a healthy, and tasty lunch on the go.

I on the other hand look forward to going back tomorrow, maybe to try the granola, or possibly another sandwich but definitely to enjoy another great Americano while I work for an hour or so.

TO GO: 136 NW 13th St, 405-604-0211

 So that sums up the highlights of my dining experiences in Oklahoma City since last Thursday. We did also hang out for drinks at several places and had a great time at the Choctaw Beer Sprocket event on Saturday, but those will come in another post. This one is long enough, lol.

I should also mention we’ve been to McNellies, Casa do Brazil (LOVE the upstairs bar and patio), Lumpy’s and Hi LO for drinks on several occasions and always have a great time.

Next on my list to explore is Mickey Mantle’s, Cattleman’s, Ludivine, Bo Bo’s Chicken, Mutts, Kaiser’s, Nic’s, Cheevers, Irma’s, Panchiko Parlor, Coffee Slingers, Cuppies and Joes, COOP Ale Works, Tapwerks Beer Festival and I am sure several more will be added in the days to come.

Thanks to everyone who has made my/our time here so much fun. Your welcoming and friendly personalities have made this the start of a very enjoyable experience.