LIVE On The Plaza


If you have been on Sixteenth Street any time in the last few years, you might think that this trendy little spot had been here a while.

The buildings and shops have the feel that they are well settled, even comfortable; but just a short while ago this neighborhood was all but dead.

They like to call the former state of the strip a blight, and I was inclined to agree. A couple of convenience stores, an old coin-op laundromat, and the defunct Plaza Theatre dominated what was otherwise a series of abandoned store fronts.

This area was an urban hub for Oklahoma City dating back to the twenties, but with age, fell from grace. It wasn’t until the late nineties that a group of entrepreneurial spirits joined forces and formed the non-profit Plaza District Association.

It took quite some time for the ball to get rolling on what many thought to be an insurmountable  task, but through years of hard work, they gathered the support of their community and brought about cultural renaissance uncharacteristic of such decayed urban landscapes.

Today you will find more than a dozen shops and art galleries, a dance studio, hair salon, tattoo parlor, several restaurants, and the newly renovated Lyric Theater on the Plaza.

From hooligan hang-out to hipster hub, the 16th Street Plaza at Blackwelder has a new face and a new lease on life.

A great place to visit any day of the month, you definitely won’t want to miss their LIVE on the Plaza event which takes place every second Friday of the month.

Every month seems to bring its own theme. From sidewalk chalk murals to summer picnicking, they have been going for more than six months now without missing a second Friday.

A whirlwind of people and activity, prepare for live music both indoors and out, wine tastings at the local winery, Urban Wineworks, art shows and demonstrations, and plenty of food.

The LIVE event brings with it the ever sought after food truck meet-up, a rarity in Oklahoma City.

Expect a showing from one of Big Truck Tacos so-named trucks, as well as many other local favorites.

This month gave me a chance to try out a recent, and delicious, addition to our city’s line-up, Taste of Soul Eggrolls. Homemade egg rolls for every taste, occasion, and time of day.

The Bly family hand-wraps their own egg rolls, making everything from the traditional meat and cabbage to a vegetarian mixed veggie, one stuffed with chicken fried rice, dessert rolls, and though they didn’t have them that evening, be on the lookout for their original breakfast egg rolls (think breakfast burritos in a crispy wrapper).

A great time to come hang out with a good group of locally minded people, it is also a family and pet friendly event. This summer they started scheduling kids activities, such as water balloon tosses, as well.

LIVE on the Plaza is a fantastic showcase for local artists and business owners, showing off art, vintage clothing, hand-made boutique gifts, and more.

The Guatamalan Imports shop has a pretty good food counter in the back of the store, where they will fix you up something traditional.

Saints bar has an amazing menu with authentic Irish food that goes way beyond your typical Irish novelty pub.

Urban Wineworks even has an outdoor patio where they grill up some great food.

Another restaurant is soon to open on the Plaza, a gourmet sandwich shop/hangout spot, known only as The Goat. Scheduled to open in mid-September, the owners have been working furiously to get the place ready. Keep an eye out for open house events.

The 16th Street Plaza is also the home of Keep It Local OKC. If you are a card holder, it can be used at many of the shops here, as well as around the OKC metro. If you aren’t a card holder, then you better get one, because you are missing some of the best deals this city has to offer.

So feel free to pop into the Plaza at NW 16th and Blackwelder any time (I’m sure they will appreciate it), but don’t miss out on LIVE on the Plaza for great food, music, art, and people.

Keep up with LIVE, the Plaza District Association, and all of the events on the Plaza at plazadistrict.org.

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Inca Trail


I have only recently been introduced to Peruvian food, but I am already a devotee.

I have had other South American cuisines and have always enjoyed them, but Peruvian cuisine has one thing that sets it apart. In most other South American food you can see two major influences; the Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors bringing their style and flair from Europe, and the long history of African Slaves brought across the ocean, all seasoned by the available native ingredients.

Peruvian food most definitely incorporates these aspects into their food, but they also have Chifa. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries many immigrants from China settled in the capital, Lima, and its environs, seeking work. They brought with them all of the technique and recipes of their homeland, but not their ingredients. Just as they did here in the U.S., they improvised.

Chifa is the term given to the cross of Peruvian and Chinese foods, and is strongly supported by the Peruvian government as a defining aspect of their culture.

If you read most anything I have written before, you have probably discerned that two of my favorite things to dine on are Central/South American  (not tex-mex) and Asian. This is the perfect blending of the two. Now I just want to know why no one told me about this sooner.

I have recently tried a few different Peruvian establishments, but my first, and still favorite, was Inca Trail on North May Avenue.

Immigrants themselves, the owners of Inca Trail came here seeking opportunity, and judging by the number of people eating here each time I visit, I believe they may have found it.

It is very difficult for me to decide what to tell you about without this post turning into a play-by-play of the entire menu, but I will do my best.

If I had to choose a place to start, it would probably be with the Palta Rellena. A whole avocado, peeled, pitted, and split in two and then stuffed with a cold chicken salad consisting of shredded chicken, corn, peas, carrots, and mayonnaise. This was surprisingly good.

One of the restaurants specialties is Pollo a la Brasa, a charcoal roasted chicken slathered in South American seasonings, and I have an (unconfirmed) suspicion that some version of this, or at least that seasoning, is used in the chicken salad.

One of my favorite entrees, so far, has been the Lomo Saltado. A very common Peruvian Dish, and a good standard for comparison, this dish is reasonably simple, delightfully flavored, and a good example of Chifa. Strips of sirloin steak, or chicken should you choose, stir fried with tomatoes, onions, and red bell peppers in a garlic soy sauce, and white steamed rice.

Traditionally, Lomo Saltado would come with large potato wedges. Here they use thick cut French fries, but I will forgive them, because when mixed into the rest of the dish they add just the right amount of starch to balance the dish. Sweet, salty, and savory all at once.

Another dish I would suggest is their Tacu Tacu. A mix of rice and refried beans stir fried and formed into a thin patty, accompanying a grilled sirloin steak with spicy criolla sauce, and fried plantains.

Some people I know are not fans, but any restaurant that serves fried plantains has pretty much won my heart before I go in the door.

They also serve a wide variety of seafood dishes, with a special section of the menu set aside for ceviche, another dish native to Peru.

The restaurant itself is decorated in Peruvian and Incan designs, and a full wall mural Machu Picchu and the jungles of the Andes mountains. A calm atmosphere pervades this restaurant, and is only amplified the overwhelming hospitality of the owners themselves.

And if you’re lucky, they will bring out a bowl of their chicken soup before your food arrives.

Good as a quick-lunch spot or as a nice dinner out, I give Inca Trail my full recommendation.

If you have any other recommendations of places or foods for me to try, or know of any more Peruvian places around Oklahoma (I’ve already been to a few), then let me know.

Whiskey Chicks


Getting back to it, I have to apologize for being gone so long. The site was put on hiatus while I decided its future. A lot of people asked about it, so we’re back, and I have a lot to tell you about.

One major impetus for returning to writing was that I made a promise to the owner Whiskey Chicks that I would write about him and his restaurant. Before heading to this Bricktown hot spot I knew very little about the place or what they would have to offer. Taking over what Roosters Fried Chicken left behind for them, they have completely redone everything from the style, to the food, to the bar itself, and they have done well with it.

Some friends invited me out one evening to celebrate the birthday of an old friend from work. I asked where we were going and everyone insisted on Whiskey Chicks. I turned up my nose at first, based only on the previous owners. I am, sadly, not a fried chicken man. But when I arrived and met up with everyone at the bar, I was pleasantly surprised.

Where I had anticipated fried chicken and cheap beer, I was surprised to find an amazing drink list that was overseen by two of the best bartenders in town. Doling out classics and new concoctions alike, they won my heart right away.

One of my favorite mixed drinks is the Sidecar, and while it is an amazingly simple drink to mix, a lot of people get it wrong. If you can’t mix the basics, why bother with the fancy stuff. These guys did it right the first time, didn’t try to make me one of those terrible Chelsea variants (with gin), and immediately understood my incredulity when handing me the drink.

I looked sideways at my glass the first time, as I am so often let down, and the bartender caught it immediately. “The classic drink guys always think I’m going to do it wrong. Go ahead and try it,” he said. And it turns out he knew exactly what he was doing.

That bartender turned out to be Kevin McCracken, the owner/operator of Whiskey Chicks, pulling double duty and doing it well.

He took us on a tour of his well rounded drink list, and while I still love my classic, their Feckin Honey Old Fashioned, mixed traditionally and then muddled with Irish honey, was a definite winner.

Their beer list isn’t half bad either, with lots of local beers on tap, including my current favorite Coop DNR. Their bottle selection was also surprisingly well rounded that evening with several unusual offerings, including Lindemaan’s Framboise.

Already impressed with the place as “just a bar” we almost left to eat elsewhere before Kevin pulled us back in with his delicious food menu. He had overheard me mentioning a few other places that focused on locally based ingredients, such as Local or Ludivine, and he pointed out that he too had a focus on local.

Sourcing as many ingredients as possible, he and his staff make multiple runs each week to local farmers markets for fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as using only Oklahoma raised beef.

What seemed like typical “bar food” turned out to be carefully planned and prepared recipes with a definite originality and flair. I started with the chicken nachos, which come out as six individual nachos covered with cheddar, chicken, home-made pico-guacamole, and grilled jalapeños on over sized tortilla chips made in house.

Already tasting great, they didn’t stop there. I also had their take on the common Asian salad, which comes with seasoned grilled asparagus for an added crunch. The Whiskey Chick Burger and the Chick’n Club are also worth a try if you are in the mood for something a little heartier.

The bar itself was something of note, as it is the old bar and bar top from the Prohibition Room which sadly closed last year. Any of you wishing for fond remembrances of your Gold Domed hang out should come find it here.

I can’t say enough about the staff here either. They managed to be pleasant and easy to get along with, while still getting their jobs done. That is unheard of in some restaurants in this town. They took good care of us all night, with quick and accurate service, and no (visible) irritation at my barrage of questions.

We went on a Friday night and so were treated to a local blues-rock act that fit the atmosphere of the place perfectly.

If you are looking for a good hang out spot in OKC, or just want to bar hop in Bricktown, this is definitely the place to be, and be sure to tell them I gave them a thumbs up.

Unless you want greasy fried chicken and cheap domestic beer. Then go somewhere else.

Oklahoma City Festival Of The Arts


Sorry this one is coming to you so late, but I had trouble getting to the down to the Oklahoma City Festival of the Arts this year. There is still another day to go down and try out all of the great things in the culinary arts pavilion, if you haven’t had a chance yet.

An annual event since 1967, the Arts Festival, put on by the Arts Council of Oklahoma City, has been brining together artists from all across Oklahoma, and the country, in a celebration of art in all its forms, from visual to performance and everything in between.

This is possibly the best reason to go downtown.

I go for the food. Every year, the festival includes a culinary arts program in which local restaurants and vendors are paired with local arts organizations. So everything you eat supports local art, as well as local food. A win-win.

This year’s event had quite a few delights on offer (meaning I ate way too much).

There is more food here than one person should try to take on by themselves, so my wife and son helped out on this outing, as they do with so many of my other gastronomic adventures.

But even that is not enough. So, to all the vendors that I missed, I’m sorry. I will try again next year.

An early stand out for me was the booth from Cafe Do Brazil, OKC’s most famous (and possibly only) Brazilian restaurant. Not only was the food delicious, the staff were the most helpful and friendly of the day.

Knowing what was in store, I limited myself to just the Brazilian Pie.

Cafe Do Brazil

Cafe Do Brazil

 Seen here, at bottom right, the pie is similar to a quiche, but made with mozzarella, thick cut ham, and cooked spinach.

I was unable to make a second stop, though I really wanted to try the chicken stroganoff (bottom left).

Also available were the feijoada rolinho pork egg rolls and the pastil de camaras shrimp empanadas (top right and left).

Other festival goers near the booth all suggested the feijoda rolinho, but I hadn’t seen anyone with the pie at the time I was ordering, so while I do believe that the egg rolls were indeed good, I had to go with my gut and appease my gut.

Another booth I am always sure to hit is the one from the folks at Deep Fork.

The reason I keep coming back is because of their chicken brochette skewers. In the actual restaurant, the skewers are one of my favorites, but at the fair they are prepared a little differently.

When dining at the Deep Fork, the brochettes are delicate bites of bacon wrapped around chicken and artichoke. At the fair they are deep-fried chunks of chicken and bacon on stick.

Both are amazing and I am in no way looking to detract from either, and I just want to point out that even if you think you know a restaurants food, you can always be surprised by a change in atmosphere.

We also picked up a batch of drunken fries topped with cheeseburger sauce. Using the recipe from their sister restaurant The Drunken Fry, they deep fry these fries in duck fat, making them extra rich and savory.

Deep Fork's Chicken Brochettes, Wedgie Sandwich, and Prime Rib Sliders.

Deep Fork's Chicken Brochettes, Wedgie Sandwich, and Prime Rib Sliders.

 Again, I managed to miss out on a few options, including their prime rib sliders and the wedgie sandwich, with pecan crusted chicken and slaw on a pita.

 

 

 

 

Helmut’s Streudel seems to make an appearance at every major festival and event in the OKC area, and my wife never passes up a chance to throw a little patronage their way.

Going for the many different flavors of strudel, we also took the chance to try their beef wellington roll.

Traditionally, beef wellington is a thick cut of beef, coated with foie gras, and wrapped in puff pastry.

Helmut's Streudel

Helmut's strudel

Helmut’s is a little easier to take with you.

A roll of flaky puff pastry filled with finely ground steak, pate and seasonings, their roll is a little different, but definitely worth a try.

Not typically something I would seek out, Helmut’s strudel is some of the best around, and I am willing to make an exception for them.

Also, my wife would be ever so upset if I tried to keep her from that flaky mix of pastry and fruit filling.

 And if you can’t decide, they will work with you. You can get two halves for the price of one whole. That’s not a joke, two halves priced separately would cost you a dollar more.

Craig & Carter's Fish Tacos

Craig & Carter's Fish Tacos

A trip to the arts festival just wouldn’t be right without some of  Craig and Carter’s Fish Tacos.

You can always find them here, serving up their battered fish filets.

Fried to a golden brown and wrap in a fresh flour tortilla with slaw and a spicy remoulade, they are not to be missed.

Buy a drink, these are hot.

Be sure to check out everything, including Gopuram’s Indian Platters; the gyros from PaPa’s Greek; some roasted corn from Sweet Corn Express; or some Bodacious(ly large) Burritos.

And for you vegetarians out there, go by newcomer Australian Jaffles. The jaffle is a type of pressed sandwich, and they offer a variety of flavors, all vegetarian this year.

I could go on all day about the delicious food here. But then I couldn’t talk about dessert.

I love ice cream, and I can definitely be a snob about it. What I am not a fan of, is soft-serve. But this time I am making an exception.

Bon Apetit Catering is making bananas foster à la mode this year. With rum flavored soft-serve ice cream.

I don’t know who thought of it, but that person deserves an award. Easily the best soft-serve ice cream I have ever had, and definitely the only that I would recommend to others.

Another returning favorite is the strawberries Newport stand.

Flaky layers of pastry topped with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. You can’t go wrong.

S&S Concessions

S&S Concessions

Round it all out your favorite kettle corn, cotton candy, candy apples, and even frozen yogurt, but there is one more stop to make before you leave.

S&S Concessions makes sundaes. Big sundaes. Like the chocolate banana royale, the caramel knowledge, both with bananas, ice cream, whipped cream, nuts, cherries, and appropriate syrups (I like to mix the two, yeah, they’ll do that); and the cinn(amon) and corruption sundae, a cinnamon roll topped with ice cream, cinnamon, whipped cream, and chocolate.

There is all this and more to taste at the Festival of the Arts; not to mention live music, children’s activities, plenty of paintings, glass, and sculptures for sale, and sightseeing.

The fair takes place next to and on the grounds of the Myriad Botanical Gardens, featuring the crystal bridge, reflection pool, and new children’s water and activity park. The gardens stand in the shadow of the nearly complete Devon Energy Building, Oklahoma’s tallest building, in the heart of downtown OKC, so you can’t miss it.

Cous Cous Cafe


I love Mediterranean food and, having spent time in this region , I can be a little picky about where I go to get it. The gyro shops in the mall just don’t cut it for me anymore.

I had tried many of the places around Oklahoma City, but until recently there was one that I had neglected.

Now I feel bad because it was one of the best I have tried, here in Oklahoma or anywhere else. Cous Cous Cafe on north May, just south of 63rd, was truly delicious.

Less ostentatious than the other two Mediterranean locales on that same block, Zorbas and the aptly named Mediterranean Restaurant, it may be easy to miss. Don’t.

Several different people had recommended Cous Cous to me and it had just slipped my radar, but the other day two friends managed to get me in the door at lunch time, and it won’t slip my mind again.

Cous Cous is a Moroccan Restaurant at its heart. The owners, Moroccans themselves, make everything fresh daily using their own recipes and, changing up the traditional Mediterranean flavors, use herbs and spices traditionally found in Morocco.

But before we talk about their food, I want to talk about Moroccan food in general. Mainly, I figure a lot of you will be asking yourselves, what is it? That is a tough question.

Due to the countries geographic location as the southern half of the Strait of Gibraltar, it has been of strategic value to every western empire since Europe was inhabited by people. The only sea route into the Mediteranean, until the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Morocco has both thrived and suffered under the gaze of almost every major European, North African, and Middle Eastern power.

From this constant influx, throughout history, of outside powers and people, the food of Morocco has become one of the most diverse cuisines in the world. Trade with Spain and Portugal to the north, influenced by the ancient Romans and Greeks, conquered by the Berbers and the Moors (African Muslims), and populated by Jews expelled from Europe, the food of Morocco can surprise you with tastes from virtually anywhere.

Now that you’ve been hit with a bit of history, let’s get to the food at hand.

Cous Cous Cafe offers all of the traditional mediterranean dishes that you find at most of these places, and by all means you should try them, because they were very good.

On my first visit I tried the lamb kebab, seasoned well and grilled to perfection, and the kefta, a traditional Moroccan dish made with ground lamb and beef, and mixed with cumin, paprika, minced onion, coriander and parsley. This was the first time I had had a chance to try kefta and it is definitely worth a try. Think of it like a grilled sausage, but without the casing.

They offer home-made humus, grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs, and some of the prettiest falafel I have seen, if you are looking for something a little more Greek.

All three of those dishes are vegetarian; as are the zalook, grilled eggplant mashed with tomatoes, garlic, and cilantro; and the cous cous salad, with tomatoes, garbanzo beans, onions, and mint. I recommend trying both of those while you are here.

Sticking to Moroccan tradition, they also serve many tagine dishes. Meats and vegetable stewed together and served in a conical tagine pot.

They also make pita sandwiches, a la gyros, with just about any of their meats, including grilled chicken, lamb, kefta, chicken shawarma (think gyro meat, but made with chicken), and beef.

An interesting option that I haven’t seen anywhere else if definitely the choice to have your food as a burrito. They take a tortilla and spread it with humus, fill it with brown rice, and add your choice of veggies, falafel, or any of their meats. Can’t go wrong with that.

While you are here, be sure to order the Moroccan tea. Almost an official drink in Morocco, you will find it everywhere in the country. A mix of green tea leaves and mint leaves, mixed with honey and steeped in a carafe, then served as a tea service right at your table. My problem with this drink is limiting myself, because I would drink it all day long.

Finally, be sure to try dessert. They make everything themselves, so the available desserts depend on what they feel like making that day. I was blown away by the quality of the desserts, they were great.

 I also loved the candor of the owner when he offered me a piece of cake. We asked what it was and he explained that he had no idea, but that his wife had made it that morning and that it was delicious. He was right.

So, come in and say hello to the folks at Cous Cous Cafe and do your best not to order one of everything on the menu.

http://couscouscafeokc.com

Lamb and Kefta

Lamb and Kefta

Vegetarian Platter (Zalook, Falafel, CousCous)

Vegetarian Platter

Moroccan Tea

Moroccan Tea

Iguana Mexican Grill


I’m not trying to suck up to Ryan Parrott or anything, but I do love his restaurants, so today we are talking about Iguana Mexican Grill.

Iguana was the anchor that allowed the Ninth Street Enclave to become a real place. I don’t think the development we see today would have received the explosive kick it needed without this little hub forming its foundation. Though that isn’t to say that any of the other restaurants in that area are any less worthy of fame, or your money.

Nestled on Ninth just a stone’s throw from tenth and broadway, just North of downtown, Iguana Grill has become my go to Mexican restaurant. I generally do not care for Mexican cuisine in general, but Iguana does something special. They make each of their dishes taste like an individual plate, instead of having the same meal in a different shape like most of those places tend to do.

My wife loves Mexican food, which is unfortunate when, like me, you don’t care for it, so it’s places like this that make my whole family happy. She gets Mexican, and I get good Mexican.

For starters, they have my absolute favorite fish tacos. Where most fish tacos are just a piece of battered and deep-fried white fish with a little coleslaw on top, Iguana’s are made with fresh mahi mahi. The fish isn’t fried or battered, but grilled instead, letting the flaky, buttery fish work its own magic. These are then topped with jicama slaw’s and a spicy sauce similar to remoulade.

Another of my favorites are the Chalupa Nachos, made with grilled chicken, fresh guacamole, and a sweet black bean paste beneath melted cheddar. My mouth is watering already.
I haven’t even gotten to the meals yet, those are both considered appetizers.

Another fun thing to try is their salsa bar. When you first sit at your table they will bring you a bowl of their house salsa and chips. This salsa stands well on its own, but is well complemented by the four different salsas of the salsa bar; which include the verde tomatillo, spicy citrus-habanero, a smoked tomato salsa, and, my favorite, the coral snake.

I haven’t yet had a bad dish at Iguana, from the Pena Vaca (steak and pineapple) Salad to the Crispy (Green Chili) Pork Carnitas. You can get all of your regular favorites, like enchiladas, quesadillas, and burritos; but my money is on some of the Iguana Specialties, Carribean Roast Pork Tenderloin with cilantro-mint chimichurri, or the adobo pepper marinated Coconut BBQ Chicken.

One of my favorite things about Iguana Grill is their Taco Tuesday event. Every Tuesday their mini-tacos are only one dollar; and it’s not just their regular fish, chicken, and beef tacos, they have special tacos that are only available on Taco Tuesday and the specials change every week. So, you will have to keep going back, especially around the holidays when they tend to have special themes for the tacos.

If you are looking to feed a group, they have you covered there as well. They offer family meal deals that will cover all of the bases and let you try a lot of goodies. They start around $12.95 per person, but you do have to agree before hand, because your whole table must participate.

I would tell you all about their desserts, except that I have not tried them. I know, I should, but it isn’t my fault. They are right next door to Sara Sara Cupcakes, and I feel it is my duty to spread the love around. Sorry Iguana.

But I will say, if you want something different from your usual dinner, or if you are just looking for downright good Mexican food, this is it.

 

Chalupa Nachos

Chalupa Nachos

Ahi Tuna Tostadas

Ahi Tuna Tostadas

Grilled Mahi Mahi Tacos

Grilled Mahi Mahi Tacos