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

 

Local


Some of you may know this already, due to my recent propensity for shouting at roof tops, but I have a new favorite restaurant. In the past, I may have been afraid to dedicate myself to such an idea as a single favorite place, but last week that all changed, because I found a place in Norman called Local.

An unassuming name for a surprisingly well enacted idea, that combines a wide range of flavors and food types, with locally sourced ingredients. Not every ingredient you need for a dish can be found in your back yard, but if you look real hard you might be surprised that a lot of them can be found closer than you think. The idea behind Local is to use as many locally sourced ingredients as possible, in the best way possible, showcasing what Oklahoma has to offer.

The brain-child of local restaurant magnate Chef Ryan Parrott, Local has recently set up shop in a shopping center at 24th and Main in Norman, just East of I-35 (right behind Rusty’s and Panera Bread). A multiple award-winning chef, Parrott is well-known in the Oklahoma City area for his work at The Boulevard Steakhouse, 501 Ranch, The Mantel Wine Bar and Bistro, and Deep Fork Grill; as well as operating the 9th street favorite, Iguana Grill (review forthcoming).

Local’s food was amazing, to say the least, and I was impressed not only by the wide range of fare, but also by the staff’s knowledge of that food and its origins. If you are running a restaurant based on local ingredients, it bodes well that they know where the food is coming from. Their menu can please any appetite at any time with food ranging from Asian to Southwest to All-American at any given moment, though their menu is subject to change due to the regional nature of ingredients and availability.

Walking in the door, the first thing I noticed was the decor, and seeing the dedication to design and style already had me thinking well of the place before I ever sat down to eat. But then, I saw the menu, and I knew I had found my place. Before we get to the food, I want to tell you a little more about the restaurant itself, as it stands apart from many others for several reasons. One is the gift shop up front where you can pick up Local shirts and accessories, as well as many made-in-Oklahoma items, and even pre-prepped food if you are in a hurry. Second is the nursery area, with staff on hand to take care of the little ones while you eat, they offer a play area, reading room, movie cave, and more; all to make your life easier. Third is the bar, where you can stop in to relax, spend and evening, or just wait for a table; they are open until two in the morning on the weekends and offer many original drinks with locally sourced ingredients, specialty small plates, and a chef’s choice of late night sweets as well. Walking past all of these fine distractions, you finally reach your table, where you are presented with that menu I mentioned earlier.

I expected something good, but at first glance I was hit with that dilemma I so often have, where I cannot pick a meal. Normally, I fight that off quickly by picking out a certain ingredient or type of food that sounds good at the moment. That didn’t work here, mostly because I wanted to order one of everything and spend a few dozen hours sampling anything they would bring me. Eventually I settled for ordering more food than I could reasonably eat for myself, under the auspices of bringing some home for my wife, which I did.

I started out with the Truffle Chips, home-made potato chips in truffle oil, alongside three home-made dips, pesto, tomato ketchup, and garlic sour cream; and they were executed perfectly without letting the truffle oil, which can be known to be a little pushy flavor-wise, take over the dish. Now, to save my fingers here, I’m going to stop saying home-made from now on, as that seems to be a core principle of the restaurant and we should just assume that every menu item is indeed made from scratch in-house, or at least as much as they can do so.

For my real meal I settled on the carpaccio, because I figured that if I could only have one dish I had better make sure it was different from anything else I planned to eat that week. Carpaccio is an Italian dish created in the 1950’s to accomodate the diet of a Venetian duchess (I wish I could talk people into inventing foods for me), and is traditionally made from thin sliced raw beef that further pounded out flat, usually topped with a mustard sauce.  Local’s version was just that, but taken even further with an Asian flare, adding julienne green papaya, red bell pepper, onion, and carrots, mixed with peanuts and a spicy Thai style peanut sauce. I cleaned the plate. The meat was tender, the vegetables were fresh and crisp, and the sauce was spicy, tangy, and nutty all at the same time.

Finishing that off I knew I could not pass up dessert, and so, I ordered a dish that I am fairly certain you have not tried before, butternut squash cheesecake. It sounds weird at first, but hear me out, because the butternut squash’s flavor is not unlike a pumpkin, though a bit sweeter and more savory, but its difference in texture also made it lighter and fluffier than a pumpkin cheesecake. One word, Delicious; capital D.

Unequivocally the best meal I have had in a restaurant in quite some time; but had I the stomach, I would not stop there by any means, because I saw wonders that day. One stand-out dish was the meatloaf cupcakes; meatloaf packed in a cupcake pan and baked into a muffin shape and then topped with piped mashed potato “icing” alongside goat cheese rolls. And the dessert menu may have been the most difficult thing to decide about, with apple tarts under mint-apple compote, or banana-split bread pudding with vanilla gelato in caramel sauce, and cookies with house-infused milk (that day it was peanut butter milk).

Another reason I will be going back is the fact that their dinner menu has a lot of options that were not available to me at lunch, but have since been calling my name in my dreams, beckoning my return. Overall, Local does not fail to impress, with its dedication to concept, originality, fantastically thought atmosphere, and the knowledge and professionalism of the staff. I would feel comfortable here in any circumstance, from a casual lunch, or a late night hang out, to a professional meeting, or a romantic dinner; so go whenever and however you want, I don’t think they will mind.

If you look below, you’ll note the cheesecake is so light it is trying to float away.  Check out their menu at eatatlocal.com

Truffle Chips at Local

Truffle Chips at Local

Butternut Squash Cheesecake at Local

Butternut Squash Cheesecake at Local

Carpaccio at Local

Carpaccio at Local