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

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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

 

Swadley’s BBQ


Some old-fashioned barbecue that is as good now as it ever was. Swadley’s has gone from a single storefront location to having four locations around Oklahoma City and its environs, and has managed to retain their great barbecue at all of them. Today’s visit took me to their newest location in Mustang, west of Oklahoma City, and I continue to be impressed by the quality of their food. The location is easy to spot as it sits right on highway 152 in the main business area of Mustang and is the only big, red barn on that strip. Strictly enforcing an always fresh, never frozen policy with their meats, they start early in the morning smoking new batches of each of their meats every day so you always know that the food will be fresh, hot, and tender.

When you enter follow the signs to the ordering window and make what will probably be your toughest decision of the day, what meat are you going to eat. Then take a seat and they will take care of the rest with repeatedly great table side service, providing drinks, choice of barbecue sauces, their own pickle and onion toppings, and free ice cream at the end. At most barbecue joints I skip the bread and go straight for the meat platters, because for me barbecues is two things, meat and sauce, everything else is extra. That’s not to say avoid the plates, they are a great option, but don’t neglect the sandwiches here either. Some original concepts are nestled in with the regular choose a meat sandwiches, such as the Firehouse, a combination of chopped brisket, a hit link, pickles, and spicy baked beans all on the sandwich itself; or the Smokehouse Club with in-house smoked turkey, brisket, bacon, and topped with cheddar, lettuce, and tomatoes; or the Ultimate Barbecue Sandwich piled high with more meat and cheese than I can recommend with a good conscience. Luckily, I’m not worried about my conscience so try the sandwich, it is enormously good.

While we are on the topic of a bad conscience, I wouldn’t stop at the free ice cream, either, and urge you to consider the fresh made daily cobbler as well, you’ll just have to ask what they have that day, but I have yet to have a bad one. I mentioned that the second part of what makes barbecue, for me, is a good sauce. Swadley’s excels with four great sauces, sweet, spicy, thick and juicy, and the mysterious Grumpy sauce that seems to have a touch of molasses added. Swadley’s is great barbecue made easier with four reliable locations, which means I always have somewhere to fulfill my carnivorous urges, no matter what part of town I find myself. Find them scattered around town, with spots in Bethany, Mustang, South OKC, and the Quail Springs area.

Photo courtesy of Swadleys.com Online Photo Gallery

BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse


Okay, okay, I know, a chain restaurant. But it was pretty good. Our group decided on the Quail Springs location on Memorial between May and Penn, and the food was all decent quality though I didn’t spot too many stand out menu items on this visit. We went with a fairly large group of friends so we were able to order and try many dishes this evening, which was good because the menu is fairly large. If you are looking for a well made pizza or burger they can take care of that for you. Of the multitude of dishes we attempted to eat this evening, a few standouts for me were the chicken wontons and the avocado egg rolls, both fairly small dishes.

We managed to get both the buffalo wing and the spicy Thai style chicken wontons, both of which are filled with roasted chicken and a creamy, cheesy filling. The Thai chicken wontons were well seasoned with a curry and ginger filling and just a tad spicy, and were accompanied by a sweet chili sauce. My favorite dish actually came off the appetizer menu and that was the avocado egg rolls, egg roll wrappers filled with chopped avocado and cream cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, red onions, cilantro, pine nuts,  and chipotle seasoning with a sweet and tangy tamarind sauce on the side.

The pizza’s are well made and good size to split with one other person, though you might have to ration if you wanted to share with any more. But with the various options and flavors available ordering more than one might be a good idea. The sizes of portions varied wildly from what I saw; the hamburgers and sandwiches were enormous while some specialty plates looked as if they would need back-up in order to be considered filling, so I would suggest asking your server as to the actual size of a dish if you are unsure what to expect.

Where BJ’s does seem to excel is behind the bar. They have an extensive list of beers, with a separate menu dedicated to Belgian brews alone, as well as eight to ten micro-brews available seasonally. My suggestion is to try the beer and then stay for some food. The desserts are okay, in my opinion, neither good nor bad. They push their specialty desert, the Pizooki, which is a large cookie with different sweet toppings done up like a pizza, and they are an alright end to a meal, though I can think of many other places to pick up desserts that are far better. The wait staff was friendly and managed to keep our orders straight and get it out to us in a timely manner, even with such a large group of people. I will warn you that this place is not good for conversation–it is loud. High ceilings, large spaces, and stucco wall treatments make for some serious echo issues, and they crank up the music to compensate. As a chain restaurant it does a little better than some of its competition in the quality department and is not without its own merits, but expect to pay a higher premium for that quality as well.

BJ's Brewhouse

http://www.bjsbrewhouse.com/

Tao Cha


I chose to review Tao Cha because of its new status as one of my favorite places in the area. I’ve been coming to this tea and coffee shop for several months now and it has been reliably good, service is always great, and the atmosphere is comfortable and relaxing. It’s an Asian style tea shop offering boba tea, Vietnamese coffee, and Thai milk tea, as well as more standard tea, coffee, frappes, and smoothies. It is a welcome addition to Yukon’s burgeoning shopping district at I-40 and Garth Brooks.

I live west of the metronome and previously I had to drive over forty-five minutes to get to my favorite boba spots in Oklahoma City’s Asian District. This new shop cuts my drive time by more than half and is as good, if not better, than any other spot in town. The tea and coffee are good, but the frappes are something to behold, made with ice cream, flavors of your choice, and blended into a creamy drink closer to a milk shake than a typical Starbucks fare. My favorite is the hazelnut coffee frappe. And don’t forget to pick up some of their desserts brought in fresh from La Baguette or a bottled Ramune soda, and if you haven’t had one of these before I suggest asking for help as they can be a little tricky. A nice diversion without driving all the way into town, but if the City is where you are starting from it’s still not too far away, so come support this new and locally owned endeavor. I’ve linked to their Facebook page below so you can check them out for yourselves.

http://www.facebook.com/TaoCha1

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The Timber Lodge


For my first review we wanted somewhere fairly nice, but since I have a week off from working I didn’t want to go too far from home. The Timber Lodge in Piedmont was it. Located northwest of Oklahoma City on the aptly named Northwest Expressway, just before the turnoff for Piedmont and in a nice new shopping center, it was easy to find and had plenty of parking to start things off right.

We came for lunch and found that the place was of a good size and offered plenty of seating to fit a lunch time crowd, though I would hazard a guess that the place may get a little busy in the dinner hours; they’ve cornered the market for fine dining on that side of the City, especially for those who choose to live well beyond its confines. Originally located in Kingfisher, The Timber Lodge Family Steakhouse was closed for a time before the current owners decided to reopen in their present location, closer to the metro.

We started with the Sweet Tamale Cakes with Roasted Barbecue Chicken and they were my favorite dish of the entire meal. Sweet, dense corncakes topped with a layer of melted cheddar, tomatoes, avocados, roasted barbecued chicken and a chipotle sour cream sauce. The 12 oz. ribeye was surprisingly tender and well seasoned, and very reasonable at less than twenty dollars with a side and a salad. Another signature dish was the Bleu Cheese and Bacon Chicken; chicken breast strips rolled like brochettes and wrapped in lean bacon with a bleu cheese stuffed center, all covered in a light mustard cream sauce. For those of you wary of bleu cheese, mustards, or cream sauces in general, I will say that all of the flavors were well-balanced but muted without any one overpowering the others; the tanginess of the mustard cream offset the richness of the bleu cheese quite well.

There are also daily lunch specials through the week that are choice selections of comfort style cooking for only $7.95 with sides, salad, and cake. While I didn’t try the meatloaf special myself, other diners commented multiple times on how good it was. In all, the food was good, the service was good, the drive was easy, and we will be going back soon.