Sunday, July 13, 2014

Papa Ganouj

Considering what owner Khaled "K" Rahhal has meant to young Tulsans over the years, a restaurant named "Papa" seems appropriate.  I can only speculate what Ganouj translates to... maybe "made with passion"? The love for colorful, beautiful, flavorful food certainly shines through in all of the dishes at Papa Ganouj. Warning: this post contains much deserved gushing.

We started with an appetizer called Chicken Baklava. Tender, moist roasted chicken chunks artfully wrapped in flaky phyllo dough and drizzled with honey and pistachios with a swoosh of harissa on the plate. This is one of the best things I've ever eaten. I've craved this every day since we ate at Papa Ganouj on their first night to be officially open. I now expect everything I eat to be wrapped in phyllo dough. How could that not make a thing better? Here it is in all its splendor...

Next came the mezze, and we did the "Choose Two" option with mussels and dates and figs. Mussels were tender and perfectly cooked. The dates and figs provided a nice sweetness to play off of...

For our entrees, Hubby chose the Shawarma and I had the Coq Au Vin, made with white wine, presumably because it's summertime. I meant to mention that the menu is Mediterranean/French. I loved the pearl pasta served with the dish, giving me something of an excuse to eat spoonfuls of the delicious sauce. This whole dish was as perfectly an executed dish as I've ever had. The ambience at Papa Ganouj is casual and sleek, but while I ate this dish, I felt like royalty. It's like someone created a work of art just for me, knowing it would be destroyed in about twenty minutes. I told you'd I'd gush. Here is the masterpiece...

We had filled ourselves with amazing food all night, but had to take it over the top with one of their desserts made in-house. This was something they called "coffee and donuts". It's a cup of mocha-flavored mousse and a delicious flourless chocolate cake. Nicely balanced, not too sweet, and a perfect way to top off a spectacular meal.

We had a fantastic time and it's important to note, since it was the first official night, that the staff was not only well-versed in the menu, but had great enthusiasm for the food they were serving. We were well taken care of, and made to feel like our business was appreciated. All in all, this restaurant is poised to be a big success, and we will be its biggest cheerleaders. Go Papa!

Papa Ganouj on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hark's BBQ & Wing Run Cafe

If you'd told me I'd get excited about a chicken place before I found Wing Run, I'd have scoffed. Literally scoffed. I like chicken. I like it fried. I like it tossed in a flavorful sauce. But, it's still just chicken and most of the places that do the wing thing are pretty ho hum and all alike. Oh, but not Wing Run. They are doing something special, it's just hard to put your finger on what it is that's so special about them. They have the chicken je ne sais quois. Basically, they just do everything right, and don't mess with a good thing. The first time we found this place, we ate there twice in the same week. We never do that.

I'm going to start with the least expected and least obvious thing, but possibly what I love the most... the dressing. They offer bleu cheese or ranch with your order. I don't use these for the chicken... I use them to dunk my fries into... very liberally. I can't even tell which one I love most, so I make my husband order the opposite, so we can alternate. Both are made in house. You'll know this because they don't have that chemical taste from the dressing bottles. Both dressings are rich and creamy and thick enough to be clingy. They give you plenty. It's just decadent.

While we're on the subject of fries (I'm kind of always on the subject of fries)... these are one of the top three fries in Tulsa. They are real potatoes, fresh cut, served super hot and freshly fried and very heavily seasoned. They are packed with flavor.

Kamikaze sauce on boneless wings. Prepare to sweat! 
How did I go three paragraphs and not yet even addressed how they do chicken? They offer some good combo deals and different ways to order. You can get the wings with bones in or boneless. I go for the boneless. There are numerous sauce choices. Hubby gets Kamikaze. I usually get Sweet BBQ. There are plenty more I'm going to try someday... lemon pepper, garlic parmesan, teriyaki, and more. They are fried up fresh and come well-sauced and piping hot.

So for weeks after finding this, we only ordered chicken. There are actually two businesses being run out of this awesome little place, always tempted to try the BBQ offerings, but really addicted to the chicken. Finally, I made the Sophie's Choice of food and tore myself away from the chicken to get a BBQ sandwich. You can order dinners or sandwiches with one, two, or three meats. I went with a two meat sandwich... pulled pork and hot links. Wow! This was also delicious. Grrrr... now I'll always have to make a tough choice. They have a regular sweet BBQ sauce and a hot sauce (not too hot). They'll bring both to your table when they deliver the order. I alternated the sauces. Can you tell I'd rather have EVERYTHING than to make a choice? Yeah, I'll work on that.

Hark's BBQ & Wing Run does have a few tables and we always eat there, but because this style of food travels so well, there are always a lot of people picking up To Go orders. There seem to be regulars that knew about this place before we found it. We're working up to that status quickly. They already act like they might recognize us, but maybe they greet everyone that friendly. No matter how busy they get, they seem happy to be there. I'm hippie enough to find myself marveling at the positive energy the place always has. I can't believe I just said that out loud, but it's true.

Pulled Pork and Hot Link sandwich (the hot links are sliced into thin rounds and are hiding under all that sweet pork)

Wing Run Cafe & Hark's BBQ on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Smokie's BBQ in Broken Arrow

Well, folks, this is my new favorite place. My parents live out past this joint and watched every day for months waiting for it to open. Smokie's teased us by putting the sign out front back in March. Then they had people working there almost every day getting it ready until they finally opened in late July. Every time I'd drive by there on my way to visit my parents, I'd say my little mantra "Open, open OPEN".  Anyway, they finally got everything just the way they wanted it and opened their doors.

When you walk in, you will be greeted by a sweet smell of smoke and the warm, friendly owners. The owners here might be the most genuine and earnest people in the restaurant business right now. Eager to please, eager to hear feedback, and so good-natured. It's clear they aren't experimenting or testing things out, though. They honed their smoking skills well before opening because they are proving to be consistent... which is the hardest thing about serving barbecue.

You will not go wrong with anything you order here. But, just in case you can't decide... and I just love this... they have a "Two meat plate" that includes 2 ribs on top of your two meats. Ha! So, I can daintily order a two meat plate and get three meats? They just get me. Anyway, I've now had their ribs, sliced brisket, pulled pork, and hot links. And since they were all good, I might need them to add a four meat plate.

Here's the menu...
I cut off the smoked meat selections. They have Brisket (Chopped or Sliced), Pork, Ribs, Bologna, Sausage, Hot Links and sometimes they will have chicken as the special of the day. 

Now, a word about each of the meats. I'll start with the ribs. These are the best ribs I've had in the Tulsa area and perhaps further out. They don't fall off the bone, but are very tender and come clean off the bone when you eat them. They are not fatty or chewy. They have a nice pink color to them to prove they've been smoked long enough. They have a flavorful rub. Before I forget to mention it, Smokie's has a sweet choice of barbecue sauces. They don't make their own. Instead, they have bottles of Oklahoma-made Head Country, Ranger Creek, Sa-mokin', and Hot at the table. I like mixing and matching. The ribs go really well with the Sa-mokin' sauce, which is on the sweet side. Next, the hot links. These impressed me because I immediately knew they made their own, and owner Aaron Latsos confirmed this. The flavor is sort of breakfast-sausage-y, but with more heat. I liked these with the Sa-mokin' sauce as well, because the heat and the sweet played off of each other so nicely. This might be the best bite of food I've had in quite awhile. On to the brisket. Here was something that surprised me. I tend to like a thick slice of brisket, but theirs is sort of shaved. It's very lean... leaner than I usually like, but still tender and just sort of flakes apart on the fork. I like the Head Country sauce on the brisket because the tanginess works well with beef. But, I alternated with the Ranger Creek because I was having trouble deciding. Finally, the pork. I kind of expected it to be "pulled pork", but this was sort of thin slices like the brisket. The pork had a deep pink smoke ring and was well-seasoned, which gave it sort of a hammy flavor, but not a hammy texture. That's a win in my opinion. The pork went well with all the sauces.

I contend that people will drive anywhere for good 'cue. Unlike other cuisines, barbecue just tastes better after a little drive. And BBQ snobs never like meats smoked inside city limits. So, yes, this is way out east, but it's well worth it. Aaron's dad, also an owner, told us he wanted Smokie's to become a destination spot. They are building out a deck on back and want to have music. Plus, he did all their artwork, including the juke-box front door and the mural of Broken Arrow businesses on the wall inside. I hope this place becomes the destination spot they dream of and that it brings people out for years to come.

Two Meat Plate with Ribs, sliced brisket (peeking out from under the ribs) and hot links. The beans are a family recipe, thick with added meat and very onion-y. The fries are freshly fried and well-seasoned. 

Really yummy onion rings! 

Hubby had a brisket sandwich and cole slaw. He loved their slaw! 

The juke-box styled screen door welcomes you. 

Smokie's BBQ on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Momma's Kitchen, Sperry OK

What a find! I'd never been to Sperry before, but I started hearing a buzz about a brand new restaurant with good comfort food, so I talked Grumpy into going on a little excursion. It took us about forty minutes to get there from the Woodland Hills Mall area, so plan your hunger accordingly. Also remember, it's not fast food. Everything is made to order and from scratch.

We decided to reward our patience by ordering chicken fried. CFS for him, chicken for me, then we cut them in half and shared. Isn't that what old married couples do? He opted for sides of onion rings and sliced tomatoes. I had traditional mashed potatoes and gravy and corn. Both plates came out beautiful. The picture of what good chicken-fried should look like. Not even a bit greasy. The steak was impossibly tender, unlike most CFS. The batter was crisp and seasoned basically with black pepper. "Momma" (well, April, the owner) talked to us after the meal and shared her secret technique, but not her recipe. I'm sure she'd be happy to share some secrets if you ask. Mostly she gave credit to her Grandmomma and Momma for "teaching her well".

After we were served, Jesse (I think that was his name, he was the awesome new day cook) came out and asked how everything was. He was worried that he might have gotten the onion rings too dark, but they were actually perfect. I love when restaurants care that much about getting it right and when they want your feedback.

How did I almost forget to talk about the gravy? Our meals came with cream gravy, but our waitress, Shirley asked us if we'd like an extra cup of gravy for dunking. Um, yes please! Ok, has anyone really ever said no to a cup of gravy? Anyway, this gravy is definitely not from a package. (I hate packaged gravy as much as I hate frozen french fries). This is real gravy. It's really good gravy. In fact, you'll say "Good gravy!" when you eat it. Even after we had finished our meal, we were still eating the gravy. April revealed to us that the chicken frieds were deep fried, so I had to ask how she made such good gravy without pan drippings. Oh, but that's secret too. Her momma just taught her right.

We ended the meal on an absolutely perfect note. We both got slices of blueberry pie with ice cream. This was the best blueberry pie I have ever had in my life. April and Jesse stopped by to chat some more and we couldn't stop gushing over the pie. It was Jesse's first time making it from April's recipe from a secret 1930s cookbook. That's all she'd give up, and I can see why. But, even with the recipe, I'll wager that few could duplicate this, particularly the crust which was tender and flaky and almost cookie-like.

Now, keep in mind we are full to the brim, but during the discussion it comes up that my hubby doesn't like catfish. April takes this as a challenge and tells us to wait while she fries up a piece of hers. She comes back with a pretty big chunk (so I feel obliged to help eat it... hee hee). Hubby does indeed like the catfish since it doesn't have any of that dirty water flavor. I am already a catfish lover, so I think I'll be ordering that next time.

Overall, such a great experience. April's love of her handed-down recipes and her staff's enthusiasm made us feel right at home. We left full and happy. Comfort food at its most comforting. Comfort food without having to do the dishes after.

On an only slightly related note, whenever I think of Chicken Fried Steak, I think of one of my favorite Sheldon quotes from Big Bang Theory. Sheldon, as you know was from Texas and the guys were surprised he knew a lot about football. He then says, "If you're interested, I also know all about frying meat that isn't chicken as if it were chicken."

One quick note: At this time Momma's not set up to take credit cards, but expects to take debit cards soon. For now, take cash or check. And, the dessert selections may vary, so if you plan to try the blueberry pie, I'd call ahead first.

Here are the pics from our little trip...

 Momma's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Franklin Barbecue

How do you "celebrate" turning 45 when your husband is out of town? Did you say "wait in line for an hour and a half for barbecue"? Well, so did I. If you knew hubby, TGFM (The Grumpy Fat Man), this would make perfect sense. First of all, Franklin is a legend in Austin, and I had not yet tried it. It's been on my bucket list since I started hearing the stories of lines for miles, hours of waiting, espresso sauce, and perhaps the best pitmaster to ever walk this planet. I've heard he doesn't actually walk, he sort of hovers over the earth and a gospel choir sings when he enters a room. Yes, I bought into it. Then again, I was sort of angry at them too. It was almost unattainable. Given the obstacles, I didn't think I'd ever get to try it. a) It's said the line is even longer on the weekends b) It's said you must get there well before they open at 11 am, c) Grumpy Fat Man doesn't like to wait in lines, he doesn't ever buy into overly-hyped food, and his motto is "Barbecue is barbecue" (something I didn't know before I married him. But, well, for better or worse.) What I needed was a free weekday, with a good excuse to treat myself, and no TGFM. The stars aligned today, January 12, 2012.

I got to Franklin and parked a block away. They do have a parking lot, and I might have been able to park closer, but there was a lot of construction and blocked roads, so I took what I saw. Time was 11:06. Temperature was just above 40 degrees. I was employing the polar bear plan. I'm from a little further north, and I've noticed Austinites start freezing when it dips below 70, so I was hoping this "frigid" weather would discourage some line-waiters. I arrived and the line was only out the door and into the first handicapped parking spot near the steps. I took a spot in line and counted. There were maybe 35 people in front of me. Everyone was bundled up in parkas. A waitress came out and offered to sell drinks (sodas or beer) to those of us in line. A man took his place in line behind me and started talking to me and the guy in front of me, who was a regular. I've never considered myself a social person, and I don't initiate conversations, but I found myself enjoying the "we're in this together" vibe. It made the time go by faster. The friendliness of people sometimes surprises me, in a good way. The Franklin expert in front of us informed us that there's a line once you get inside and it would still be another thirty minutes or so even once inside. Good to know. The line moves very sloooooooow, and it was about an hour before we got inside. But, at least at that point, we could see (and smell) the finish line.

While we were inside, the guy in front of me got a call from his wife and had to leave. He asked me for a favor. He gave me $40 to order a pound of brisket and a pound of ribs and have them put it back for him. I was to tell them it was for Gabe. I got near the counter and a girl in front of me had asked if she could get a half sausage. The cutter, Aaron Franklin himself, told her they couldn't do that because as soon as it was cut, it would start to dry out. I offered to buy the other half so she could try it, which worked out perfectly for  me because I'd been waffling on whether to order sausage along with brisket and ribs. When I told Aaron I needed to order for a guy I'd just met in line, he was like "what other barbecue place can you do that? Meet a stranger in line and order for them and share a sausage with someone else?" So true. We were like a little barbecue worshipping community at this point. It takes a village.

My order: Half pound moist brisket, half pound pork ribs, half a sausage link, a single serving of  beans, two kinds of barbecue sauce, and a small Texas pecan pie (made by Cake & Spoon), came to $22. All that, and I have a 45th birthday story that makes me smile.

I got back to my car at 12:55. Twenty minutes later, I was home, digging into it all.

So, was it worth it? Absolutely. The first taste of brisket was a surprise. You can taste the beef. I've had brisket I thought was divine, but the primary flavor is either smoke, or a heavy-handed bark of black pepper, which is good. But, this... this tasted like beef first, then you get the smoke and seasoning. Other moist brisket I've ordered has had bites of pure fat. I kind of like those bites, but this was a moist cut of brisket where the fat seemed to have been more evenly distributed or absorbed back into the meat. The tenderness was remarkable, especially since the brisket had travelled twenty minutes after cutting. It didn't seem to dry or toughen like some brisket will after cooling. The espresso sauce is truly special. It's more complex than any other sauce I've had, including non-barbecue sauces, like moles. I'm not sure I'd have known it had espresso if it weren't in the name. I kept tasting it, literally fascinated with the flavor, trying to employ my supertaster tongue to mad-science out the recipe in my mind. I'm still baffled. It was a tiny bit bitter, a hint of sweet, a little tang, and nothing like anything I've tasted. The first bite of white bread, brisket, and espresso sauce might have been one of the most perfect bites I've ever had. While I was in line, I watched a guy at a table put a bite in his mouth and close his eyes in a sort of reverence to it. I can see why. I will say, though, that even in small amounts, the espresso sauce kind of dominates the flavor profile, so I alternated in some bites with no sauce, to mix it up a bit.

I was about to take a picture of the meat and picked up a pork rib by the bone. The bone slid out clean. It was literal fall-off-the-bone tender. The pork flavor was delicious and the meat was melt-in-your-mouth good. I took the meat that had fallen off the bone and kind of shredded it with my fingers onto another slice of fresh white bread. While I had been in line, I'd watched a different guy at a table eating a rib with a knife and fork. Amateur! Anyway, I tried the regular sauce with this. I'm not sure what they call their sauces, but they have three: espresso, which is really dark; regular, which is tangy and pretty cumin-heavy; and a hot, which I didn't try. I liked the regular sauce, but it was something I could take or leave. I kept going back to the espresso sauce, then going naked (not me, the meat, but I was at home on my birthday, so you never know).

The only disappointments were the sausage and beans. I have rarely met a sausage I didn't like. <snicker>. However, I just plain disliked this. I don't know why, except that it tasted a little "off" to me. It reminded me of a venison sausage I tried once. Can pork sausage taste gamey? Anyway, my dog loved it, so no great loss. And I'm glad I didn't get a whole one. (Shout out to the girl I shared the sausage with!) The beans seemed to me to be a little undercooked and under-seasoned. The center had a sort of "dry bean" flavor. Again, no big loss. More tummy room for meat.

In the end, I had a great time standing in line. The Franklin folks were friendly and the barbecue was worth it. Oh, and I made about $7 for ordering for a stranger (sorry, Gabe, I tried to make them keep the change and give it to you with your order, but they wouldn't). Happy Birthday to me!

The rib that lost its bone, a little sausage, and beans. Note, this is on my own paper plate at home. If you dine in, you'll eat off the standard bbq butcher paper and a tray. 

Brisket, pork ribs, sausage. Otherwise known as the three basic food groups.

Nice rib!

And here's the Hitler parody...

Franklin Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Taqueria El Charro

Since Taqueria El Charro is in the old Fuegos spot, I somehow expected this to taste like Fuegos. My rational mind knew it wouldn't, but I'm not always rational. This wasn't like Fuegos at all. In a town with hundreds of Mexican food restaurants, this is one of them.

It was about 6:30 on a weeknight, right after the time change, so it looked like midnight outside. The place was empty and dismal. It had the vibe of an all-night diner at closing time. There was no music playing, so the only noise was the loud hum of the refrigerator next to us filled with sodas, and the swish swish of someone cleaning the grill or sweeping in the kitchen.

Our waitress was nice, but unenthusiastic. She seemed a little intimidated by us. I have no idea why. I ordered cheese enchiladas and Hubby ordered a combo with enchiladas, a taco and a chalupa. I feel like I've had this plate of cheese enchiladas at a hundred other mediocre Mexican restaurants. I blew on my enchiladas to cool them. No need. They were served lukewarm. (The worst temperature for enchiladas)

One other lone customer came in and sat at the opposite end of the restaurant while we were there. He held his head down and completed the late night diner picture. I wish I'd had a better experience, but it left me depressed. Taqueria El Charro just doesn't have the bustle of Taqueria Arandas on Burnet or the vibrance of Cheko's or the family-owned friendliness of Ramos. It was just blah.

The combo plate

Cheese enchiladas

The mural tried to lighten the mood. 

Taqueria El Charro on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 28, 2011

Pizza Paradise

Pizza Paradise is a solid little neighborhood pizza joint that is take-out & delivery only. The pizza's reliably good and the guys that work there are friendly and fast. Check their website for specials. They are very reasonably priced.

We usually get the Meat Eater. I love the way their little pepperonis curl up into little pepperoni cups on top. This is a special kind of pepperoni that reminds me of a childhood pizza joint. I don't know if they taste different, but they do get nice and crispy, which seems to deepen the flavor. The sausage is nice, and has a little bit of heat. They load on the toppings. If you have them add garlic, it's fresh chopped garlic, not the stuff from the jar. Hubby said their pizza reminded him of when we liked Rockin' Tomato's pizza (they went through a bad spell, but we like them again). Pizza Paradise's "specialty" is that they offer a garlic cream cheese for dipping. It's really yummy. 

The crust here is a little on the thick side, compared to a New York style. But, is far from deep dish. It has a nice subtle sweet yeastiness I like. 

Again, this is a solid choice for pizza if you're in their neighborhood. 

Cute little pepperoni cups excite me. 

Pizza Paradise on Urbanspoon