It was nothing for our family to pile into the car on Sunday afternoons and drive to Skiatook or Henryetta, to the Hammett House at Claremore, or even to Nickerson Farms in Joplin, Missouri, for Sunday dinner. Thus began my love affair with long drives and eating out. Through the week, though, we mostly ate at several favorite restaurants in Tulsa. (That's not to say that my grandmother didn't cook; we had some good meals at home, too!)
Apparently, a lot of Tulsans have nostalgic memories of restaurants they enjoyed while growing up here. The evidence was at a recent book-signing for Lost Restaurants of Tulsa by Rhys Martin at the Tulsa Historical Society. A roomful of nostalgic Tulsans listened to Martin describe his research, show photographs that didn't make it into the book, and answer questions about restaurants he didn't include. (I'm hoping for a sequel--More Lost Restaurants.) As a highlight of the evening, Martin's wife, Samantha, provided samples of some popular Tulsa restaurant foods: Hot Toddy Bread from Middle Path, Baked Fudge from 1880/The Garden, Black Bottom Pie from Pennington's, and an almond cookie from The Pagoda. On Rhys Martin's website at rhysfunk.com, you can see me lined up to get my snacks at the book signing.
|Clockwise from top: Baked Fudge with Whipped Dream, Hot Toddy Bread,|
Almond Cookie, Black Bottom Pie
Martin abided (mostly) by a couple of rules while choosing the restaurants for his book. The restaurant has to be closed at the present time (in other words, "lost") and should not be part of a chain, unless the Tulsa location was a "really big deal." For example, King's was one of my favorite restaurants downtown; when my friends and I went shopping in downtown Tulsa in the 60's, that was the place we most likely would eat. I loved their Cheese Frenchees--a breaded and deep-fried grilled cheese sandwich--yum! Martin mentioned it at the book signing, but it doesn't appear in the book because it was a chain of restaurants across the U.S.
Martin said that sometimes he just wasn't able to find the right person that could give him the details of the restaurant's history that he needed. For that reason, another couple of our family's favorite restaurants were mentioned in the Introduction to the book but not in the book itself: Martin's Barbecue and Borden's Cafeteria. Martin's was one of my dad's favorite restaurants. He loved barbecue, and we would drive from Red Fork to north Tulsa so Daddy could have barbecue at Martin's. My brother and I loved the little jukebox selectors at the tables--my favorite selection was "Ghost Riders in the Sky." I think Rhys Martin could write an entire book just about the "lost" barbecue restaurants in Tulsa! In the Q&A at the end of the presentation, he mentioned Elliot's on Peoria, another of our favorite barbecue places. At the end of the meal, they would bring out little bowls of warm water with lemon floating in them, so you could clean the barbecue sauce off your fingers.
Borden's was so much a part of our restaurant repertoire that I don't even remember any specific occasions that we ate there. We ate at most of the Borden's locations, but the one I remember the best was at Sheridan and Admiral. While in line to get our books signed, I reminisced with a woman about my age about Borden's. We both remembered the prize we could choose from a big treasure chest if we finished our plate.
Here are some more of my memories of restaurants featured in the Lost Restaurants of Tulsa.
- Bishop's: I think I only ate there one time, when Uncle George and Aunt Georgia took my brother and me to church at First Christian Church in downtown Tulsa, and we went to Bishop's afterwards. I don't remember anything about it, except that I had heard of Bishop's and thought it was cool that I finally got to eat there.
- The Louisiane: I lucked into a wonderful part-time job while I was in college at the University of Tulsa. My pastor's daughter was the receptionist at Mid-States Pipe and Supply in the Philtower Building, and she recommended me for an assistant bookkeeper's position. I knew nothing about bookkeeping, but that was what the bookkeeper wanted: someone she could train to her standards. Her name was Helen Squires, and she was quite an influence in my life for the 5 or 6 years I worked at Mid-States. Every few months the owners of the business, Mr. Horwitz and Mr. Hogan, would take all of us out to lunch at the Louisiane. I always got this particular salad with Russian dressing, and I had my first drink at the Louisiane: a Tom Collins.
|Helen and I at Mid-States Pipe & Supply|
- Steve's Sundry: I discovered Steve's Sundry comparatively late in life, and I mostly went there to find books I couldn't find anywhere else. I ate once at the lunch counter in the back as a nostalgic nod to the drugstore lunch counters I remembered from my childhood.
- Goldie's: I learned from Lost Restaurants that the original Goldie's Patio Grill was a spinoff from a golf course clubhouse restaurant operated by the owner of Villa Venice. I can't tell you how many times I have eaten at Goldie's, probably in every location they have ever had, although nowadays it's mostly the one across from Utica Square and the one in Owasso. The seasoning on a Goldie's hamburger is so good that you really don't need anything else except pickles from the pickle bar!
- Kay's: Kay's on 31st St. just west of Yale was one of our family's favorite restaurants. I don't even remember what I ordered as an entree because all I remember were how wonderful the hot rolls were!
- Pennington's: I bet I ate at Pennington's a hundred times, when you combine the family outings, dates, and the lunches with friends. I loved everything about Pennington's: the hamburgers, shrimp, rolls, salad dressing, and of course, black bottom pie. However, Pennington's onion rings are the onion rings by which all onion rings are measured!
- St. Michael's Alley: I ate there one time after a double date with my best friend and two of our guy friends from high school. We had just been to see "Oliver!" at the movies. We thought we were so cool.
- The Pagoda: I never ate at the Pagoda until I was long grown. I realized at the book signing why I didn't know anything about the great Chinese restaurants in Tulsa, or the great chicken restaurants, for that matter. My dad didn't do Chinese OR chicken.
- Diamond Jack's: But, oh, my dad loved Diamond Jack's! We followed it from location to location, admiring the decor, the waitresses' outfits, and the food, of course. Daddy would get pastrami or drip beef, but my favorite was the Diamond Lil--a double decker ham and egg salad with black olives.
- Shotgun Sam's: Shotgun Sam's on Sheridan just north of 21st opened in 1967 and became a favorite of our high school crowd. I remember at least one particularly fun cast party we had there.
- The 1800/The Garden: I remember eating here when it was still The 1800. I think it might have been December of 1964. Aunt Jessie took me out on a Christmas shopping expedition to Utica Square, just the two of us. She bought me a pink skirt and sweater, probably at Vandever's, and I remember buying Christmas gifts for my family and eating at The 1800. Later, when it was The Garden, I attended a bridesmaid luncheon there. It was definitely the place to be for the "ladies who lunch." The Baked Fudge was to die for!
- Casa Bonita: Rhys Martin broke his rule about chain restaurants so he could include Casa Bonita in his book. It was definitely the place to go in Tulsa for families and dates for several years. It was our favorite place to go when I was dating my ex-husband. Everything was new to us--choices of dining room, like a Mexican village or a cave; raising a flag when you wanted more of something on your all-you-can-eat platter or were ready for sopapillas.
- Nine of Cups: My ex-husband and I ate at the Nine of Cups once in about 1975-76. Again, we thought we were pretty cool.
- The Fountains: We had an anniversary dinner at The Fountains. We were only married from 1973-1978, so it was September of one of those years. I remember that the food was delicious, and we felt quite fancy.
- Middle Path: I ate there once with a friend of mine who was a vegetarian. Of course, since I love bread of all kinds, I liked the Hot Toddy Bread.
- The Bakery on Cherry Street: I ate there once on a Saturday morning with a friend of mine before we headed out for a day of shopping.
- Impressions: My brother suggested we meet there once for lunch. I don't remember anything about it except the really cool building.
- Molly Murphy's: Mannford Middle School had their Christmas party at Molly Murphy's one year. I vividly remember the salad bar set up in the open car body--because I managed to roll several croutons off the car and onto the floor.
- Charlie Mitchell's: My friends and I used to eat at the Charlie Mitchell's on 21st a lot. My favorite item to order was the Monte Cristo.
- Metro Diner: I only ate there a couple of times. The one time I remember was with a group of students from the OU Master of Liberal Studies program. We had just completed our summer seminar in Tulsa. I mostly remember that a couple of my fellow students thought they were pretty darn smart.
Another restaurant that was mentioned in the Q&A after the book signing was the Sky Chef at the airport. Back in the days when anybody could go into the airport restaurants, our family would go to the Sky Chef for dinner and watch the planes fly in and out. Some of our other favorite restaurants that weren't mentioned in the book were:
- the Western Chicken House on Hwy. 66 towards Sapulpa. They must have had steak, too, or Daddy wouldn't have taken us there. I remember eating spoonsful of honey from the squirt bottle on the table while waiting for our food. When they removed the house we lived in at 2717 W. 42nd St., they moved it to a location on the other side of the turnpike from the restaurant. We could see it through the front window while we ate our dinner.
- El Chico, mostly the one on 21st St. El Chico's is still going strong in Tulsa at several locations. It was our family's favorite place to eat Mexican food.
- Ike's Chili was my grandmother's favorite. We would sometimes drive to the north side of town to get Ike's Chili (or three-way) to bring home, and my grandmother would buy frozen blocks of it in the grocery store to thaw and warm up at home.
- Der Wienerschnitzel was a hot dog drive-in that opened up on Peoria in the 60's. I loved the one with sauerkraut. My grandmother could never remember the name of it and called it "Sour Pickle Green Shield."
- My dad loved Sizzler and Sizzlin' Sirloin, of course. We ate at both chains a lot.
Which brings me full circle to the opening of this post. What strikes me most about these memories is my dad. I often think that my grandmother held the family together, but we lost these family eating excursions when we lost my dad in 1985. He really was so good to take us where we wanted to go--as long as there was something beef for him to eat, and the line wasn't too long. I miss our Sunday drives and philosophical discussions and eating experiences. I still miss him every day.