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Chris Hennes

Oklahoma City Restaurants

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Upper Crust (First Impressions!)

I ordinarily try to give a restaurant a few weeks before passing judgement, and certainly I try to visit more than once: so consider this a preliminary assessment, subject to further refinement. Upper Crust opened yesterday in their sexy new Classen Curve digs, right down the street from RePUBlic. Upper Crust sports two wood-burning ovens running at around 750°F, and burning a variety of different woods (you couldn't really smell the ovens, unfortunately: damn health codes forcing adequate ventilation!!). Hardcore pizza aficionados might suggest that temperature is too low, at least for a classic Neapolitan -style pie, and they would be right. But OKC is not known for its good pizza, so we take what we can get. I've been disaffected with The Wedge for some time now, so was really excited that some competition was moving in: my hope is that both places improve because of the rivalry.

Tonight we started with an order of the garlic cheese bread and the "anti-pizza" (like "antipasto" 'cept for coming before the pizza... GET IT?!!!). The garlic bread was generic, but not bad. The anti-pizza was a mediocre selection of deli-quality charcuterie (not exactly fra' mani here) with too few olives and too much greenery. So, on the whole The Wedge's "Wedge Trio" is the vastly superior appetizer.

We also had a bottle of wine: the wine list is pretty extensive here considering that this is a pizza joint, and very low-priced (hell, they had Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label for under 100% markup... show me THAT price someplace else in OKC!) . But you had damn well better like wine, because the beer list is pathetic. Maybe they would let you cruise over to RePUBlic to grab a pint...

For the pizza I figured I had better start with the basics, so I ordered the Margherita. What arrived was not a classic pizza Margherita, but here in OKC that is hardly surprising, I don't think anyone in town even knows what that means. The Wedge's Margherita is awful, so it would not have taken much to beat it: however, Upper Crust's was actually quite good. It was undercooked by pizza-phile standards, and displayed no cornicione to speak of: it's not ever going to make a list of "Best Margherita" (it has toasted garlic on it, and is not made with fresh mozzarella: are you serious? This is Margherita?), but it was a pretty tasty pizza.

So, is this the "best pizza in OKC"? hard to say without a couple return visits, but I'll say that at the very least they are giving The Wedge a serious run for their money.

(On a side note: I'm not sure if they were just training new staff, or were trying to prevent opening-day snafus, but holy cow there were a lot of servers there tonight. Service was very good, and quite polished considering how new the restaurant is. Usually it takes a few days or even weeks to really dial that in, and these guys were pretty on-the-ball already.)

ETA: Crappy cell-phone snapshots...

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Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Nic's Grill (1201 N Pennsylvania Ave, Oklahoma City, OK 73107)

I'm always joking that Oklahomans measure quality in ounces: if it's bigger, it must be better, right? Nowhere is this attitude more evident than with the local love for beef. It is completely irrelevant whether the beef in question is high-quality, or tastes good. The only question to ask of a local burger joint is "how many ounces is your patty?" Nic's Grill is frequently cited as the best burger in Oklahoma City. The usually-dependable folks at Eat Around OKC rave about it, and Nic's gets some serious Twitter love, too. They have been featured on Food Network's "Diners, Drive-in's and Dives" for whatever that is worth, and there is always a line outside for lunch.

You can see where this is going, of course: Nic's burger is crap. Nic's fries are crap. Nic's parking is crap. (OK, I only added that last one to obey the "rule of three," parking is OK). I'm not exaggerating to counter all the orgasmic Nic-lovin' out there: the burger is not simply mediocre, it is actually bad. The fries probably slide a bit closer to the mediocre, but they sure as hell aren't "good." Here's the problem with Nic's burgers: in their ludicrous focus on size (they are gargantuan), they have sacrificed all sense of flavor or eatability. A burger that manages to be tasteless despite well over 1/2 lb of ground beef is sad. The trouble with a massive pile of beef is you must season it before cooking, and you must integrate that seasoning to the interior of the patty: there is no way to add salt and pepper to that massive burger after the fact, and Nic's had none. Hell, they didn't even try to salt after: there was simply so salt. NEWS FLASH: Salt enhances flavors! Use it! To that, add stupidly large amounts of low-quality toppings (bagged shredded iceberg, mealy tomatoes, way too much mustard, etc.) and what you wind up with is just plain garbage. And garbage that must be eaten with a fork; despite my best efforts there was simply no way to get the bun to stand up to the onslaught, the burger disintegrated out of my hands. I'm sure it makes for good TV, but it sucks to eat. The fries are single-fried rather than blanched and finished, are also served unsalted (though at least with fries that is easy to fix), and are basically undrained: their plate-life is approximately 30 seconds before the remaining oil soaks back into them, turning them into a greasy, soggy mess. For that thirty seconds, though, they are OK: fresh-cut and flavorful.

The best burger in OKC? Wow, I sure hope not...


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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The Cow Calf-Hay (3409 Wynn Dr., Edmond, OK, 73013)

Looking for some redemption after yesterday's burger debacle, I hauled up to Edmond (I live in Norman) to try out another recent recommendation from Eat Around OKC. I figured it was important to determine whether we have fundamentally different ideas of the "ideal burger," or if our disagreement over Nic's was a fluke. Happily, tonight's burger was indeed very good. I'm still not planning on making the 35-minute drive on a regular basis, but if I find myself in Edmond on a weekday at lunchtime, The Cow is a contender (yeah, the only night they are open for dinner is Friday, and they are closed on weekends).

Let's start with the biggest difference between Cow and Nic's: the burger's size. I ordered the half pound burger, since my ideal burger is in the 1/3-1/2 lb range. I found this to be a well-proportioned patty: thick enough to retain some juiciness and thin enough to ensure that you had a good ratio of Maillardized surface area. The burger is served slightly overdone to my liking, but not terribly so, and I did not specify a doneness level (I don't know if you can, the waitress did not ask). The beef is plenty beefy: adding just a tiny bit of salt to the surface of the patty was enough to pull it to near-perfection. The lettuce was a large single piece of leafy green, which I vastly prefer to the shredded iceberg at Nic's. The tomato was unfortunately the same tasteless mealy crap you get just about everywhere these days: I guess I shouldn't hold it against them, but I believe that if you can't get an ingredient that tastes good, you should just leave it off. Of course, I could have requested that myself, but I hold this stupid, vain hope that someday I'll get a burger with a tomato slice that actually tastes like tomato. The pickle slices were large and not too thick, and the cheese was standard American and well-melted (which I liked a lot). The requested mustard was judiciously applied: enough that you could taste it, but not so much that you couldn't taste anything else. The bun was just thick enough to absorb all the burger's juices without falling apart: you could eat this burger with two hands, none of this "use a fork" BS. All told, a flavorful, well balanced, well proportioned burger.

The fries were unfortunately not quite so stellar: perhaps a tiny bit better than Nic's, but that is only due to my personal preference for the thinner cut at Cow: they were still that flaccid texture you get from a single fry. On the plus side, they were well-drained, and on the minus side, they were not quite as fresh. Call it a tie, and don't waste the calories. If you are still hungry, order another burger!


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Chris,

You are a brave man. While I know OK city has some good food, I also know how bad to mediocre food can be. I worked, from time to time, in Perkins. Stillwater was pretty much a foodie wasteland. I have had a few good meals in OK city and quite a few in Tulsa.

Right now I wished you could point me to some good fried catfish! That they have in Oklahoma!


Banished from Chowhound; I like it just fine on eGullet!

If you`re not big enough to lose, you`re not big enough to win! Try this jalapeno, son. It ain't hot...

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Upper Crust (website, 5860 N. Classen Blvd, Oklahoma City)

I previewed Upper Crust here, and ate there again last night. They've now been open for a few weeks and I think are fair game for a review. First off, here's what they say on their website:

Upper Crust is an uptown pizzeria and wine bar specializing in wood-fired, thin crust New York style pies complimented by a full menu and wine list that is synonymous with quality and also a reasonable price.

While the pizza is arguably more California-style than New York-style, that doesn't really detract from it. In terms of pizza taxonomy, it has a medium-thick leavened crust with no corniccione and little flavor. In this case the crust serves almost entirely as a vehicle for topping delivery: the very definition of a California-style pie, no? To a certain extent this is disappointing due to the use of wood-fired ovens. Honestly I had been hoping a Neopolitan-style pizza place would open up (very high heat, very thin crust, corniccione), but I can't hold it against Upper Crust that their goals lie elsewhere: only that it seems silly to use a wood-fired oven when a standard steel deck will give you the same results. So there you have my built-in bias: the "wood fired oven" schtick is just that: a schtick. But is the pizza any good?

Well... before I get to the pizza a few words about the appetizers and salads. As I mentioned in my original post, I thought the cheese bread was fine but nothing special, and the "anti-pizza" antipasto platter completely superfluous. The focus appeared to be on a price point, rather than a quality point. In the battle of the OKC pizzerias, The Wedge's "Wedge Trio" is so far superior to any appetizers on the menu here that there isn't really a contest. However, the saving grace at Upper Crust, somewhat perversely, is their salad. I'm not really a salad connoisseur, but both the salads I have tried were really very good, in particular the Caesar. Normally I'd expect a place like this to have a gloppy overapplied dressing on a soggy romaine/iceberg blend, but that was not the case here. The dressing was pleasantly acidic, judiciously applied, and the lettuce was a nice fresh romaine with a good balance of the thicker central portions and the leafy green portions. I definitely recommend getting a salad over any of the other appetizer options.

Finally, on to the pizza. This is a place whose (somewhat presumptuous!) domain name is "www.okcbestpizza.com", and their Twitter handle is @okcbestpizza. So it's clear that they are not aiming for the middle of the pack. Alas, I think that's where they land. There isn't anything wrong with the pies here, grand theoretical pizza taxonomy aside: they are focused on the toppings, and the toppings are good. Not stellar, or great, but good. All told, very comparable to The Wedge. Except that I think The Wedge's crust is better. Then again, the wine list at Upper Crust is nice, and very affordable: good pizza-pairing wines. And the salad was very good. But the apps... ah, decisions, decisions.

Really, you'll get a meal to be happy with at either place, and the price is right at both of them. But if you are pizza connoisseur from out of town... go find a steak place.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Hideaway Pizza on East 15th street is the only place I have eaten pizza in Tulsa. I thought it was decent. I'd say it was good pizza typical of what you get in OK and TX.

How would you say it stacks up against The Wedge or Upper Crust?


Banished from Chowhound; I like it just fine on eGullet!

If you`re not big enough to lose, you`re not big enough to win! Try this jalapeno, son. It ain't hot...

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Hideaway has a strong local following here in the OKC area as well: I had their pizza once and was not impressed, but that was takeout, and was a couple years ago. Fifteen minutes in a cardboard box doesn't do anything good for anyone's pizza, so I can't really judge fairly!


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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It's been a while since I've reported on anything new in OKC, but today while out shopping I drove past this place:

Mutts exterior.jpg

I had no idea what it was, so of course stopped. Inside, it has a very familiar vibe—and for good reason: it's operated by the same people as Big Truck Tacos. This bode well for lunch. As did the inclusion of duck fat fries on the menu. And behold, the duck fat fries:

Mutts fries.jpg

They were well-flavored, but single fried, so a bit limp. Still. Duck fat. I also had a hot dog (of course) with sauerkraut and mustard:

Mutts dog.jpg

An excellent, well-flavored dog. Perhaps a tad over-topped to my liking, but that's easy to fix at the table (easier to fix than under-topped, I guess). My wife had the chili cheese fries:

Mutts chili cheese fries.jpg

These were pretty good: the chili is clearly designed as a dog-topping and not as a standalone chili, but it's hard to fault them for that. I think my dog was about $5, as were the fries. So not cheap, but not expensive either.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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