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Back Alley Blues & BBQ – “Best Sides in Tulsa”
“These are the best sides in Tulsa!” I exclaimed as we fought over the last onion ring. “And maybe the best beans anywhere.” “Certainly the best fried okra,” said Cathe. We used the word “best” a lot that evening. Usually I feel a twinge of guilt when I review a place that’s been open only a few days. But Back Alley was at the top of its game. Usually a big city’s hipster district rendition of country shack food never holds even a guttering candle to the food you’ll get in that country shack. But this place is an exception, perhaps because it approaches its country shack heritage with respect and affection. I can’t think of another Tulsa restaurant that does Oklahoma country cooking so well. These sides are what you’d hope to find at Sunday dinner in a little farmhouse 30 miles out of town.
You enter Back Alley Blues & BBQ through a back alley. If you can’t find the alley, just do as we did and use the back entrance, which is located right on Elgin, next to Blake Ewing’s other fine establishments, Joe Momma’s and The Max Retropub. If you do that, you walk down a long corridor paneled with boxcar siding to the high-ceiling, airy dining room. A few months ago this was an empty, desolate room in an abandoned warehouse. Someone’s done a great decorating job.
We ordered a slab of ribs ($23, including two sides). After a short, hungry wait, that came. It was such a delight to see!
And it tasted as good as it looks. Great flavorful crust, moist tender meat. The flavor was so good that for the most part I didn’t use any sauce. This was a good thing because the sauce… innovative, flavored with herbs, lots of chili kick … was wonderful for the first few bites and then you got sick of it. (Though they don’t advertise the fact, and we didn’t know, they will provide Head Country on request.)
That photo above should convince you that you don’t need sauce at all.
Now about those sides. I’ve never been to or even imagined a barbecue joint where the barbecue would play second fiddle to the sides. Now I’ve found one. Sides are only $2 (or $1.55 if you want extra sides with your dinner, which comes with two), and if you walked in, ordered 4 sides and made that your complete meal, that would be a smart thing to do.
Let’s start with the side that came last. The beans. It came last because when we arrived, they told us that they’d run out. (No surprise.) So I said that if a new batch was ready before we had finished eating, they should bring us some, and they did. It was wildly good! It’s simmered low and slow with sweet red peppers, sausage and molasses. It’s an incredible recipe. In fact it was one of two side dishes for which Blake Ewing organized a talent search a few months ago. Entrants would cook their recipe and bring it for the judges in a big hall just east of downtown. The winner got $1000. That recipe is worth more. A lot more.
Now for the side that’s the biggest value. Imagine having 4 plates like this for your $8.
It’s a lovely mac and cheese. “Not as good as my recipe,” said Cathe, and okay it isn’t, but if you’re a fan of that Velveeta-inflected mac and cheese that made the Brook restaurant famous, you’ll love them. Also in the photo are the great cornbread muffins served with cinnamon-honey butter. They are the amuse-bouche. In the photo of the slab of ribs above, you can just see the onion rings. We all wished the portion were larger! They are a lot like the thin ethereal rings I found out near Muskogee at Baker’s Fish Camp. The Baker’s onions, I wrote, “were so good I grabbed handfuls of them and shoved them in my mouth and it took all my willpower to stop.” These are just about as good. If not quite as good, certainly a tough contender. Worth fighting for. The okra was excellent too, and Cathe thought it might be the best she’s ever had. Light, pillowy cubes. “We use the best oil and we change it often,” said the manager. It shows.
And then, just when you’d think the meal was over, we ordered this.
This recipe too came from a talent search and a prize. It just could be the best cobbler you’ll ever eat.
Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com
I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola.
“A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.