Tasting A Memory – Oklahoma Joe’s Comes Home

By on January 5, 2012

Have you ever tasted a memory? Tonight… I did.

1998 – A 20 year old Oklahoma State College student and his pals pull into a parking spot along “The Strip” in Stillwater, Oklahoma, on a Thursday afternoon. Eager to get in line and order the Thursday special… 2-for-1 Pulled Pork sandwiches and 75 cent Budweiser bottles. For $6.00, you got 2 mouth-watering sandwiches and 2 ice cold beers that were so cold (the beer, not the sandwiches) the ice would be stuck to the bottle. But this day was different. This day, the beer was not ice cold. The smell of smoked meats was mysteriously absent. There were no longer Oklahoma Joe smokers lined up along the windows. The long hardwood tables and benches where we had shared so many Thursday specials, slabs of ribs and ice cold brews were no more. The building was a ghost… a good friend who just disappeared without warning. A memory that would only live on as an anecdote in our personal accounts of our youth.

So it is understandable that when I read the Tweet from @tdmarkit8dude that the old Runt’s BBQ building in Broken Arrow (and also formerly Gameday Tailgate Bar & Grill) stating that the building’s marquee read “Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ Coming This Fall”, my excitement over this new addition to the Tulsa BBQ scene rose to epic levels. And my excitement has held no boundaries. I, along with many other Tulsa and Broken Arrow natives, have taken many side-trips over the last 3 months to follow the progress of legendary pit master Joe Don Davidson’s latest venture. From the addition of signs to the building, to new construction going on in the back of the building (which turned out to be Joe’s smokehouse, equipped with the same models of smokers that have made him an icon in the competition BBQ circuit), to a personal tour of the restaurant’s progress with Joe himself… all this anticipation spread out over 3 months came down to this one epic Manly Food moment… The moment I sat down at Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ, picked up the bottle of BBQ sauce as I do at every BBQ joint I visit, and squeezed out that drop sublime nectar onto my finger and stuck it in my mouth.

You see, my love affair with this development wasn’t tied to the fact that Joe Davidson has won over 300 barbeque championships. It wasn’t tied into the fact that he was the co-founder of one of Kansas City’s finest and most successful BBQ restaurants… the restaurant that Anthony Bourdain labeled as one of 13 Places to Eat Before You Die. It wasn’t even tied into Joe’s countless television and media appearances. This infatuation stems from memories of my youth. Memories that molded me into the Manly Food connoisseur I am today. Memories I can taste.

This moment. This single, solitary point in time when Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ sauce hit the tip of my tongue tonight for the first time since 1998 was, perhaps, my single greatest moment as a foodie so far. It was a moment that reminds me why I take pictures of the food I eat. Why I tweet those pictures out for anyone who cares to see them. That moment is why I do what I do.

But enough of all this sappy memory crap. Let’s get to the food!

The wait wasn’t bad. When we arrived, the line was backed up through the restaurant to the front door. This meant about 20-30 minutes from the time we got in line to the time we got our food. This is what the line looks like, but don’t let the people in front of you scare you away… it’s worth the wait!

“Oklahoma” Joe Davidson can be found mingling with customers. Either at their table, or in the line. Chatting with a BBQ legend like Joe is a good way to pass the time while waiting to place your order, although I found it to be a distraction from coming to a decision on what to order! I had a chance tonight to ask Joe a question that I hadn’t asked before, and has come up in several recent discussions with friends and readers… Why did they close the Stillwater location? His answer was that when he sold the smoker business and moved to Texas, neither he nor Jeff Stehney (the acting owner of the KC Oklahoma Joe’s restaurants and Joe’s BBQ partner at the time) would have been able to be present during enough of the restaurant’s daily operations. In other words, they are hands on owners who didn’t want to risk serving a product that didn’t live up to their standards because they wouldn’t be around for quality control. A noble excuse, and one I will accept and forgive them for… now that we’ve got our own Oklahoma Joe’s.

The ordering process was a stressful one. It was like I was a born again BBQ virgin and I wanted to make sure this first time was perfect. Up until the moment I HAD to order, I didn’t know what was going to come out of my mouth, but I ultimately went back to my Oklahoma Joe’s roots and got the Pulled Pork sandwich. Though this time I added brisket as well (a mere $.49 addition), and I also added a side of Joe’s world-famous BBQ beans. Words cannot describe how happy I was when I took my first bite…

The wife got an Oklahoma Joe’s classic, the Z-Man, though she was torn between it and “Joe’s Dipped Brisket with Au Jus” (especially after Joe told us the Dipped Brisket is his favorite sandwich). The Z-man is a brisket sandwich topped with smoked provolone and fried onion rings. I have read on the internets that the chicken Z-man is also very popular. It’s not actually on the menu, but I did hear it called out several times from the kitchen. I had a couple of bites and loved it… and I’m not normally a fan of sandwiches with onion rings on them (I know… weird, huh?)…

Finally, my boy’s bologna sandwich. He’d be very disappointed if his sandwich didn’t make it in this post, so here it is. The boy is addicted to bologna, but I think even he was surprised he ate it all. When I noticed he still had a little left and seemed to be done with his meal, I asked if I could have it. Turns out, it’s a good thing I asked because I’m pretty sure we would’ve had a meltdown on our hands had I just reached over and stuffed it in my mouth! The last little bit of bologna didn’t last long after that… not sure if that was because of the bologna love, or fear that Daddy was gonna eat his bologna…

So at the end of the meal, I can’t say I was disappointed in anything. Well, that’s a lie. I was disappointed in one thing. The bathrooms have those automatic faucets. I hate those things.

As we got up to leave, I looked around to see if I could find Joe and thank him one more time for bringing his talents to Green Country. I didn’t see him, and decided that was a good thing because I may have ended up kissing him on the lips… and I’m pretty sure that would have been an awkward situation.

As we drove away from the restaurant, a small tear of joy in my eye, my son (in his sweet 4-year-old voice) said, “Thank you Daddy for that place.” I replied, “Son, don’t thank me… Thank Oklahoma Joe.”

Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ

(918) 355-0000
333 W Albany St
Broken Arrow, OK 74012

Oklahoma Joe's BBQ on Urbanspoon




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