December 18th, 2012 by Brian Schwartz – Comments (9)
“It’s a gastropub.” Most restaurateurs have to stop and pause when asked to describe their restaurant with one word, but Brian Biehl, talking of The Alley, which opened Monday night, doesn’t hesitate. A gastropub, for those who don’t know (and I sort of knew but did use Google) combines the convivial, homey ambiance of a bar with gourmet food and a chef who’s a star. It’s a tough combination to get right. New York’s Spotted Pig is the most famous example. Brian admires Spotted Pig, and perhaps pays it homage with the blond wood decor of the main bar room and the little pig sculptures that grace the small yet cheery dining room that sits off to the side ready to welcome any patrons who do not want a bar atmosphere. If anyone can get the concept right, it’s Biehl, since he worked in several fine Tulsa establishments that could be called gastropubs: The Tavern (aka Brady Tavern) and Fassler Hall. Now he’s teamed up with Chef Mitch Neely, whose varied resume includes stints at the Summit Club and the Grub Truck. I’d like to try more of the menu, but based on my visit on opening night, the place is a winner.
It’s a cozy place. Isn’t that Smoke’s owner Mitch Dees and and chef Michelle Donaldson at the bar? Could be! It’s the sort of place celebrities might well hang out. (And of course it has a lot of history, having once housed St. Michael’s Alley, Tulsa’s beatnik hangout in the early 1960s, and Rick’s Cafe Americain, one of Tulsa’s first gourmet restaurants.) But we weren’t there for that, we were there for the food. Could Mitch Neely deliver? Oh yes he could.
They have lots of neat appetizers, such as scotch egg and poutine. Everyone told me to try the braised pork belly ($9). But we went straight for the entrees. This is Chicken Duo ($21). I loved the elegant, elaborate presentation. No bar food, this! I loved the taste even more. The breast was rolled around spinach and mushroom and topped by a bit of tarragon aioli. I didn’t taste the aioli but the roulade was tender and tasty. I liked the thigh even more. Grilled, delicious, with crispy charred skin, it was complemented with great grits as well as pickled fennel and fried hominy.
Cathe had pasta.
This is Squash Linguine ($15). The menu says ravioli but they do that only on weekends since it takes too long to make all those tiny squares. Like the ravioli, though, the linguine is made by hand, and has a great chewy texture. There’s a great creamy sauce made with sweet squash and a hint of nutmeg. Another winner.
I’d love to be able to show you a third dish. Betty’s my neighbor, I buy her dinner three times a week and I love her, but when I want to review a restaurant she usually orders the same thing I do. And she had her heart set on the chicken. “I don’t care about the review, and besides Brian lets every one of his many girlfriends order whatever expensive things they want!” (This is true.) I wish I’d ordered the braised short ribs with parsnip puree and shallot jam ($18). So you’ll have to be content with two dishes. Perhaps I’ll write a more comprehensive review later on. Don’t worry, I’ll be back.
3324 E 31 St
Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday
I don’t know if children are welcome but I’m sure they are as long as they don’t sit at the bar.
Brian Schwartz: Author
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.