Red Thistle Brings True Farmhouse Dining to Tulsa

By on October 12, 2017

I think there’s something magic about the little grey house at the corner of 14th and Harvard. Sometimes it seems illusive, like a flirtatious game of hide and seek. And even though I’ve been there quite a few times there have been evenings where I get completely lost and have had to phone Hope Egan, it’s founder, owner, and chef for help. But this evening the car seemed to drive there on its own, and eagerly I scurried to the door.

Go inside, and everything changes. It’s as if you’ve been suddenly transported 50 miles into a dirt-road part of the country, and 50 years back in time. Or into a Norman Rockwell painting. Or as if you’re finally home. You’re in a little farmhouse kitchen lined floor to ceiling with shelves heavily leaden with crockery, spice jars, all sorts of strange and wonderful things.

There are white farmhouse tables, lovable mismatched chairs, and a big stove with skillets sizzling. And there’s Hope stirring a pot. When she’s focused on her cooking, nothing else matters. When she’s focused on you, it’s the same, and maybe that’s we she is so loved in Tulsa.

Years ago she told me that one of her first memories is of standing on a wooden stool in grandma’s kitchen, rolling biscuit dough with an old wood rolling pin. She tells me now that she still has that stool and that rolling pin, and still uses it even though it’s lost its handle. There’s a big chalkboard just above us and on it is tonight’s menu.

“All our veggies and protein and grains come from local farmers,” Hope says, “so we change the menu pretty much daily. I don’t post it on the Internet, I want people to come and be surprised.” I see a dish made with chicken from 413 Farms. I know that farm and I love Angela Faughtenberry, the woman who runs it, so I immediately order that. I hope it’s dark meat, I say. “Oh I cooked the breasts with sauce and gave it to my hairdresser,” Hope replies. “You’ll never find breast meat here. And hey, I know you love Angie and I just bought a whole ham from her friend Nate Beaulac” — also a fine farmer — “and I made a sandwich that’s so good my husband took one bite and said ‘OOOF OOOF OOOF!!’ like a dog! So it’s now on the lunch menu.”

Hope puts some chicken legs in a big old cast iron skillet. She got the skillet from the owner of Ciao, where she worked for eight years. I first met her around that time when she was working as a waitress at Lucky’s. She worked for many years in a lot of places doing whatever jobs they had, and all to save money to finance her dream, her own restaurant. And now here she is cooking in it. “What are those beans?” I ask. I’ve stepped behind the counter and am next to her at the stove, which can get you banned from most restaurants and isn’t recommended even here. But I feel as if I’m visiting relatives. Meanwhile, the chicken, nicely browned, goes in the oven and Hope dredges thin strips of vegetables in batter, then fries them. Finally two plates are served.

Before I say what’s on them, Hope has asked me to write that the plates themselves, which are heavy, lustrous works of art, are all made by her daughter Olivia. Some will be on show and for sale beginning October 24. I barely noticed the plates because I was focused on two artful assortments of vegetables, one pan-fried and one pickled. “OOOOOH” says my friend Lindsay. “I’ve hated beets all my life but I LOVE THESE BEETS!” And they are amazing, bathed in a strange spicy flavor. “The beets are from 3 Springs Farm, that’s Mike and Emily,” says Hope, who is friends with all her farmers. “Now I’ve pickled them for 30 days. You can eat them after a week, but they keep getting better. I love to pickle things. Each vegetable has a different brine.” She runs through a long list of things she pickles, talking so fast that the only one I manage to write down is watermelon rinds. “Pickles are always such fun.”
And eating these is certainly fun. Delicious. And so is the fried plate, which features 3 Springs onions and zucchini from a Hmong farmer named Nurn. “Levi-Strauss’s first book was named The Raw and the Cooked, but he forgot the Pickled.” “That sounds like a Clint Eastwood movie. The Raw, the Cooked and the Pickled.” Thus went our dinner conversation. We were now a group of four. Me, Lindsay, Hope and her assistant, all joining in the conversation. Meanwhile, Hope pours a bit of liquid into a plate to form a circle. It’s chicken stock, vermouth and butter. The chicken is ready to be plated.

“This is some of the best roast chicken I’ve ever tasted!” I gush. “How did you do it?” Hope explains that the chicken sits overnight so that the skin dries. It’s marinated in toum, which is a Lebanese garlic sauce. Then it’s pan-seared and finished in the oven. I ask Hope to tell me about each of the many vegetables that accompany it, but I beg her to wait until I have had time to savor the incredible chicken. So I eat and then Hope talks. The chives, she says, are from her garden. The pesto (about which Lindsay had exclaimed, “I don’t know what it is but it’s amazing”) “is from Dry Creek… no, that’s wrong, it’s from Tria Yang. The sweet potatoes I get from Acadia Farm. The arugula is from Dry Creek Refuge and so is the purple potato. Now Dry Creek is one of my favorite farms, it’s run by Ben Barry and Kate Gibson and they live in an old school bus out in Kansas, Oklahoma. I’ve been to their farm and I love them.”

“My grandparents were farmers,” says Hope. She’s sat down and her eyes get a bit misty. “My mom’s parents were dairy and my dad’s did cattle. They could do everything. They quilt, they can vegetables, anything. It was multi-generational, the whole family in one big house, and everyone had a job and pitched in. I took the bounty of their garden, I took all that bounty for granted. Now I wish I’d paid more attention.” And then she brings us dessert, a meringue so light it tastes like Oklahoma clouds on a soft lighted day. Like clear day clouds on the table of the gods.

Red Thistle Catering Co

1345 South Harvard Avenue

Tulsa, Ok 74112

918.728.0168

info@redthistlecateringtulsa.com

Brian Schwartz

About Brian Schwartz

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.

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