October 12th, 2012 by Brian Schwartz – Comments (8)
Good simple seafood dishes with a touch of Cajun flair served in a bright festive atmosphere. That’s what you’ll find at S & J. But first you have to find it. You walk west on First Street, which fifty years before was known, with good reason, as Tulsa’s skid row. Things have changed of course, with a thriving new bar every fifty feet or so around the corner on Elgin, but on First Street the drab gritty buildings, which, amazingly and improbably, housed a thriving bordello until the 1970s, seem deserted. There’s a tiny neon sign near a pair of glass doors. Walk in.
5 PM and the bar is hopping. A long row of diners hunch over huge platters of fresh raw oysters and enormous boiled shrimp. (Usually $13, those delicious-looking plates are $5 off between 4 and 6.) You can also get Oysters Rockefeller, a dish created a century ago in New Orleans and named because, like Rockefeller, the sauce is very very rich. We walked through the bar, past a huge fish serenely floating high above our heads
and found a spacious airy tiled dining area.
Spacious is a good word. The place is 5000 square feet, so you never feel cramped.
It looks like a place with a history, and indeed it has one. The old S & J opened on Peoria thirty years ago. It closed in 2004. I’m not sure why it was called S & J; the founders were Michelle and Howard Smith. Mr. Smith was a veteran restaurateur; his first Tulsa venture opened in 1968. And he’s back… he designed the new S & J for the new owner (who, coincidentally, is the son of his partner in the 1968 place). Fans of the old S & J should feel right at home (and it seemed a lot of them were at the bar). The menu is the same, and so are some of the waitresses.
I’ve always thought that the inspiration for S & J was those old legendary no-frills fish and oyster houses in New York City. (Good luck finding one today!) Back around 1850, New York oysters (of a species now extinct) were so good that gourmets came from Europe to sample them. Eating a New York oyster, said Thackeray, was like eating a baby. (Mixed praise indeed!) In those days, the rough disreputable oyster cellars gave you all you could eat for 6 cents… but if you ate too much the waiter would slip you a bad oyster. But according to Smith, S & J’s inspiration was New Orleans.
Fin, fried and specialties are the entree sections on the menu. The “fin” is fish broiled with lemon butter (or, if you wish, blackened). You can get salmon or tuna or redfish. Betty got catfish ($13).
A simple fish, but really good flavor. That’s red beans and rice in the cup. You get two sides and she opted for that plus a salad. The beans were great, a bit like a makeshift gumbo.
There are also salads on the menu, and Cathe got a Shrimp Louie ($8).
Not bad at all. Nice little shrimp, and a great creamy dressing.
We skipped the fried section (calamari, clams, catfish, oysters, shrimp and more). I got a specialty, the “Cajun Combo” ($13). (Other specialties include coconut shrimp, etoufee, red beans and rice with sausage, and barbecue shrimp.)
Blackened fish and chicken, of course, are not traditional Cajun dishes. But they can be very good, and they were here. What can I say? These are not the complex, sophisticated delicious creations you can find at, say, Doc’s Wine & Food when Ian van Anglen is in the kitchen, dishes that could win the round on Top Chef Masters. But they are good nonetheless.
When I told a friend that S & J’s was open again, she said, we’ve missed it so much! They have the best bread pudding. We tried it. And they do.
S & J
308 E. First Street
open daily from 11 AM to 10 PM (lunch served till 4 or so, with a few bargains. For example, the combo is $9.45 instead of $13.)
There’s a lot just east of McNellie’s that has free parking.
The history of New York oysters, as written by a guy who has done several books on food history:
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.