Tallgrass Prairie Table is Now Open Downtown

By on January 3, 2014

I have a new love and her name is Tallgrass Prairie Table. She has ravished me with her sumptuous belly and delighted me with her soft, glistening marrow.

Tallgrass BellyTallgrass Belly

Yes, that’s the pork belly, and wait till you see the smoked and roasted bone marrow. It all started a few months ago when Oklahoma Magazine assigned me to write an article about a new restaurant being built downtown. Oh everyone was excited about this, I was too, I’d known Hope and Michelle for years. They’re the owner and chef, respectively. They’ve been in the business for decades. Michelle Donaldson used to cook at Polo Grill and then at Smoke, where her Berkshire pork cheeks, grilled and then braised for 13 hours in red wine and mirepoix, won her a number 2 spot on my “Ten Best dishes of 2011” list on her first day on the job. She used to give monthly banquets at Smoke and so many people wanted to go that they had to hold a lottery. Hope Egan has been in the restaurant business for 26 years. She’s always dreamed of opening her own restaurant. Now she has.

It was a dark and stormy night. I found Hope and Michelle working in what looked like a bombed-out warehouse, a 100 year old building in the Blue Dome district.

Tallgrass Warehouse

I invited them for dinner at Juniper. I’ve never eaten with restaurant people before and it was fun. Some of the dishes blew them away. Others… not. In between bites and critiques, they reminisced about their childhood. Hope grew up on a farm where family dinners were made from ingredients harvested that very day from ranch or garden. Her dad was a cattleman; her grandma spent all her time in the kitchen. Grandma was a fine chef and young Hope learned a lot. Michelle too grew up on a farm, but her mother was Belgian and had a flair for haute cuisine. I think that’s why they are so passionate about getting their pigs, cattle and chickens from local ranches (free-range ranches, incidentally, where the animals are humanely raised, allowed to wander the rolling prairie of the Osage Reservation). “We hope to be 80% local,” Michelle said, “and that’s not an easy thing to do. Our cooking style,” she added, “is to highlight these ingredients.” But when Michelle says this, you know she’s thinking haute cuisine and fancy rather than simple and homey. Anyway, I put a full description of our delightful dinner in my magazine article and you should definitely have a look at it. http://www.okmag.com/January-2014/On-The-Prairie/

Tallgrass Interior

Yes this is what Tallgrass looks like now. Hope talked a lot about Tallgrass’ new century-old home, about the front dining room with an open kitchen, and about the larger back dining room, which used to be a printer’s office complete with busy, humming printing presses, now with exposed original brickwork, reclaimed barnwood panels and 100 year old pine 16 foot high ceilings. When I saw it I couldn’t believe how much work had been done since November. It was the Friday after Christmas now and I was here with my date. Just 5 PM and the staff was standing by, looking professional in their starched black outfits. And professional they were. I recognized a lot of them from places like Stonehorse and Juniper. I was eager to see the menu, since I couldn’t find it online. Here’s what I saw:

SMALL PLATES
shrimp and grits with tasso ham and maple bourbon gastrique $8
Smoked roasted bone marrow with porter onion jam and bourbon mustard $15
Animal-of-the-day tacos $7
Grilled flatbread with wild mushrooms, thyme, pesto $8

ENTREES
Spicy fried chicken with Thai panang curry gravy and lime-leaf coleslaw. $15
Grilled duck breast with carrot risotto and pomegranate molasses $25
Lemon-cured chicken with poached fennel and heirloom tomatoes $20
Grilled pork chop with sweet potato gratin and cranberry chutney $22
Cider-braised pork belly and scallops with butternut squash puree $28
Marsala braised short ribs with celery root puree and port reduction $19
Burger $13
Butternut Squash Ravioli with sage cream and cranberries $16

I started with the marrow.

Tallgrass Marrow

Smoked and roasted bone marrow with Porter onion jam and bourbon mustard, served with a shot of house-infused rye whiskey to wash it down. (The shot is $3 extra.) It came with toast too but I pretty much ignored it. The marrow was so soft, so unctuously sinfully smooth. The onion jam and homemade mustard offered contrasting flavors. What could be better? Well, maybe this.

Tallgrass Taco

Hope brought over one of their tacos. It was pork tonight. She gave me a long description of how this is prepared but I pretty much forgot it. I think the meat is brushed with maple syrup. There’s pumpkin puree involved somehow too. There are a lot of complex, contrasting flavors. It’s delicious. Then came the star of the show. So good I couldn’t wait to put in the photo so I put it right at the beginning of this review. Succulent pork belly braised in cider, scallops breaded in parsley, butternut squash puree, charred mustard greens, a rich meaty brown sauce made with Guajillo chilis. The pork belly was wonderful. It packed a big flavor punch. Most chefs don’t know how to make pork belly right. (Except for the Chinese, they use the 11th century poet Su Dongpo’s recipe and braise it in Shaoxing wine.) Michelle knows. The scallops were fine too, though I would have preferred them not battered and fried. The greens and squash blended together in a sweet and sumptuous way and I couldn’t stop shoveling them down. Meanwhile, my companion ordered the pork chop.

Tallgrass Chop

Go to Tallgrass Prairie Table and you can eat like royalty. You can also EAT royalty! This pork chop is from a Berkshire pig who can trace his ancestry back to pigs bred 300 years ago in England. They were a favorite of aristocrats and a large herd was kept at Windsor Castle for the king to eat. This beauty is brined in buttermilk and rosemary and presented with beans, apple cranberry chutney, and the sort of sweet potato gratin you wish your mom would serve on Christmas. We were full, stuffed, and then along came this.

Tallgrass Mac Cheese

Yes Hope wanted us to try their new mac & cheese. And it was great! Smooth and creamy with pesto to provide added depth. Best mac & cheese in town, my companion gushed.

As we were leaving, I asked Michelle if it is too early to review Tallgrass. I will praise it to the skies, I said, and you might get more crowds than you can handle. “We’re veterans,” Michelle replied. “We know our job. So just bring on those crowds!  Bring it on!!”

Tallgrass Prairie Table
313 E 2nd Street
933-4499
www.tallgrasstable.com
Open for dinner at 5 PM every day except closed Monday.

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.

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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