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Al Sultan: The All-you-can-eat Middle Eastern Buffet
You’d have to go back to Indian Territory days to find a time when there was no Middle Eastern food cooked in Tulsa. The first Lebanese immigrants arrived sometime around 1895. And buffet lines and all-you-can-eat deals were probably around long before that. Those early settlers were hungry. The first all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet in this country opened in San Francisco in 1849. I’m sure Oklahoma wasn’t that far behind. But no one ever thought of combining the two and opening an all-you-can-eat Middle Eastern buffet. Until now.
I first heard of Al Sultan a fortnight ago. One of my readers sent me a tip. (And I love it when you readers do that!) “I am requesting that you go to this new middle eastern restaurant,” he wrote. He’s a tough old biker so I take his requests very seriously. I’m glad I did. The place used to be Sooner Barbecue and they’ve kept the layout but a few Middle Eastern decor touches make it seem totally different. The food setup reminded me of high school. Glass counter, food behind it, plastic trays. Unlike high school, there’s great food and friendly service behind that counter. First you pay. Only $8! Then the owner will guide you through the food, showing you the many dishes. It’s not self-service. No customers putting their greasy paws in the food. You tell the owner what you’d like, or just ask for a little bit of everything. He’ll put it all together and hand you your plate. Here’s mine. The presentation is so much better than if I’d done it myself and just piled on heaps of food.
On the left is hummus. Hummus is cooked mashed Garbanzo beans. It tastes so much better than it sounds. I love it and I asked for a big portion. I asked him to put Fool, which is Egyptian baked beans, over it, and then I drizzled on olive oil from a carton on the counter. I loved the mixture. I’ve tasted better hummus in Tulsa (at Shawkat’s) and I’ve tasted better Fool (in Cairo) but I did like these. I’m not usually a tabouli fan, but the two kinds served here were fresh and flavorful. The basmati rice pilaf was moist and lovely too. To the right of that are juicy fried eggplant and a fried potato cube. The bread wedges were dusted with za’atar, a spice blend so addictive that some people eat it like popcorn. (You can buy bags of za’atar from Jordan — I did — and a ton of other hard to find Middle Eastern spices and canned goods, even including 10 pound cans of cheese from Saudi Arabia, at the grocery next door to the restaurant.) On the right are kebabs. The chicken was a bit dry but I loved the kofta kebab. That’s the long one, a big cylinder of ground beef and lamb with a lot of spices thrown in.
The plates are so lovely I’ll show you Cathe’s.
She asked for a bit of everything with extra tabouli. So you can see the two kinds of tabouli. They were so good! You can also see the round of nice warm pita bread on the right, the crunchy toasted cheese bread in the center, and the lentil soup. She loved the soup and got a second bowl.
I loved it all so much I got a second plate, with hummus and fool and rice and a kofta kebab. They don’t serve desserts but that didn’t matter. We were stuffed to bursting.
Al Sultan Grill and Bakery
9515 E 51 St (just west of Mingo Rd.)
Open 6 AM to 9 PM Mon through Thu, to midnight Fri and Sat, to 3 PM Sunday
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.