A Bright Sunny Day at Waterfront Grill

By on July 11, 2014

It was a bright sunny March afternoon, one of those days that makes just about anything a pleasure, and the river gleamed in the distance. It was over three years ago and I was on a deserted plot of ground in Jenks. Despite the glorious weather I was nervous. It was my very first interview for Oklahoma Magazine. A huge beige sandy building was nearing completion but I couldn’t see anyone to interview. In front, four burly construction workers were hauling huge bags of rock toward a big wall. “Is one of you guys Jimmy Blacketer?” I asked in desperation. “Yeah that’s me,” said one of them, a big guy dressed in a navy sweatshirt and jeans.

Not what you’d expect from the son of one of the richest and most successful restaurateurs in Tulsa history. But, said Jimmy, “I never wanted to be a daddy’s boy. I wanted to make it on my own.” He started work at 15, bussed tables, moved around from Oklahoma City to Houston and back to Tulsa. He and his dad teamed up again to run Los Cabos and again to run Waterfront Grill. The last piece of vacant privately owned riverfront land came up for sale; the Blacketers grabbed it. And now here was Jimmy lugging rock to build it. Jimmy’s a hands-on guy and for him Waterfront Grill was a labor of love.

“Jimmy’s excited. He can’t stop talking!” That’s what it says in my interview notes. He paid attention to every detail and every detail thrilled him. The banquettes are trimmed with mahogany and upholstered with buttery-soft Italian leather. It’s like sitting in a Ferrari. The hostess podium, a big wood affair, was custom-made in Mexico. The huge mahogany vitrine that houses wine is lined with leather, at Jimmy’s orders, to protect the bottles. The umbrellas on the outdoor patio overlooking the river are designed to withstand a an 85 MPH wind. There’s a $30,000 rotisserie made by Rational AG in Germany that will be primarily used to prepare just one dish, the roast beef sandwich which, incidentally, features bread from Farrell’s Bakery. There’s a special sculpted plate designed to serve just one appetizer, Oysters St. Charles. Jimmy was especially proud of another appetizer he invented, the mango, crab and avocado stack.

Waterfront Crab Stack

Before the restaurant opened, Jimmy traveled around the country, trying restaurants everywhere, taking notes — he showed me some of them on his iPhone — of ideas for sauces, recipes, developing the menu dish by dish. “My passion is creating food people remember days later,” he told me. “I want them to go to the office and say, ‘you can’t believe the salad I had!'” All that was back in 2011.

“Here’s where I first met Jimmy Blacketer!” I said. I pointed to the elaborate artificial waterfall that Jimmy and his crew had been building. It was another lovely day, more than three years later. I’d been back to Waterfront a few times over the years, not as many times as I should have; Jenks is a long drive away. I visited with Brian just when it opened.

The Tulsa Food review by Whitney Shea, published March 7, 2011, described it well: “Our dining partner that night, Brian Schwartz, was thrilled to hear that Waterfront’s steaks are imported from Allen Brothers in Chicago. We were all very happy to hear that all seafood was from Bodean’s Seafood, which flies fresh seafood into Tulsa daily. Brian Schwartz ordered the Aged New York Strip and said it was one of the best steaks he’s ever tasted. After grabbing a bite myself, I noticed the minimal seasoning which really showcased the flavors of the meat – something that any steak connoisseur would appreciate.”

Then I’d been there once about a year ago to try the small plates menu served at the bar, a lovely hangout with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the river. It’s a nice menu and I had some fine bacon-wrapped scallops ($12).

Waterfront Scallops

And now here I was back again, with Cathe and Betty and Cathe’s granddaughter. We got a seat at one of those banquettes. Back in 2011 I’d told Jimmy that the fine Italian leather would wear out in 6 months. But it looked as good as new. So did everything else. It’s been well maintained. Now here’s the strange thing about Waterfront Grill. It looks like an upscale chain, it feels like an upscale chain, the menu looks like an upscale chain’s. But it’s not. It is independent, no other Waterfront Grills in the world, and the design has a lavish, no-expenses-spared attention to detail that no chain could afford. (It cost over $5 million!) And each dish on the menu is artisan and gourmet, sourced from the finest providers. All the sandwiches are made from Farrell’s bread and all the aged USDA Prime steaks come from Allen Brothers in Chicago. I think Jimmy knew that a lot of Tulsans are more comfortable with something that looks like a chain. They’d then happily eat gourmet food without knowing it. (“We deliver flavor, not frou-frou,” Jimmy said.) The menu is also designed to cover all bases. There are 6 stations in the kitchen. Sushi, sandwiches, steaks and seafood. And they do them all well.

Waterfront Sushi

Cathe’s granddaughter wants to be a movie star and she loves sushi. She was thrilled when I told her that the sushi chef (yes, there’s a separate sushi chef to design all the sushi rolls) used to be Rob Lowe’s personal chef in Hollywood. She got the classic California roll ($11). She loved it! Fortunately she didn’t know that the chef accents the classic cucumber, crab and avocado mix with a spicy sauce and tops it with eel sauce. That might have been too much for a 10 year old to handle, even though not all versions of eel sauce are made with eels. But she didn’t know this, she devoured the sushi, she was all thrills and smiles.

Waterfront Sandwich

Meanwhile we all ate the crab stack we’d split. It was delicious. Then Cathe and Betty split a sandwich. (Yes you can split entrees, even steaks.) They went California also with the California Chicken Sandwich ($13). Grilled chicken, tomato, avocado, Applewood smoked bacon, radish sprouts, and pepper jack cheese. I tried some and loved the honey mustard dressing. And then came my steak.

Waterfront Steak

This wasn’t the strip I’d had 3 years before. (The menu no longer has strip but features prime aged ribeye for $36, as well as prime filet.) It was the $19 Flat Iron Steak. It isn’t prime, but it is from Allen Brothers, it is aged, and it is delicious. The sauteed onions with a touch of serrano pepper were fine too, as was the huge potato.

Then we ordered a chocolate mousse cake for dessert. So gooey and soft that I couldn’t cut it. We loved it so much that we forgot to take a photo. One of us even licked the plate.

Waterfront Grill
120 Aquarium Drive Jenks (you drive as if to Riverwalk, then somewhere past Louie’s restaurant is a narrow turnoff going south)
Open daily from 11 AM to 10 PM

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.