April 27th, 2011 by Brian Schwartz – Comments (5)
“We’re in a totally different restaurant!” I said as I took my first bite of the delicious fried chicken at Duke’s Southern Kitchen. I’d visited Duke’s once before, during opening week. What I found was a restaurant with no clear vision of itself, a place that swung the bat with all its might, swung and swung and never scored a hit. And now with every pitch they were knocking the ball out of the park.
“It’s chef-driven, slow food, farm-to-table, handmade,” said Duke’s owner Tim Baker in a recent interview. And that’s a good description of Southern cooking. That’s what you’d find 50 years ago and more at every farmhouse, tiny town and railroad crossing in Dixie and you’ll find it today if you look hard enough, in off the beaten path places like the tiny farms around Inola. And that’s what you’ll find at Duke’s. We “take something that’s real and authentic and [don't] gourmet it up, trick it out,” said Baker. Well, actually Duke’s does gourmet it up, and expert chef Justin Thompson finds subtle creative ways of enhancing the flavor and taking it to a higher level. But a crab cake still looks like a crab cake.
This was our appetizer, Creole Lump Crab Cake ($9) with mushroom salad and Tabasco garlic sauce. The salad was fresh and lovely and the sauce was fine, but most important the crab cakes were honest to goodness traditional crabcakes, full of fresh crabby flavor, as good as you’d want a crab cake to be. Remembering our last visit, I thought we’d have a long long wait in store, but, like the crab cake, the service in Duke’s is as good as you’d want it to be, and maybe better (and perhaps that improvement is related to the fact that I didn’t recognize a single server from my last visit). And so our main courses arrived just after we’d eaten the last of the crab. Here’s my chicken ($14).
Yes, two just about perfect pieces of fried chicken and while I’m not going to say they’re better than Evelyn’s or Baker’s or the late lamented A-1 Chicken Shack, they are playing in the same leagues. Juicy, crisp crunchy breading; fried in a cast iron skillet; in short, wonderful. Below the chicken are bourbon cream gravy, mashed potatoes and green beans. More refined than your traditional Southern sides, but still perfect sides since they don’t try to upstage the main player. And apart from that, those sides are really really good.
Cathe’s husband Ed got the catfish ($14). And that just might have been better than the chicken. (I can’t decide.)
Fried in cornmeal, the breading perfect, the fish fresh and perfectly cooked. Lazy Fisherman has a tough new competitor. The sides were amazing too. A nice remoulade (though the fish was so good you didn’t really need it), a sweet corn dressing as smooth as velvet, and, incredibly, sweet and tangy pickled green tomatoes.
For those who want (slightly) lighter fare, there’s a full range of salads and sandwiches. You couldn’t do better than their pulled pork sandwich ($9).
Pork and sauce and slaw combine for an explosive punch of flavor, and there are crunchy homemade potato chips on the side. And there are also desserts, such as this pecan pie.
Lovely, lots of chopped pecans and a great bourbon-infused whipped cream.
So did Duke’s have its vision all along but I just didn’t see it? Or did it emerge over the months since opening? Who cares? Just go.
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.
Tags: South Tulsa