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Nelson's Ranch House
I’ve never much liked the term “comfort food” but if you had to use it just once in your life, you’d probably use it about the food at Nelson’s Ranch House. When Dorothy was lounging in the Wizard of Oz’s fancy palace and all she could think of was going home, it might have been a place like Nelson’s that she missed, though she kept that secret from Auntie Em. Have a look, you’ll see its a comforting place, a welcoming place, a place like home.
It’s a lot more slow and country that the original Nelson’s (set up by the grandfather of Nelson Ranch House’s current owner, Nelson Rogers III) which first opened in downtown Tulsa in 1929 as an all-night gambling joint. Later, as Nelson’s Buffeteria, for 50 years it drew a crowd of high-powered businessmen as its loyal fans. The Buffeteria was a bustling big-city place, and walking in there was like stepping back into the days when Tulsa was the nation’s boomtown. Those city sharpies all went for the food, and at the Ranch House, the food’s the same. (The wife of Nelson Rogers, Jr. wrote down all the recipes sometime around 1970.) The chef’s the same too and so is most of the staff; our friendly waitress told us she’s been working at Nelson’s for 40 years.
Don’t expect the waiters to bring your food, head straight for the buffet line in the back. There’s a big long line of food and vegetable selections but I barely gave it a glance. I ordered what just about half the world orders at Nelson’s. Chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, mac & cheese.($7.69)
This could be the state meal of Oklahoma. The steak was fine, with thick crunchy breading crispy enough to stand up to the rich white gravy. I asked for brown gravy on the potatoes; that was a good choice. The mac & cheese was classic; not a fancy variety but the old-fashioned processed cheese kind (a.k.a guilty pleasure) from everyone’s childhood. Cathe, to be different, got the pan-fried steak, which was braised and served with a salty rich brown gravy. Just look at that gravy!
There were green beans (long-cooked and soft but still fine) and fried okra too. I liked the steak but I preferred mine. If I lived nearby I’d probably be seeing a lot of each. And last, maybe tallest, but certainly not least, came a lemon meringue pie.
Made from scratch by the owner’s mom, and it tasted as good as it looked. And that’s saying something.
Nelson’s Ranch House
1547 E. 3rd Street (West of Utica)
7 AM till 2 PM, closed Sunday
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.