Even more than the décor, exciting menus, and exotic drinks, I love the feel of a restaurant. It’s more sensory than sensibility. It’s the feeling of the embrace upon returning home, the confidence that everything and everyone is where they should be in the world, including me. It’s the unmistakable feeling of “home” imbued in La Roma Restaurant.
Originally from Beirut, by way of the Caribbean, Tulsa is home since 1981 for Katia Azar and her mother, Souhila Azar. Each day, they both work in the restaurant preparing classic Mediterranean food and pizzas. They admit that their love for people, as much as their love for food, is what keeps them going.
“We know most of our guests by name and we know their families, their stories.”
Some La Roma guests frequent so much that their orders are known by heart to the staff. “We know what they want when they call. They don’t even have to repeat it. ” Katia added. For any new staff, guests’ lists and their orders are kept on a board in the kitchen so everyone knows how to keep La Roma’s guests happy, returning again and again.
Souhila, one of nine children, learned to cook from her family and by experience. She opened the restaurant with her husband, “R.J.” and continued the restaurant after his death in 2008. For Souhilia, cooking is her way of doing right in the world, of extending her hand in love to those around her. On my visit, Katia and Souhila filled the table with specialty pizza, two variations of calzone and an order of Falafels. Hummus, Tabouli, Tawook and La Roma’s famous Cabbage Rolls were added. “Are you doing OK? Need anything?” Katia asked as she made sure my iced tea was still cold and my pizza still hot. Within only a few minutes of arriving at La Roma, it seemed I had two new friends who would gladly serve me, share a meal and listen to my stories.
Then, meat pies (spinach, curry and traditional) were added to the feast. What’s the secret to these tasty dishes? Fresh ingredients and authentic recipes, such as making the Falafels from scratch using garbanzo beans. A house-made, classic Mediterranean sauce made with sesame seeds, called “Tahini Sauce,” was served with the Falafels and it made these made-from-scratch appetizers spectacular. You’ll have to guess on the specifics of the other recipes: Souhila wants you to come back again and again for her food, so she’ll keep her recipe secrets in house.
Of the dishes I shared that day, my favorite was the “R.J” pizza, named in honor of Souhila’s late husband. It combines olive oil, feta cheese and jalapeno on a crispy crust. Often, with other pizza pies, I leave my pizza crust uneaten but not here at La Roma. The crust was delightfully crunchy and flavorful, perfect dipped in house-made hummus.
A new dish to me, “Tawook,” is now a personal favorite. Great for hot summer nights, it’s a light dish that features chicken, garlic and olive oil. It can be served alone like an appetizer or in pita bread. Though I’ve sampled tabouli before, I prefer the fresh and tangy version at La Roma and I look forward to returning for more. It’s easy to see why loyal guests ask for to-go quarts to enjoy at home.
The Calzone I recommend is the Supreme, stuffed with onions, sausage, pepperonis or anything else you might want to add. And the servings are generous, this dish being enough for another day’s lunch for me.