Even though NE 23rd Street is one of the most historical streets in Oklahoma City, many locals tend to forget that it’s also home to some of the most grassroots and homegrown eateries in town, the best having a specific focus on soul food, barbecue and old-fashioned Southern cooking. NE 23rd Street restaurants are OKC’s culinary history all in a few blocks and really should be revered as such.
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As the weather turns cold, how does some crab bisque from Hefner Grill sound? Steak, seafood and American favorites fill the menu of this lakeside restaurant.
It’s safe to say that most people love dining by the water, especially Lake Hefner. Even in the winter, the Hefner Grill is a wow-worthy spot where one can relax and study the sunset. In the spring and summer, views of sailboats going by await at this easygoing, appealing place.
On a recent Saturday night, I found that its extensive menu concentrates on sturdy, substantial food, much of it quite good. Above all, the food that is presented is creative, but not over the top.
For example, my pecan-crusted trout ($18) that I finished the next day for lunch deserved top billing. It came with a colorful array of veggies — big pieces of cauliflower, snow peas, carrots, broccoli and yellow squash — that were cooked just right and not soggy at all. The trout? Outstanding.
Hefner Grill’s best-selling item is one we chose, too, although I did not discover that fact until later. It is the cedar plank salmon ($18). Get this: The maple-glazed salmon arrived at our table with the cedar plank on the plate and was accompanied by caramelized onions and horseradish cream sauce (an aioli) served on the side. It also came with vegetables.
We began with appetizers that included its nicely done, crispy calamari ($9) that came with a spicy red sauce and a half-dozen oysters on the half shell that were correctly presented and very fresh. We also tasted the comforting chicken quesadillas ($9) that contained Jack and smoked Cheddar cheeses, zucchini, red pepper and onions in flour tortillas. On the side was a small serving of chipotle sour cream sauce and pico de gallo.
I was anxious to see what they could do with another seafood delicacy, and soon enough, we were trying the delicious crab bisque ($4 cup, $5 bowl). Now I wish I would have spent the extra dollar for the bowl — it was that good.
With a cup of hot tea (and yes, the water was boiling), we split what we thought would be a slice of Key lime pie ($8), but this was a sweet-tart, miniature version of a whole pie, which disappeared quickly. Other dessert options available are crème brulee ($7), a six-layer chocolate cake ($9) and a petite berries and cream ($2).
Hefner Grill is the only restaurant on the lake that takes reservations. It has a private dining facility that seats up to 50 people, while the whole restaurant is some 11,000 square feet. With added patio dining, it can hold 450 people. There is also a huge gazebo outside.
That private room is booked up for the holidays, but don’t be afraid to call ahead, as there are always cancellations being made at the last minute.
The interior is tastefully decorated, and most people will remember it as the Lakeside Fish Grill. All of the chefs and managers are cross-trained, meaning they can handle the work out in the restaurant and then tie on an apron and take over in the kitchen, too.
Hefner Grill has a full bar and perhaps may add entertainment with a piano player in early 2011. Its wine list, although a work in progress, rivals some of the finest in the area.
“The building is the most incredible on the lake,” Joe Jungmann said. “We have more of a panoramic view than any of the others.” Jungmann said Hefner Grill has also added two new shuttle buses that run every 15 minutes to bring guests right to the front door of the restaurant, so people should not be afraid that they cannot get a parking place up close to the restaurant.
For those seeking a deal, appetizers are half price from 5 to 7 p.m., and desserts are half price during the last hour of the business day. The Hefner Grill closes at 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 9 p.m. on Sunday.