There are a wealth of new local eateries cropping up in the metro and even more coming. If they’re not on your radar, they should be. From the comfy atmosphere at The Barrel on Western Avenue to the laid-back vibe at the Plaza District’s coffee shop, you might find a new regular hangout.
— by Devon Green, photos by Mark Hancock and Shannon Cornman
Ole Town Gyros & Kabobs
402 E. Main, Norman
What needs work: The dining room could stand being redecorated.
The Tip: Ole Town is fair value for very good food in a simple setting.
Ole Town is accurately named. At Main and Porter, it’s on one of Norman’s oldest and busiest street corners.
The building appears to have originally housed a service station, but has been a restaurant for decades. There’s only parking for six vehicles in front, but a window placard by the pink neon light promising “gyros” advises to head behind the building for more parking.
Inside, seating is limited to 10 tables in the long, narrow dining room. The decor is a multicultural mélange of Southwestern and Middle Eastern themes. A Last Supper depiction on faux animal hide graces one wall next to a shelf with all- American bric-a-brac and a Santa Fe-style print. In the tradition of gyro shops coast to coast, laminated color photos are posted, showing oversized plates of luscious food from the menu, along with prices. It’s the kind of place people come for the grub, not white tablecloth atmosphere.
“Fabulous; excellent job,” a young man said to waiter Hossein Kazemi after polishing off his gyro. He’s a mechanic from a car repair shop down the block.
“Many of our customers come from the neighborhood and also OU students,” Kazemi said. “Downtown business people keep us very busy at lunchtime.”
The menu’s diversity reflects the interior decorating. There are several interesting and unexpected choices. One choice, ghormeh sabzi ($12.99), is an Iranian stew made with parsley, fenugreek leaf, lime, turmeric, kidney beans and beef. Served with basmati rice and a salad, the rich flavors and generous chunks of tender meat were wonderful. It’s rare to find this dish offered in Oklahoma, and you can wash it down with made-in-house doogh-e ($2.99), a mint, lemonpepper and yogurt beverage.
If that’s too exotic, have a corn dog ($1.99) or chicken tenders and fries ($8.99) and a large Mountain Dew ($2.49). There’s even a Polish sausage on hot pita ($4.99) and fish and chips ($9.99). Scattered among these choices are several authentic Middle Eastern dishes that call to more adventurous palates. Mixed rice ($5.99) is also an Iranian dish with fresh dill and beans topped with saffron.
Ole Town changed ownership a few years ago, and now it’s somewhat of an Iranian restaurant disguised as a gyro joint. Persian salad ($4.49) is diced cucumbers, tomatoes and onions dressed with olive oil, mint and lemon juice. The crispy fried chickpea patties of falafel are served as an appetizer ($4.99) with hummus or as a highly seasoned sandwich ($6.99) on pita bread. An obligatory Greek salad ($3.99) is topped with the familiar feta cheese, ripe olives and herb dressing.
We make our sauce, and other gyro places use plain yogurt.
The gyro supreme ($7.99) is a honking huge sandwich stuffed with a double handful of beef and filled with onion, lettuce, tomato and “our special sauce.”
Chef Paul Kazemi, Hossein’s son, revealed the skinny about that sauce: “We make our sauce, and other gyro places use plain yogurt,” he said. “Cucumbers and spices are what make the difference in ours.”
The gyro meat is roasted on a vertical spit. “That’s the traditional way and how you get the right taste,” he said. “If it’s not roasted right, it gets very dry. You don’t want a crispy gyro.”
Marinating the meat for 24 hours to make it tender and delicious is another arrow in his culinary quiver. It hits the bull’s eye with sol toni kabob ($19.49), a combination of barbecued chunks and ground beef. In Iran, this dish is often called a “sultan’s feast.” It’s expensive, but easily feeds two or three adults, served on a large bed of saffron basmati rice with grilled whole tomato, ripe olives, sliced onion and lemon wedge.
“This is not fast food,” Kazemi said. “We make most things from scratch. It’s not just a matter of taking food from the freezer and dumping it in a fryer.”
There’s only one dessert, baklava ($1.99). With its flaky pastry layers and honey goodness, it’s described on the menu as “rich and decadent.”
You’ll get no argument about that here.