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.
Winning big can be hungry, thirsty work. We scoured Oklahoma’s casinos for your best bets on sustenance whether you are on a winning streak, holding, folding, walking away, running, or just down to your last five bucks.
Ann’s Chicken Fry House
4106 N.W. 39th
What works: absolutely perfect chicken-fried steaks
What needs work: Kitschy decor could use an update.
Tips: Save room for dessert.
For about 10 years, up until last Aug., I lived in Fort Collins, Colo. From the start, the two things I wished for most were Tex-Mex and Southern cooking.
Restaurants in the Fort did neither of them, and when they attempted it, it was almost like watching a particularly stomach-churning episode of Kitchen Nightmares. If Gordon Ramsay were sitting with me, he surely would have taken a bite, spat it out and launched into a charmingly British swarm of expletives.
So, of course, as soon as I hit the metro, my first stops were just about every hole-in-the-wall taqueria the south side has to offer.
But even a Mexican guy like me needs a little variety, so I finally took a break from the tortas and barbacoa to get to the other half of my want-list: chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes. And maybe some okra.
Definitely some okra.
One place I had never gotten around to sampling was a legendary Oklahoma City staple, Ann’s Chicken Fry House. It was time to fix that while getting my fix. Since 1971, Ann’s has been a go-to destination for home-style cooking, featuring a menu filled with heart-clenching, down-home fare such as onion burgers, meat loaf, pork chops and, of course, chicken-fried steak.
While the 1950s imagery that swathes the restaurant is almost overpoweringly kitschy, Ann’s still manages to have a very warm, retro atmosphere to it. I’m surprised local hipsters haven’t co-opted the look yet. But don’t let the nostalgic bent fool you — this is no cheesy theme diner; this is old-school Southern cooking, Oklahoma-style.
The dinner menu offered two variations on the chicken-fried steak dinner: the half-pound ($9.50) and the 1-pound ($14.75). After noticing from other diners that the 1-pound took up the entire plate sans sides, I opted for the half-pound which, miraculously, also took up the entire plate, sans sides.
Now, I’m a pretty big fella, but this was a lot of food even for me, especially for the price. The value alone is worth a visit.
But what about the taste? As I’ve learned the hard way, great value doesn’t always equal great flavor.
Chicken-fried steak is one of the easiest foods to screw up. Too many times, it’s like eating soggy leather with a dark, bland coating. Not at Ann’s.
The chicken-fried steak was one of the most perfect cuts someone craving said meal could ever hope to have: a crispy, well-seasoned outside with little grease and a flavorful inside so tender that I could cut it with the fork. Complementing the steak was Ann’s signature creamy country gravy, which was delightfully subtle.
My dining partner had the half-pound chicken-fried chicken ($9.25), which I sampled and I found it to be a fantastic companion, with the same delicious crispy coating containing a lean, juicy piece of chicken. Seeing how Ann’s handled poultry made me want to come back soon to try its proper fried chicken dinner.
The sides were also standouts, with the mashed potatoes being slightly peppery and awfully creamy. The fried okra were natural and earthy tasting, but without that slimy texture that turns most people off.
Also served with the dinner was a basic house salad with garlic ranch dressing and a nice-sized slice of Texas toast. To drink, I recommend a tall glass of buttermilk ($2.25) to capture the whole Southern feel of the meal.
The dessert menu was limited, featuring cobbler and pie. What really captured my attention were the deep-fried peaches ($3.75) with special sauce. Now I finally understand what healthy people mean when they refer to fruit as “nature’s candy.” Deep-frying firm, crispy peaches brings out their natural sweetness in a way I’d never had before. Add the cinnamony dipping sauce and, well, diet starts tomorrow.
Ann’s Chicken Fry House is exactly the Oklahoma home-cooking I was missing all those years. And I’m going to make darn sure I never miss it again.
Oklahoma Gazette’s restaurant review policy is to highlight the positive aspects, and include constructive criticism regarding food, ambience or service when appropriate.