Whether you’re coming from the latest blockbuster at the Harkins movie theater, stumbling out of another riotous Thunder game or even renting a U-Haul, one of the most common dilemmas when downtown is where, and what, to eat.
With so many overly familiar chains invading, along with their name-brand recognition and immediately recognizable flavors, many locally owned and operated restaurants might be overlooked in favor of convenience.
Enter Downtown Restaurant Week. After the success of last year, the annual dining event returns Sunday for a second year, through January 26. DRW will feature some of the best local chefs creating some of the best local cuisine, and it all goes to one of the best local causes.
For every comment card a patron fills out at the end of his or her meal, $1 is donated to the City Rescue Mission’s Impact Hunger Food Resource Center.
In other words, everyone is going to get a full belly this week, and best of all, you might just discover (or re-discover) your new favorite place to eat downtown.
Taste of history
No other downtown place has as much history as the Skirvin Hilton Hotel, 1 Park Ave. First opened in 1911, it was always a top-flight destination for visitors, and has easily reclaimed that grandeur with its 2007 reopening. Nestled inside is the Park Avenue Grill, a casual dining experience that wonderfully mingles the classy with the comfortable.
Working with executive chef Christopher Pope, restaurant manager Matt Suckow has created a menu that includes an opener of oysters Rockefeller or butternut squash carpaccio, followed by a choice of citrus-braised pork belly, espresso-rubbed flat iron or Moroccan ahi tuna. This is, of course, capped off with a selection of decadent desserts.
He’s excited for people to come by and see what Park Avenue Grill has to offer.
“It will be a great opportunity for people to come in and give us a try,” Suckow said. “Some of our new items are on there, some brand-new items that the chefs are preparing. Not only is it a great opportunity for people to see the historic Skirvin but also try our new menu. We have a lot of items that were produced locally, by local talent.”
While the iconic Skirvin has long been at the center of Oklahoma City’s glamourous side, hosting everyone from Hollywood celebrities to heads of state, Suckow noted that Park Avenue Grill is upscale but also casual — and guests can expect the DRW menu to reflect that.
“The biggest thing for us is to make sure we’re approachable,” Suckow said. “Our new menu, and our Downtown Restaurant Week menu, is designed around comfort food and accessibility for all our guests, no matter if they’re in-house or in the area.”
Taste of adventure
If there’s one edible genre that Oklahoma City does better than anything, it’s Mexican food. Similar to those jokes about a Starbucks on every corner, you can’t go a block in OKC without seeing some type of south-of-the-border eatery.
Former More Than Muffins owner Ana Paixao Davis, however, had the idea to go even farther south — all the way to Brazil. As executive chef of Cafe Do Brasil, 440 N.W. 11th, she’s seen her restaurant grow alongside OKC’s taste for something different.
“Oklahoma has a great acceptance for Brazilian cuisine,” Davis said. “They love to learn not only about the food, but the cultures and the people.”
Finding inspiration from studying with and researching such renowned chefs as El Bulli’s Ferran Adria, her DRW menu reflects a desire to “experiment with tradition.”
“A few years ago, I trained with a chef who was an Amazon native, and she introduced me to all these fabulous flavors,” said Davis. “I learned a lot from her, so I decided to bring that inspiration to our menu.”
As a result, she is serving oxtail in a wine reduction, cooked with boniato [sweet potato], yams, taro and yucca.
“And I served that — all of that — on top of a very creamy polenta,” Davis said.
She also plans to offer a Spanish-inspired dish featuring chorizo and clams served over fried polenta, as well as another meal of pan-seared salmon bathed in a passion fruit sauce with almonds and a side of Brazilian rice.
“I’m really looking forward to restaurant week, because it’s going to bring a whole new taste and culture to a new group of people,” Davis said. “It’s going to be fabulous!”
Across from the Harkins Bricktown Cinema 16 stands downtown’s down-home roadhouse, Whiskey Chicks Parlor, 115 E. Reno. While the outside suggests a quiet bar, the inside — featuring photos of the waitstaff in the skimpiest of burlesque outfits — gives a good hint of the good times awaiting.
In addition, it offers a menu that head chef Chris Meredith calls “way above-average pub food.”
“I try to do something different,” he said. “I’ll see something on TV, like on a cooking show, and it’ll spark my interest, my imagination. Then I’ll start playing with food back there in the kitchen and create something.”
Meredith’s favorite creation, which will be featured on its DRW menu, is his blackened tilapia with asparagus and sauteed spinach.
“It’s gotten people who don’t like fish to actually like eating it,” he said.
Other dishes will include country-fried chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans, pulled pork with signature crack tots and fruit salad and, for dessert, a Jack and Coke float.
“Downtown Restaurant Week is great because it gets us exposure,” Meredith said. “People come in here during events like this, and one of the most common comments is, ‘I didn’t expect the food to be so good.’”