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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It was about a year ago when Blu’s Bar-B-Q & Burgers opened quietly at 612 N. Robinson Ave., becoming Oklahoma City’s little secret for great Southern cooking.
The inside of the eatery has an upscale look to it, with beautifully Okie-centric art on the walls, giving the appearance of a place that would charge an arm and a leg for some sort of yuppiefied poseur’s idea of what a barbecue joint should be. A closer inspection of the menu, however, proves this to be far from the truth.
This is probably one of the most charming aspects of Blu’s — the nouveau riche appeal is undeniably welcoming to serious Southern aficionados. The prices are well below what is expected, with most meals in the $10 range and portions that are big enough to allow for ample leftovers.
I started with the Loaded Murphy ($7.99), an intense baked potato laden with cheese, sour cream, butter and a choice of meat — in this case, smoked turkey. It was a powerhouse of starchy goodness that is everything that a perfect baked potato should be. It’s easily a meal unto itself.
An order of Blu’s original chopped brisket sandwich ($7.99) was a perfect second course, with the juices from the tender meat mingling with the peppery, hot homemade barbecue sauce. Having one dry brisket sandwich after another from various other local eateries, this was a rewarding change of pace. Even though my shirt was filthy when I was done, it was worth it.
There was something on the menu that caught my eye from the moment I first glanced at it: the fried brisket
sandwich ($9.49). I saved it for last because I knew from the description that it would probably be the best.
Forget chicken-fried steak sandwiches. Those are for squares. From now on, it’s all about the fried brisket sandwich. Slices of juicy smoked brisket, hand-battered and deep-fried — it’s inventive, it’s original and, above all, it’s a feat of taste engineering. I’ve never had anything like it, and I can’t wait for my next one. Or two.
As for the sides, I sampled the Smoked Haystack ($4.99 for the half order) — crispy French fries, chopped brisket, cowboy beans, jalapeños and lots o’ cheese piled into a bowl. It resembled something close to pure Christian love.
And the okra ($2.49) was fried perfectly — a crispy, golden brown outside with a firm, not slimy, sliver of fresh okra on the inside.
The one true side surprise on the menu, however, was the addition of tabbouleh ($2.49). I never considered this Middle Eastern salad as a barbecue add-on, but it fit just right next to the brisket and potato. Its tart and tangy zestfulness complemented the smoky flavor of the meats to the point where it should be appropriated for all barbecue cookouts from now on.
Blu’s might have been Oklahoma City’s little secret for the past year, but it’s high time that secret gets out. Spread it around, tell your nosy neighbors, write it on the bathroom walls if you have to, and whatever you do, have a fried brisket sandwich.