This is Don Elliotts comeback tour. Usually reserved for bands that got angry at each other and stopped talking until they ran out of money to fuel their private jets, this comeback performance wont cost $85 just to leave a bland taste in your mouth.
Instead, Elliott is the man who brought crowd-pleasing hits like Outback Steakhouse and Chilis to Oklahoma. But that wasnt his dream.
I never wanted to be the corporate guy, he said. I dont want that to be my legacy.
Which might explain what hes doing at Five Star Grille, 1920 S. Meridian Ave.
Visitors will be forgiven for thinking theyve stepped into a new chain restaurant, though this is its only location. Yes, the menu design is slick and to-the-point. Yes, the dining room is clean. Yes, the kitchen is open. Yes, the wait staff is eager to please and knowledgeable about the food.
And its the food that sets it apart.
Comfort cuisineThe burgers are made with fresh Oklahoma beef a fact proudly proclaimed on the menu because competition for hamburger dollars in OKC is fierce. Luckily, Five Star Grille has a seasoned chef in the kitchen who does the seasoning with his own proprietary blend. A Hobart native, executive chef Jon Pope trained at the famous Le Cordon Bleu culinary arts school, and it shows in the way he elevates comfort foods from common to unconventional.
Stacked on a fresh, locally made La Baguette bun, The Allman Brothers ($7.25) is Elliotts favorite burger. Cooked to order, it comes topped with sautéed mushrooms, onions, bacon and Swiss cheese.
If a mushroom-Swiss burger sounds ordinary, thats because you havent tried this one. The mushrooms arent fresh from a can or shoved on raw. Instead, theyve been cooked to a magical tenderness, nearly becoming one with the ground rib eye patty. The result is an explosion of the beefy, umami flavor that makes hamburgers so appealing.
Given Elliotts love of The Allman Brothers Band, which he met and befriended in 1992, its little wonder he named his favorite dish after it. Its influence is also on the walls, as the decor is largely the work of Kirk West, a photographer who also was The Allman Brothers Bands tour manager. Gorgeous, giant, black-and-white photos cover a 40-year history of American rock n roll.
The menu is as much an ode to music as it is to food. The Green-Eyed Lady Cheese Fries ($7.99) are enough to feed a band and maybe a little more. Fresh-cut fries are doused in a creamy queso blanco sauce and striped with roasted poblano peppers with a dollop of sour cream and chopped green onions on top. Its messy, but its good messy.
If that doesnt slake your hunger, ask for the (off-menu) brisket nachos. Rather than tortilla chips, this dish uses fresh potato chips, roasted jalapeños, queso blanco and a heap of slow-cooked brisket.
Elliott was especially proud of the restaurants salads, which caught the eye of the large construction worker contingent in the dining room.
One guy got a salad, and the others just looked at it, he said. The next time, they all got salads.
Thats not surprising given the flavorful concoction that makes up Heard It Through The Grapevine ($8.99), a giant pile of mixed greens, carrots, bell peppers, raisins, sun-dried tomatoes, feta and a mango vinaigrette. For $4 extra, the kitchen lays a beautiful, peppery, pan-seared tuna filet on top.
For the Classic Philly ($8.99), Elliott and Pope went to Hobbys Hoagies for inspiration. As they chowed down on their competitions sandwich, replete with a crushed cherry pepper sauce, Elliott asked Pope, Can you make one better?
The proof is in the bun, where a mélange of seasoned, shaved rib eye and caramelized onions mixes with queso blanco and the chefs own hot pepper relish.
No item on the menu tops $10, though a few skirt close at $9.99. The reason is one Elliott learned in his corporate days.
You dont want to become a special occasion restaurant, he said. I want a place with great food where you can afford to bring your family for dinner without breaking the bank.
Margins are thinner that way, but hes confident that good food at reasonable prices will keep customers coming back.
And if that doesnt do it, he believes that live music on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and a full bar with local beers will.
On this comeback tour, Elliott is happy to wade into the crowd. Its not uncommon to see him in the dining room, shaking hands and making sure the food is up to customers expectations.
With the menu rocking and the audience pouring in, this isnt Elliotts encore. In fact, it might just end up being his greatest hit.
Print headline: Star power, The owners personal relationship with The Allman Brothers Band inspires the menu and decor of his rock n roll-themed restaurant.