There will soon be a new restaurant on the scene in OKC, and the most exciting thing about it is that it won’t be anything new. 

click to enlarge Russ Johnson and Jonathon Stranger (Mark Hancock)
  • Mark Hancock
  • Russ Johnson and Jonathon Stranger

There will soon be a new restaurant on the scene in OKC, and the most exciting thing about it is that it won’t be anything new. In fact, Jonathon Stranger and Russ Johnson, the creative dynamos behind the wildly (and some might say improbably) successful Ludivine restaurant are having you over for a family get-together at their new joint, The R&J Lounge and Supper Club, in the alley in the rear at 320-B NW 10th St. They are putting the finishing touches on the tiny space now and plan to open Sept. 26.

“That’s the thing about it: it’s very classic and very sentimental, but it’s also fun because I think those family gatherings there was lots of drinking, and they were a good time,” Stranger said.

“That’s what it’s going to be like, your big family get-togethers, drinking and eating cocktail weenies,” Johnson added.

The two have a long and healthy relationship with food. But what might surprise is that they aren’t leading with innovative, challenging cuisine. They aren’t re-imagining dishes. The words artisanal and fusion won’t cross their lips. For The R&J Lounge and Supper Club, the brains that inspired Oklahoma City diners to try lamb burgers and bone marrow are leading with their hearts.

There was talk of “a dive bar with really great food,” but it was an idea at best. Then friend and local developer Chip Fudge had a space that he wanted them to see.

“We looked at it and just kind of gravitated towards it. The space just kind of determined what it wanted to be,” said Johnson.

One afternoon while planning for the week at Ludivine, Johnson and Stranger sat down to talk about the journey from that afternoon to R&J. It’s a short walk to Ludivine, but conceptually, it couldn’t be further away.

“It just reminded us of kind of cool, older places around here. Wilshire Club and HiLo [Club] and Junior’s come to mind: small, low-ceilinged, cozy spaces. You could see that it would develop a lot of character,” Johnson said.

While it will be near impossible to avoid discussion of R&J and how it resembles Ludivine, the two eateries are linked at the intersection of Stranger and Johnson’s love of good food.

click to enlarge Russ Johnson, left, with Jonathon Stranger with the front door of the R&J (Mark Hancock)
  • Mark Hancock
  • Russ Johnson, left, with Jonathon Stranger with the front door of the R&J

Flavors of home

Between talking about casseroles and cocktail weenies, both of which are on the menu, Stranger paused.

“This” — he gestured around Ludivine — “is the food I want to cook. That” — he pointed out the door — “is the food I want to eat. Basically, it’s traditional food from the 1950s and ’60s, really driven out of family recipe boxes. I mean, Russ’ mom has one, my grandma had one. The food here [Ludivine] is the creative, the artistic; the food over there is food that makes you feel good.”

The food at R&J won’t be modern re-imaginings or updated classics. It will be mid-century recipes made with mid-century ingredients.

“There’s this stroganoff that we’re going to have on our menu, and it’s the recipe off of these R.F. Kluski pre-made noodles,” Johnson said. “You used Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup and ground beef, and [Mom] would put it in thermoses when we would go sledding. I love stroganoff and over the years have tried to change it up and make it a little more legit — instead of the can of soup, I’d use a mushroom béchamel, and instead of canned mushrooms, I’d use fresh — and it’s never, ever as good. So, that’s the one we’re doing at this place. We’re just not messing with it.”

In their efforts to bypass gimmicky, or as Stranger calls it, “theme-y,” their research found them in some unexpected places.

“My brother-in-law is in charge of the menus in the rare book collection,” Stranger said. “There was this one that was so cool. This guy always took his daughters out once a week [to] dinner and a show, and he wrote all these notes: what they ate, what they saw, their whole menu. When he passed, [the family] gave the entire collection to the library.”

Details like these let Stranger and Johnson know they had the appropriate blend of sentimentalism and authenticity. They were both pleasantly surprised to find an emotional component to every aspect of building their new venture.

Stranger pointed out that the phrase comfort food has been conspicuously avoided.

“I think that’s the thing with the saying ‘comfort food.’ This takes it out of the realm of comfort food and brings it to the ‘sentimental food,’ if that’s a genre,” he said.

“With a kick-ass bar,” Johnson chimed in.

click to enlarge The R&J Lounge's indoor/outdoor fireplace and patio (Mark Hancock)
  • Mark Hancock
  • The R&J Lounge's indoor/outdoor fireplace and patio

Print headline: Comfort, with relish; From the contents of family recipe boxes and the minds of Russ Johnson and Jonathon Stranger, The R&J Lounge and Supper Club is coming to Midtown.

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