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Experience Sumptuous Delicacies at “Springs at The Artesian”

justin brotton - Wednesday, April 01, 2015

By Greg Elwell

 

The Artesian Hotel in downtown Sulphur boasts a fine

restaurant to match its other luxuries.


”encrustedIt all starts with the drive.

There’s something magical about the southern Oklahoma sky as the sun refracts through the clouds and illuminates the wide-open canvas in audacious pinks, oranges and deep, dusky reds. There is no camera filter for this, just a painting that unfolds before you through the windshield as Highway 7 leads travelers to Sulphur and the singularly beautiful Artesian Hotel Casino and Spa.

As darkness falls, lights from the hotel suffuse the evening sky with a gentle glow. Following the steps to the main doors, the sturdy brick artifice opens up like a warm embrace until you hear it:

“Welcome to the Artesian.”

Once inside, it’s clear that no expense has been spared to create a relaxed opulence. The lobby is not fussy, but there’s nothing out of place. It is cared for, inviting and gorgeous.

Down the hall and to the right, diners will find Springs at The Artesian, the hotel’s signature dining spot. Reservations are not required but recommended, as the restaurant has become a destination not just for those staying at the hotel, but surrounding cities and towns.

On the night I dined at Springs, there were casual travelers grabbing a quick bite before exploring the hotel, couples enjoying their winnings from the casino, and a long table of happy ladies on a sabbatical from their husbands.

The variety of patrons was refreshing. The polished wood of the cheerfully lit dining room gave the night’s proceedings an air of class, but there was no doubt fun was on the menu. Fun and a whole lot of food.

The first course was a hit. The Shrimp and Avocado Ceviche was presented in a martini glass and looked vibrant and fresh – the shrimp and lime played against one another beautifully. The addition of avocado gives the otherwise light dish a sumptuousness and luxurious feel, while the pineapple and jalapeno awaken the senses with a pinprick of heat that never threatens to become overwhelming.

The Smoked Trout Dip was an effective appetizer, especially for those who enjoy the cool smoothness of cream cheese, which calms the heat of the horseradish and the boldness of the trout. Keeping with the seafood kick, there was nothing but excitement for Capisce’s Famous Calamari, served in a truly unique style. Rather than traditional rounds, the calamari is cut into long, thick strips and coated with Parmesan cheese before being fried. The texture was intoxicating – a firm bite that wasn’t chewy, but felt solid and satisfying. The flavor was marvelous, and the horseradish aioli brought out the subtle sweetness of the squid; served alongside is a fresh Pomodoro sauce that is worth drizzling on everything in sight!

Those looking for a sharable appetizer might prefer the Queso Blanco. As the name implies, this freshly made queso is not the shocking orange of processed cheese. Instead, the creamy paleness of the gooey cheese is studded liberally with flavorful bursts of color – onions, red peppers, green chilies and jalapenos provide crunch and heat to the otherwise mild queso. Spicy sausage adds a richness and depth to the dish, though it’s not too heavy.

And what is queso without house-made tortilla chips, crisp and perfectly seasoned? Add in a bowl of their roasted tomato salsa and it’s a pretty fancy Springs fiesta.

For the kids, the Fried Green Tomato BLT was a fine example with lots of applewood-smoked bacon served up at the perfect intersection of crisp and chewy. The flavor dominated the tender sweetness of the fried green tomatoes, but the toasted pretzel bun was buttery and soft – an inviting bite.

I didn’t get a chance to try it, but several tables seemed utterly delighted by the Monte Cristo, and with good reason. Even from my seat, I could see it was a slab of perfectly golden fried goodness, and the smiles on their faces were better than any review I could give.

Pork chops are a finesse item, and one that every chef should master. Springs’ version is the enormous and impressive double-cut Sun-Dried Tomato Pork Chop. This massive hunk of meat was butterflied and cooked perfectly to provide a delicate flavor that retained a moist, tender texture. The honey-glazed carrots served alongside are very nearly a dessert item, with a sweet crispness often lost when carrots are overcooked.

Where the Smoked Trout Dip was subtle, the Pan-Fried Trout was a joyous celebration of the assertive flavor of fresh fish. Trout is not a mild fish like tilapia or salmon, so this isn’t for the faint of heart. Rather, this is a fish for fishermen and campers, but prepared by expert chefs.

This preparation comes skin-on and features a moist, flavorful flesh. Seasoned to perfection and then drizzled with brown butter sauce, it’s a decadent meal with plenty for your taste buds to savor. Added texture to the flaky fish comes from sweet and crunchy toasted almonds. For a home-style meal, it is served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and classic English peas.

Whatever else the menu provides, in Oklahoma, steaks are the mark of a great meal for many seeking a night out for a special occasion.

Springs offers Angus reserve cuts of beef at a variety of weights to ensure even the heartiest appetites are fulfilled. Ribeyes come in both 18 oz. bone-in and 12 oz. boneless options for those who like a fattier steak. The 6 oz. filet is extremely tender and flavorful in the hands of a skilled chef.

I opted for the 10 oz. sirloin because I’ve found this cut is too often maligned and rarely recognized for its blend of big, beefy flavor and tenderness. At Springs, I was served a medium-rare sirloin that exceeded my high expectations.

Wow! The steak knife found it’s way through the steak like it was a warm stick of butter, and the interior revealed a perfect medium-rare preparation. Each bite fell apart with little effort, melting into a rush of flavor. This steak alone is worthy of a trip.

On the side, I chose the creamy white wine risotto, and I couldn’t have been more pleased. Alone, the risotto was lightly sweet with just a bit of tooth – the mark of a well-done dish. But with the juice of the steak slowly soaking in, it became like a second entrée.

If you’ve only ever known risotto as something Gordon Ramsay screams about on TV, I implore you to try the one on the menu at Springs. You won’t be disappointed.

How does one save room for dessert after such a feast? But if your dessert tummy is still empty, you’ll want to try the Chocolate Ganache Torte. It’s an immense slice of big, creamy chocolate cake with the smooth, rich flavor of ganache, delicately paired with a moist crumb. Surrounded by rosettes of real whipped cream and sitting atop swirls of coconut and chocolate syrups, it’s a beauty to behold and a delight to destroy, forkful by forkful.

I wasn’t able to try the freshly baked chocolate cookies and milk, but only because I forgot to order them in advance. Be sure to place your order at the same time you get your entrée, because the cookies require a 40-minute lead-time. Yes, they’re that fresh!

Adult beverages are available at Springs, if you so choose. And I chose – with the help of a knowledgeable server – to enjoy an Argentinian Malbec from Alamos, in the Uco Valley. I found this wine to be the perfect capper to a truly satisfying dinner, but if you’re more for mixed drinks, Springs offers a fully stocked bar, as well.

Some will retire after a meal like this to a room upstairs, or return to the casino to play a few more games. Others will find themselves back on the road, the warm glow of the Artesian Hotel fading softly in their rearview mirrors.

And as the miles pass on their way to the next destination, their minds may wander as mine did to the comfortable, casually elegant dining room of Springs … to the smiling wait staff and fresh flowers on the tables. And to the glorious repast that will await them next time, just a short drive away in Sulphur, Oklahoma.

WHO WANTS PIZZA?

justin brotton - Thursday, January 01, 2015

By The DOK Staff


It’s no secret – pizza is one of the most popular foods in America. Last November, an Internet article by Jennifer Bui of Thrillist named the best pizzeria in every state. Their Oklahoma favorite was also one of ours, so let’s get right down to business and list some of our go-to places when we just have to have our pizza fix. All of these locations have been featured in Distinctly Oklahoma in the past because they were definitely worth writing about. Since we love them all, we have put them in order of appearance in our magazine.

In September 2012 we even featured our very own pizzas in the Cooking segment – Pizza for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Dessert. We purchased pizza dough from The Wedge Pizzeria, and had a great time with some of our favorite ingredients – pesto, prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes and arugula. For breakfast, we even baked an egg on top, just like Chef Christine Dowd used to do at Trattoria il Centro (Alas, this was one of our favorites that did not weather the construction near the Chesapeake Arena.) Our dessert pizza was a decadent chocolate brownie crust topped with all the makings of a banana split … perfection!


BELLA VISTA, Southside OKC

A mix of Italian and Greek, this casual, family-run eatery serves giant pies and calzones the size of a basketball. One of their most popular pies is the El Greco, followed by the massive Supreme. (DOK December 2009)


SOPHABELLA’S, 76th & N. May

This family-run restaurant was close to our offices, which made it easy to grab a delicious pizza creation for lunch or dinner after work. Their signature Chicago-style pizzas include the Chicago VII, or the Uptown Pepperoni, a stuffed pie that is layered between multiple crusts. They also serve a thin, brick-oven cracker crust. (DOK October 2010)


BENVENUTTI’S RISTORANTE, Norman

Great place to visit on game day or anytime you visit your kids at OU. The rest of their menu is terrific, also. Our pizza was brought out to us on a wooden pizza peel, the thin crust topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella, then piled high with Parma prosciutto, arugula and shaved Parmesan. Bravo! (DOK June 2011)


GABRIELLA’S ITALIAN GRILL & PIZZERIA, near the Entertainment District

This is still one of our favorite eateries, and one of the only places where we can find a fantastic white pizza – Nonna Rose’s White Pie is topped with ricotta cheese, spinach and pancetta. Other choices include the Rat Pack Pie, Leonardo d’Veggie and the hearty Soprano. This is one of the best all-around Italian restaurants in Oklahoma! (DOK October 2012)


HIDEAWAY PIZZA, various locations

This was Thrillist’s pick for the best pizzeria in Oklahoma. The same month, the Tulsa World listed their favorite pizza spots, and Hideaway Pizza was their number 2 choice. They have so many delicious feature pies, and we’ve tried and loved almost every one. Some of our favorites include the Paradise Pie, Maui Magic, the ATW (Around the World), and the Hideaway Special, which features a different topping on each slice, half veggie, and half meat. Don’t miss the pizza contest winners featured on the menu. (DOK March 2013)


JOEY’S PIZZERIA, Film Row

A great lunch spot downtown, and they serve slices of their featured Chicago-style pies for a quick meal. They also have a great white pizza – the Bianca Neve, which is a house favorite of area regulars. This signature white pie is topped with house-made Alfredo sauce, feta and mozzarella, garlic, smoked bacon and baby spinach. Other unusual specialties include the Cajun Acadiana, Cinco de Cheeso, Alfredo di Pollo, Herbivorous Maximus and Under the Tuscan Sun (yes, with an egg in the middle!) (DOK May 2013)


CAFÉ 7, Quail Springs & Downtown OKC

A great spot for a great meal. You’re in control of your own destiny – just fill out a ticket, with choices for Salad, Pasta, Sandwiches or Pizza. Hand it to the cashier, and wait for your food to be brought to you. Everything costs $7! Our favorite pizza is the Garlic, Chicken & Basil; other popular choices include My Big Fat Greek Pizza, Luau and BBQ Chicken. (DOK December 2013)


EMPIRE SLICE HOUSE, Plaza District

Great neighborhood pizzeria, with pizza available by the giant slice. They also make garlic knots and cinnamon dessert knots with the same pizza dough. Genius! Our favorite white pies include the MCA and Doug E. Fresh, with vegetarian choices like The Captain Planet, Fungus Among Us and Evil Empire. Meat lovers can dig into Fat Tony, Rocksteady, Notorious P.I.G. and Teflon Don. (DOK February 2014)


THE WEDGE PIZZERIA, on N Western and Downtown OKC

Try some of their great combinations – including ingredients like meatballs, truffle oil, pinenuts, sage, figs and toasted walnuts. Wood fire oven-baked pizza choices include the Prosciutto E Formaggi, Italian Stallion, Vedge, Truffle-Shuffle and the American Pie. (DOK September 2014)


THE SAUCEE SICILIAN FOOD TRUCK

Our first review of a food truck was a pleasant surprise – brick-oven pizza and other delicacies to rival any good brick-and-mortar Italian restaurant. Takes just two minutes to fully bake in their real wood-fired oven. The Neapolitan-style pizzas all feature mama Nonna’s homemade red sauce; Nonna also makes the Italian meatballs, mozzarella, pizza dough, Italian sausage, pasta, and marinara that takes two full days to cook. Catch them on social media for a real treat! (DOK November 2014) 

TOMMY’S ITALIAN AMERICAN GRILL

justin brotton - Monday, December 01, 2014

By The DOK Staff

 

The original Tommy’s Italian American Grill, in North Park Mall, opened in 1992 and served happy diners for 13 years. Then Tommy transformed the place into Pablano Grill, and eventually took a break. But it seems Tommy couldn’t stay away, and has re-opened his namesake restaurant on West Memorial Road, featuring many of the classic favorites that made the original restaurant such a success.

The DOK Staff recently visited the landmark eatery for lunch, and was immediately struck by the casual yet upscale setting, and the friendly service with which we were greeted. We spoke with General Manager Robert Painter, who has been with the restaurant only during this new incarnation. As to why Tommy came back? Painter says Tommy didn’t feel there was anyone in town offering what he could give. There was a niche to be filled, and he was happy to do just that.

Menus can be found online, with a new lunch menu in the works. Seasonal items change often, so not everything will be listed. Join them for Happy Hour from 3-7 p.m. seven days of the week, with live jazz on Wednesdays from 6-9 and Sundays from 3-6. Sunday Brunch is served from 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m., including frittatas, pecan-crusted French toast, skirt steak tacos, Italian and American omelets, a breakfast sandwich, and traditional breakfast items. Try the Frozen Bellini for a real treat!

C.J. Blakely, bar manager, stocks some beautiful Italian wines, along with serving seasonal beverages. Some of his signature cocktails include a Vanilla Spice Mojito, Pear Sour and Lemon Ginger Fizz.

The restaurant’s centerpiece is the open, exposed wood-fired brick oven, so guests can enjoy a cocktail and watch their pizza being made. Painter wants guests to come and enjoy themselves, for a special occasion or just casual dining. He and Tommy just love to feed people and make them happy.

But let’s talk about the food. Appetizers include the Antipasto Platter, Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, Truffle Pommes Frites, Steamed Mussels, Fried Calamari, Caramel Skirt Steak, Bruschetta, Spicy Meatballs and Shrimp Pancetta Formaggio.

We began our meal with Tommy’s Caesar Salad, a classic that was obviously house-made and delicious. Other choices include the House Salad, Caprese Tomato Salad, Blackened Chicken Caesar, Honey Roasted Pecan & Chicken Salad, and Grilled Vegetable & Spinach Salad. Soups include Lobster Bisque and Chicken Tortilla Soup.

Pasta is our passion, so we decided on the Linguine Con Frutti Di Mare – linguine tossed with shrimp, scallops, clams and mussels sautéed in butter and white wine, and finished with pomodoro sauce. The dish was loaded with giant scallops and shrimp, with plenty of clams and mussels in the delightful pomodoro sauce. Other pasta choices include Tommy’s Original Spaghetti (with your choice of pomodoro, Bolognese meat sauce, tomato basil sauce or spicy meatballs), Pollo Pancetta, Mediterranean Chicken Fettucini, Eggplant parmesan, Capellini Al Gamberetti, Bianco Verde, Tommy’s Original Lasagne, Pollo Greco and Cilantro Pesto Linguine.

The menu also features five sandwiches – Mediterranean Chicken, Muffaletta, Open-faced Grilled Salmon Club, Chicken Parmesan and Tommy’s Signature Burger.

Tommy’s dinner menu includes an 8-oz. hand-cut Creekstone Premium Black Angus filet and a 14-oz. Creekstone Premium Black Angus KC Strip, both served with parmesan risotto and fresh vegetables of the day. Four chicken choices include Parmesan, Picatta, Marsala and Herb-encrusted Tuscan, also served with parmesan risotto and vegetables.

Seafood options include Javier’s Red Snapper, Pecan-Encrusted Filet of Salmon, Ryan’s Signature Salmon and Whole Roasted Branzino – often referred to as European sea bass – herb-encrusted, baked and finished with fresh lemon and extra virgin olive oil.

Wood-fired brick oven pizza looms large on our landscape, so we ordered the Prosciutto – pizza sauce, mozzarella and fontina cheeses, thinly sliced prosciutto di Parma and fresh spinach, with two fresh eggs baked on top, then garnished with oregano and balsamic glaze. The eggs added a creaminess that was tempered by the balsamic glaze – a truly unique pizza experience for The DOK Staff, and definitely worth a return visit!

Other pizza choices include Dick Lee’s Original (features ground beef), My Banker’s Burning Pizza (with spicy ground beef, hot Serrano peppers and crushed red peppers), Florentine (with chicken, goat cheese and fresh spinach), Pepperoni and White Onion, Tommy’s New York Style, Margherita, Veneta (with Italian sausage, artichoke hearts and roasted garlic), BBQ Chicken, Quattro Formaggi and The White Pizza (Alfredo sauce and marinated grilled chicken breast).

We were pleasantly full by this time, but our waiter brought us a slab of Tommy’s signature Italian Gelato Cake – layers of pistachio, chocolate and vanilla gelato with a chocolate wafer crust and frozen buttercream icing. An amazingly light dessert to cap off our delicious meal. Other classic desserts include Brûléed New York-Style Cheesecake, Chocolate Mousse Cake, Gelato and Tiramisu. But, of course, we’re already lining up our return visit, when we plan to try Veronica’s Blackberry Wine Cake (white cake soaked in blackberry wine, topped with whipped cream and Amarino cherries) or Tommy’s Dessert Pizza – their famous pizza crust topped with cinnamon, butter, sugar and chocolate. As if that weren’t enough, they serve it with a bourbon whipped cream dipping sauce … what’s not to love?

Tommy’s Italian American Grill is located at 5516 W. Memorial Road and is open seven days a week at 11 a.m. Sundays they close at 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday they stay open until 11, and the rest of the week they close at 10. It’s been nearly a decade, and we’re definitely glad that Tommy Byrd is back! 

THE SAUCEE SICILIAN Food Truck

justin brotton - Saturday, November 01, 2014

By The DOK Staff

In our constant effort to bring you the best culinary experiences that Oklahoma has to offer, we feature a first for Distinctly Oklahoma magazine – a food truck review. But you know that if we’re sharing it with you, The Saucee Sicilian is truly worth trying!

Ganan Mendez had been in the medical industry for 17 years when the time seemed right to start a food business. After much research, Ganan and his family decided to ride the wave of current popularity enjoyed by food trucks. Although the start-up cost is relatively less than a brick-and-mortar restaurant, theirs would need some hefty modifications. First, they had to remove a whole wall to put in the wood-fired oven, then rebuilt the truck with help from Ganan’s father-in-law, a homebuilder. It’s just a room on wheels, right? The rear axel needed special reinforcement to support the real brick oven, weighing in at about 3,500 pounds and custom made by a third-generation wood-fired oven maker in Dallas – The Bread Stone Oven. Ganan’s wife and a friend painted the truck, which features exposed bricks through crumbling stucco – resembling an Italian restaurant – with names of corporate sponsors, similar to race cars.

This food truck, the largest in the state, also has the largest seating capacity of any food truck – 15-seat wrap-around shaded tables that fold down from the truck, with three satellite TVs so you never have to miss a sporting event.

Welcoming the opportunity to work with his family, Ganan especially enjoys being near his mother, fondly referred to as “Nonna,” every day. Although it’s a lot of work, this is everything Ganan wanted it to be, and he could not be any happier – he gets to be with his family, and they have earned a great following on social media.

But don’t let the name Mendez fool you. His great-grandmother, Lena Costanzo, was born in Santa Ninfa, Sicily in 1903 and emigrated to America with her grandparents in 1912. It is her delicious recipes that are lovingly recreated from scratch every day, and in her honor, they’ve been “Getting Sauced Since 1903.”

A typical Sunday night feast for the Costanzo family could include 20-40 people each week. Lena cooked with love in the Sicilian tradition, and Ganan and his family are continuing that tradition by bringing Lena’s old world recipes to the new world and making their customers happy.

The Saucee Sicilian has been in business about six months, and was the first food truck at the opening of the Bleu Garten, Oklahoma’s first food truck park. They make regular appearances there, so check the schedule at www.bleugarten.com. They also brought their wood-fired oven to the recent Heard on Hurd fest in Edmond.

Everything served by The Saucee Sicilian is made from scratch, including the mozzarella, pizza dough that takes a day to prepare, meatballs and Italian sausage, homemade pasta, and sauces from whole tomatoes that take two full days to cook. Nonna has written all the recipes down, but she won’t tell Ganan all her secrets.

Starters include Focaccia, which is a baked dough that is seasoned with fresh rosemary, sea salt and first press extra virgin olive oil, and arrives puffed up like an air-filled ball. Who said you couldn’t play with your food?

There’s also Nonna’s famous meatballs with marinara – Sauce and Balls. Nonna makes between 500-700 meatballs each week at their commissary, a commercial kitchen. Their food truck doesn’t have room for prepping sauces and rising dough, especially with a temperature of about 118 degrees during the summer. The wood-fired oven itself takes about two and a half hours to reach 850 degrees, and the truck is manned by at least eight people – Ganan’s wife makes the pizzas when she’s not at her “real” job, Ganan cooks them in the brick oven, and Nonna is at the window taking orders, talking to people and telling their story.

The Neapolitan-style pizzas all feature Nonna’s red sauce, and take just two minutes to fully cook in the wood-fired oven. Choices include the Margherita (mozzarella, sea salt, extra virgin olive oil and basil), Syracuse (mozzarella), Catania (mozzarella, pepperoni and basil), Genovese (mozzarella, mushrooms, artichoke, caramelized onion, olive, garlic and basil), Palermo (mozzarella, Nonna’s Italian meatballs, caramelized onion, pesto and basil), Santa Ninfa (mozzarella, prosciutto, artichoke, mushroom, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and basil) and Noto (mozzarella, hot soppressata, Nonna’s Italian meatballs, garlic and basil).

Humidity comes into play when creating their pizza dough, which is a breadier dough that requires just the right amount of water. The elevation between Stillwater and Oklahoma City makes a difference in the humidity, so they must take this into account when traveling to different venues. In the summer, the dough rises even while sitting in the refrigerator inside the hot truck. Reason enough to not try this at home!

They also serve “panuozzi,” sandwich ingredients stuffed in pizza dough and baked in the brick oven, similar to a calzone. Plans are in the works to start serving homemade pasta at least three times a week this winter, with homemade sauces including pesto, red sauce or white sauce.

Their meats – capicola, prosciutto and sopprressata – are sent here by a cousin in New York. A bit pricier, but very authentic.

Finally, their dessert, Buona Vita, is a S’mores calzone – chocolate, marshmallow and powdered sugar on a 10-inch pizza dough, folded over and baked. Cut in half so the melted gooeyness can be fully appreciated and eaten on the run. What a treat!

Since their food is made to order, never anything frozen, be prepared to spend a few extra minutes waiting for your pizza or panuozzi sandwich to bake. But it will be well worth the wait!

In a contest held by “Mobile Cuisine,” the number one food truck publication on the Internet, The Saucee Sicilian was ranked the second-best pizza food truck in the nation, the only truck from Oklahoma to be even nominated by popular vote.

Family was and is the most important nucleus in Sicilian society, and nothing is more important than getting together with the family at the end of the day and enjoying a home-cooked meal. So follow them at www.thesauceesicilian.com, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and mangia! Mangia! Mangia! 





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