It’s 4 p.m. In an hour, Stonehorse Café, wildly popular since the day it opened more than a decade ago, will be packed. In the spare yet elegant gray-walled dining room, waitresses scurry about setting up tables. In the kitchen, four sous-chefs, moving like veteran troupers performed a well choreographed dance routine, stir, pound, cut and chop. Next door, in the bakery, an impossibly cramped little room jammed with ovens, racks, mixing bowls – a situation that expansion plans will soon change – is Tim Inman, the owner, chef and driving force behind it all. With a deft and graceful hand, he whisks a creamy, fragrant liquid that will soon become the filling for a key lime pie. Hostesses rush in with last-minute questions; his executive chef squeezes in to go over that night’s menu and Inman never stops stirring. There’s a boyish little smile on his face; he’s having fun.
“The day it stops being fun,” says Inman, “is the day I’ll find something else to do. Why not be happy?” he adds. “I’ve got everything I’ve dreamed of.”
It took hard work to grab those dreams. He tries, he says, to be a better chef each day. Most top chefs don’t bother themselves with dessert; they hire a pastry chef for that. Inman, though, wants to do everything. A few years ago, he spent six months in a Chicago culinary school, learning the fine art of desserts and baking. Most restaurants buy their bread; at Stonehorse it all comes out of the tiny room where Inman is making that key lime pie. Within a year, though, this will change. Inman has acquired a warehouse a mile north on Utica that will hold a vastly expanded bakery and butchery, both devoted to preparing food for the restaurant and its adjacent retail market.
Creative, innovative, the menu changes daily. Its rich flamboyant mix of styles is impossible to pin down.
“It’s American food,” says Inman, “with classic technique, and that means French, because France is where it all began. I like French technique because it means high standards. I get all my workers to buy into those high standards; if they don’t, the restaurant will fail.”
High standards mean vegetables fresh from Bixby and north Texas farms, USDA Prime beef from Chicago, only the best. They mean complex, carefully designed dishes such as the pistachio crusted halibut, which appears on nearly every evening menu. It’s served on a bed of shrimp, leeks and tomatoes and surrounded by a thin, broth-like sauce redolent with flavor, the color of lobster bisque with flecks of cream. Those tiny dots of cream, Inman explains, make it cling to the palate and saturate the taste buds, yielding a rich intense taste without a huge infusion of fat. Lunch is a special treat. Unlike almost anywhere else in Tulsa, the lunch menu features entrees as complex and sophisticated as dinnertime, but at much gentler prices.
Next to the restaurant is a magic little shop called Stonehorse Market. Step through the little wooden door and go back 50 years. White-smocked clerks proudly stand behind gleaming cases loaded with two-inch thick juicy pork chops, plump six-pound chickens rubbed with spices ready for the oven, huge shrimp, scallops, lamb. Cases and cases full of delights: layered terrines of creamy cheese and lox begging to be spread on crackers, pillowy quiches (just heat and eat), slab bacon as succulent as country ham, homemade ice cream, huge crusty bread hot from the oven. All this will soon be improved and expanded, though it’s hard to imagine how they can improve upon perfection.