Uptown, Down South

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It isn’t the prettiest stretch of road in Oklahoma City, but it’s arguable that Northwest 23rd Street surrounding Hudson is on the verge of a much-needed restoration. Nestled a few short steps back from this major thoroughfare is a little culinary stronghold with a deep-rooted history – a testament to longevity in an area that all too often sees businesses come and go in the blink of an eye.

Cheever’s Café was, in a way, founded as early as Oklahoma itself. Oklahoma Belle Cunningham, purportedly the first baby born in the state, was a sometime-florist when she and husband L.L. Cheever moved into the restaurant’s Hudson location, then her family home. A series of renovations followed, and Cheever’s Flowers served as a flower shop and residence for three generations. After a brief stint as a French Cajun restaurant, the location was purchased by Heather and Keith Paul in 2000 and found its new voice as a purveyor of southwestern contemporary comfort food.

The Cheever family’s 20-foot flower case, still intact, now houses a large selection of wine and desserts and divides the front dining area, which has been enhanced by the addition of a full bar. The restaurant is a little bit flower shop, a little bit big-city food scene and a little bit Art Deco. It’s casual but romantic, suitable for young and old, elegant but not at all stuffy.

Distinctive ambiance aside, the restaurant’s primary attraction is certainly its menu, helmed by Cheever’s executive chef Brian McGrew and Good Egg Dining Group executive chef Robert Black. Offering smart upgrades to familiar recipes, general manager Henri Bailey says around half of the plates today are the same as they were when the restaurant first opened its doors.

These homestyle favorites include the restaurant’s signature dish: Cheever’s Chicken Fried Steak. This daunting portion of crispy, fried beef comes with garlic red skinned mashed potatoes and is smothered in a flavorful, rich jalapeno cream gravy. Another dinner favorite is the tortilla crusted Alaskan halibut, served with a spicy shrimp risotto, which Bailey names as a staff favorite as well.

Cheever’s also offers a lighter lunch menu, rotating specials and a Sunday brunch, where one can enjoy a mimosa with chicken and waffles or a cup of coffee with the opulent masa vallo con huevos, poached eggs atop shrimp risotto.

No matter the menu selection, be prepared for hearty portions, consistently top-notch and professional service and a memorable dining experience unlike what can be found anywhere else in Oklahoma City. Bailey, who first worked for Cheever’s as a waiter shortly after it opened its doors, is confident in the restaurant’s unique position in the greater city scheme, even as new eateries pop up, literally, to the left and right.

“One of our biggest motivations is to keep everything as consistent as possible, but we’re doing subtle things to up our par. We’ve changed our plates and silverware. We’re trying to increase our staff’s menu knowledge and our wine and cocktail knowledge,” Bailey says.

To put it succinctly, “We’re trying to sharpen our edge versus change our weapon,” he says. 2409 N. Hudson Ave., Oklahoma City. www.cheeverscafe.com

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