Dining on the Mother Road

The roast beef at Maxxwell's is cooked fresh daily and served with potatoes, vegetables and au jus. Photo by Brandon Scott.

 

It was a fine old hotel in its day, and its Spanish Colonial tile-roofed towers were a welcome and long-remembered sight to weary travelers coming into Tulsa along Route 66. But the Casa Loma was in danger. “No way it can be restored,” said one man who had toured the rundown interior. “The upper floor apartments have been vacant for years, and the ground floor tenants have moved out one by one,” wrote another. It’s “in serious danger of being abandoned or torn down.” And then a miracle happened. A group of developers arrived on the scene, and a few years later, the derelict structure was renovated and reopened as the Campbell Hotel.

Enter the Campbell today, and you are indeed cosseted in luxury, with decor that looks like what you’d imagine to have found when the hotel first opened in 1927: overstuffed leather armchairs grouped around an elaborately carved marble fireplace. But head to the eastern end of the building, beneath a huge, vaguely Deco-styled neon sign that shouts “Maxxwell’s” in tall, glaring letters, and you’ll find something totally different. Not the sort of diner that once lined 66 – which Steinbeck described as “a screen door, a long bar, stools, and a foot rail” – but a bright, high-ceilinged space: stark, spare and modern. Crystal chandeliers, an elaborately embossed tin ceiling and row after row of framed photos of Tulsa in its salad days all hint at the building’s storied past. (Indeed, when the hotel opened, this space was Betty Brown’s Kitchen, which might have had more than a passing resemblance to those Steinbeck diners.)

If you’ve come just before the dinner rush, you might see manager Sean Savage, who resembles the sort of lean, lanky weathered-face cowboy you might encounter farther west on 66, stacking glasses or pouring Maxxwell’s handmade cocktails at the long, wood-trimmed bar. Savage isn’t the kind of fellow to sit back and watch others work. And in fact, everyone is hard at work. “We make 90 percent of our items from scratch,” says Savage, including salad dressing, sauces, soups, burger buns and apple pies. Savage walks through the bright, spanking-new kitchen. One chef is stirring the mixture that will be transformed, according to the menu, into “Just-like-Mom-made” meatloaf. Another has just pulled from the oven a huge turkey straight out of a Norman Rockwell illustration. It will be used to make hot turkey melt sandwiches. Savage opens another oven, and appetizing smells waft out. Inside is a juicy rib roast. Maxxwell’s makes roast every day to be cut into huge slices and served with mashed potatoes and au jus gravy. The dishes at Maxxwell’s evoke old memories and satisfy primal cravings. “Gourmet comfort food,” says Savage.

There’s a lot of talent behind those seemingly simple recipes. Two of the chefs graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, which Julia Child called the Harvard of cooking schools, and two others hail from Platt. The head chef, Bethany Taylor, doesn’t boast a culinary degree. But, says Savage, she’s got experience. Indeed, she does. Before coming to Maxxwell’s, Taylor worked alongside one of Tulsa’s most talented chefs, Marcus Vause, at Tavolo. All this talent makes the menu shine. In addition to the delicious roast beef and meatloaf, you can find Smoky Mac ‘N Cheese made with smoked sausage and hatch chiles; shrimp pasta, beer-battered cod, with the batter done just right; and a full range of burgers and hot and cold sandwiches. Come early, and there’s a full breakfast menu of steak and eggs, flapjacks and omelets. And whenever you go you can end your meal with the quintessential American comfort food: homemade apple pie. 2636 E. 11th St., Tulsa. 918.748.5550