A Riverfront Gem
A restaurateur sees his dream of a casual, upscale grill on the shore of the Arkansas River come to life.
“I had this hand-made in Mexico,” says Jimmy Blacketer, pointing to an exquisitely veneered wooden podium. It’s a few days before opening at Waterfront Grill and he’s excited.
“And over here, the wine rack”– he shows off a tall, elegant vitrine – “the necks are lined with leather to protect the bottles.”
He’s planned every detail, from the umbrellas on the huge outdoor deck, designed to weather an 85 mile-per-hour gale, to the elaborately molded dishes designed to serve just one appetizer, Oysters St. Charles.
But Blacketer despises pretension.
“We want a guy to come straight off the golf course, grab a burger at the bar and feel welcome. And we want a couple dressed up for Saturday night to come for a romantic dinner, and not feel out of place.
“Restaurants are in my blood,” he says while helping workers install the pipes feeding a vast waterfall on the east side of the building.
He was born to the business. His father is Jim Blacketer, who has owned almost a hundred restaurants in his career, and the younger Blacketer, now 43, started working at 15. He soon went off on his own.
He bussed tables, managed a Chili’s and later ran the Tulsa outposts of his father’s Atomic Burritos chain. Then came the wildly popular Los Cabos on the Riverwalk in Jenks. He teamed with his father to create “an atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re on vacation.”
Just south of Los Cabos was the only privately owned piece of vacant land on the river. When it came up for sale, the Blacketers grabbed the chance. After $5.5 million in building costs, Waterfront Grill was set to open. Meanwhile, Blacketer toured the country, stopping in restaurants coast to coast. He took notes. He made contacts. He took Rob Lowe’s personal chef back from the coast to prepare California-style sushi. (The Bonzai Roll, the chef’s own creation, has spicy tuna, jalapenos and avocado, topped with warm eel.) He got a supply contract for steaks from famed Allen Bros. in Chicago. One bite of those steaks and you’ll know they are USDA Prime. Bread comes fresh from a nearby artisan baker, Farrell’s. With sushi, a wide variety of sandwiches, inventive salads, juicy burgers and flatbread pizzas as well as more elaborate appetizers and entrees such as the artfully constructed Crab, Avocado & Mango Stack, there’s something to please every palate.
A few days before opening night, there’s a preview party at Waterfront Grill. It’s a dress rehearsal for the staff. Attentive yet unobtrusive, they make sure the diners feel cosseted and welcome. At the long bar, set beside a wall of glass overlooking the river, guests order Stag’s Leap merlot by the glass and locally-brewed Mustang Ale. The bar is packed and clamorous, but beneath a ceiling of intricately woven mahogany strips, the dining area, though full, is spacious and calm. One wall is a counter overlooking the kitchen. It has six separate stations where a bevy of chefs work with rapid, trained precision. Steaks sizzle on the wood-burning grill. Blacketer stands at the counter, pointing, gesturing, and calling out orders. He feels like the father of a newborn baby: nervous, anxious and, with good reason, proud.
120 Aquarium Drive, Jenks. 918.518.6300. www.waterfrontgrilljenks.com