There she is: A tiny, 3-year-old girl perched on a stepladder watching her grandma knead the dough for biscuits. Or, again at 3, mashing fruit to make jelly. Or sitting down to a family dinner where every ingredient, from corn to steak to greens, was harvested hours before from the family ranch or garden.
“All my childhood memories center on the kitchen,” says Hope Egan.
It’s many years later and Hope, after 26 years in the restaurant business, is about to open one of her own. After a day spent supervising workers putting the finishing touches on the ruddy brick walls of the 100-year-old building that will house her restaurant, Egan, with her own child, a golden-haired girl of 7, in tow, is grabbing a quick meal at a nearby restaurant.
“I had no idea how special it was,” Egan muses, “the way my family cooked meals. I’m a big supporter of the slow food movement, but for them, long before the term was invented, slow food was a way of life. I wish I’d paid more attention to the way my grandma pickled okra. I’d be making it for the restaurant today.”
A meal at Tallgrass Prairie Table is as close as you can come to dinner at the family farm. “You’ll know where your food comes from,” says Egan.
The chickens come from Living Kitchen Farm near Depew; the pigs are Berkshires, a breed from England, and are raised at a nearby farm. The beef will come from Z7 Bar Ranch, a sprawling spread set in the verdant, rolling hills of Osage County.
“Oklahoma,” Egan enthuses, “has such a wealth of lamb, beef, chicken, goat, duck – and we can get it.”
The wood-fire grill has a spit long enough to roast an entire animal, and in fact, the restaurant will offer a snout to tail tasting menu. The entire menu will change often.
“That’s how we can stay local, by conforming our menu to what local farmers have to offer. Our goal is to be 80 percent local,” says Michelle Donaldson, “and that’s not easy to do.”
Alert, mercurial and a genius in the kitchen, Michelle Donaldson, now sitting across from Egan’s daughter, is the chef at Tallgrass.
A Cordon Bleu graduate, Donaldson has also done stellar work in Tulsa at Polo Grill, Lava and SMOKE. She too ate childhood dinners fresh from the family farm, but her mother was Belgian and imparted a love of French cuisine.
“Our cooking style is farm-to-table Modern American,” she says. “My favorite dish is the beef cheek ravioli with smoked pig’s feet jus,” she says. “But I also love the spicy hot fried chicken with Thai red curry gravy and chili-lime slaw.”
“We’re locally sourced but globally inspired,” Egan chimes in.
Did you like the food, they ask Egan’s daughter? She’s shy, and she hugs her mom. But it’s obvious that she’s already a sophisticated diner. The quick work break is finished now, and Egan and daughter walk back to the Tallgrass building to check on workers. Her whole day, it seems, is work.
“I’m an avid reader,” she says, “but I haven’t had time to look at a single book this past year.” She gazes with approval at the glowing 16-foot pine ceilings, at the large dining room, gleaming with mellow, reclaimed wood from antique barns that will house both farmhouse-style tables and more formal banquettes set with starched white linen. Is she nervous about the opening? Excited? What does she feel?
“I feel gratitude,” she says. “It’s not everybody who gets to live their dream.”
313 E. Second St., Tulsa. 918.933.4499