Eat Like a Cowboy
All that riding and roping can make would-be cowboys work up an appetite as big as a western Oklahoma sunset. Here’s the inside scoop on where to get your fill.
Cowboy food boils down to one major food group: beef. That is, after all, the whole point of raising cattle – they’re what’s for dinner, as the slogan goes. Whether it’s smoked brisket, beef stew, a 21-ounce ribeye grilled medium-rare or a stick of jerky you can chew on until, well, the cows come home, cowboy food is all about beef – with some beans and a corn dodger or two.
Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, Oklahoma City
If the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is the mecca of Western art and history, Cattlemen’s Steakhouse is its culinary cousin. The restaurant opened in 1910 and remains in Stockyard City, although it has changed owners several times. The most colorful of those ownership changes was in 1945, when Gene Wade won it from Hank Fry with a roll of the dice. There’s no gambling on the Cattlemen’s menu: steaks are hand-cut from corn-fed, aged beef, holding to a secret house recipe, and cooked over a hot charcoal flame. And there’s nothing pretentious about Cattlemen’s. It just serves up about the best steak you’ve ever tasted. The bar and the lamb fries are pretty fine too.
Jigg’s Smokehouse, Clinton
Let me first say that I grew up in California, where barbecue is a verb. It’s a noun in Oklahoma, and the best barbecue I’ve ever eaten was at Jigg’s in Clinton. It’s the good kind of hole-in-the-wall, where the third generation of Klaassens is making huge sandwiches on five-inch buns. There are only seven items on the menu, and they’re all good, but the signature chopped beef is superb, especially with a little of the homemade chow chow. Jigg’s isn’t about fancy – food is served on a piece of paper with plastic utensils – but I’d drive halfway across the state to eat there.
Cowboy food boils down to one major food group: beef.
Murphy’s Steak House, Bartlesville
Add to the list of colorful local eateries this better-come-hungry restaurant known for its hot hamburger. Don’t worry – there’s more to it than you think. I was there just before lunchtime on a Sunday and waited in the parking lot until the doors opened at 11:00 a.m. No sooner was I seated than Murphy’s red vinyl booths and counter stools were filled with Bartlesville locals who know a good thing. The hot hamburger is a big ol’ open-face burger on white bread hiding under a mountain of fries, all of it drowning in palate-blistering brown gravy.
Clanton’s Cafe, Vinita
The Clanton clan has been making chicken fried steak in Vinita since 1927, and you won’t find much better than at Clanton's Cafe. Order one, and you’ll know you’ve been fed. The steak is hand-pressed, grilled and smothered in creamy white gravy. They claim the recipe hasn’t really changed since Sweet Tater Clanton started the business as The Busy Bee. The mashed potatoes are pretty good, too, and if you’re adventurous you can try the calf fries.
Mahylon’s Bar-B-Q, Muskogee
The secret at Mahylon’s is the cooker. In the kitchen, they have two huge smokers that were custom-built and get 100 percent of their heat from genuine hickory. I was there on a Saturday afternoon and tried a little of everything on the menu. It was all darn fine barbecue, but I was especially impressed with the pork ribs. The Muskogee restaurant is impressively clean, and while a barbecue restaurant (it would be misleading to call Mahylon’s a “joint”) isn’t a place to go looking for dessert, the cobblers and homemade brownie sundae are worth saving room for.
Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill, Oklahoma City
It’s part saloon, part dance hall and part restaurant, and definitely all cowboy. The country music star opened Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill in the Bricktown Entertainment District, Oklahoma City’s nightlife hotspot. You can sample everything from ribs to chicken fried steak or get anything from a ten-ounce center-cut sirloin to a 20-ounce bone-in ribeye. The smoked prime rib is a house specialty, starting at eight ounces and going up to whatever your stomach can hold. Oh, and calf fries, of course.