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By Melyn Johnson
It often seems that Oklahomans consider food to be one of the most important parts of a trip. So, finding an exceptional restaurant with a local flavor is always important to the complete travel experience. Easterners shouldn’t leave Oklahoma without having a chicken fried steak. That’s Oklahoma. But there’s more to our state than chicken fried steak.
Recently I’ve gotten on a kick to try out Soul Food restaurants. The term “soul food” didn’t become popular until the 1960s and is used to define traditional African-American foods. Soul food served today really isn’t all that different from traditional southern food, or “comfort” food.
It is a fact that Oklahoma has some exceptional Soul Food restaurants. I can hardly move on to the next paragraph without mentioning McCormick’s Grill, formerly called Pookey’s, in Boley. Boley, located between Henryetta and Oklahoma City on Highway 62 (just a few miles north of I-40), is one of Oklahoma’s historical all-Black towns. McCormick’s Grill sits on Highway 62 where you turn to go onto Boley’s Main Street. It has sat there and served the people of the area delicious food for many years. The special one afternoon was pork chops, collard greens, and yams. The friendly people in the quaint café, combined with the food, made for a wonderful culinary adventure.
Just northeast of Boley in Okmulgee is Massey’s Barbecue, located on Highway 62 / 75. It’s nothing fancy, but the ribs are something you want to go and eat again. There isn’t any wasted time on ambiance; it’s all about the food at Massey’s. And it works.
Traveling on east to Muskogee, Smokehouse Bob’s BBQ takes pride on the fact that they still make their barbecue the old way with hickory wood (and some others). If you want to combine your Soul Food experience with meeting an interesting character, go to Bob’s. Bob has a huge garden and grows his own veggies and melons next to the restaurant at 1100 N 11th. You can tell the difference. The fun time to try out Bob’s is in February during Black History Month when Bob has a small buffet of old traditional soul food. You can have chicken and dumplings, try pigs feet or neck bone (surprisingly good) collard greens, or maybe even some gumbo. Then you can always finish off with a sweet potato pie.
Oklahoma City has several places you won’t want to miss. As seen on Drive-in’s, Diners and Dives, Mamma E’s is an educational experience in itself. First, the food is home-made and better than Grandma’s, second the small restaurant sitting off 36th Street between Kelly and Martin Luther King is cozy and welcoming. Take an appetite and order the Soul Food Daily Special. You might even consider taking a friend and sharing the plate.
I don’t know if they consider themselves a Soul Food restaurant, but southern cooking at its best is at Magnolia’s Place in Duncan. This cozy little restaurant sits off and isn’t easy to spot, but it is worth driving around the block until you find it at 808 W Walnut. Chef Maggie puts together some foods that live long in your memory and you’ll start looking for a reason to go back to Duncan at lunchtime.
A good hometown restaurant is always worth a few miles off the beaten path. These are some excellent soul food choices, but don’t forget to check out the Integris’ Discover Oklahoma Destination Dining Guide too. Order a free copy by calling 800-652-6552 or go online to www.TravelOK.com.