Enjoy delicious meals and find great gifts in and around Oklahoma's museums and galleries.
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Visiting Oklahoma's museums and art galleries allows you to feed your soul with fine art and feed your body with fine food. Check out their gift shops and feel the thrill of becoming an art collector of sorts - with a lower price tag.
We start our partaking and purchasing adventure with a light breakfast in the town of Shawnee at what seems an unlikely place - Benedict Street Marketplace - a meat and gourmet market. Outside, a trompe l’oeil mural gives a faux peek at the inside’s Old World charm. Pass the meat case on the large room’s south side, and head north and west, where owners Paula and Chuck Barber keep white tablecloths and fresh flowers on tables arranged around faux windows overlooking painted wildflower-filled landscapes. Paula makes fresh bagels most days, but only a few, so go early. My friend and I loved her cranberry-orange muffin, but rumor has it the triple berry is even better. Fruit smoothies and a range of espresso drinks finish the meal.
Still in Shawnee, we head to the campus of St. Gregory’s University, and arrive at the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art, a small-but-mighty repository of art complete with gift shop. Oklahoma artist Tina Bly weaves textured basket tops and places beads and mosaics onto smooth gourds painted in vibrant colors. Ranging from $75 to $125, they would grace any room, as would Paul Pfrehm’s gorgeous pottery. For personal adornment, check out the gossamer-thin painted silk scarves as well as eye-popping beaded jewelry. Charming small watercolors by Sister Eugenia Brown cost $150. Around Christmas, ArtSpree allows artists to deck the shelves with an even greater abundance of potential gifts.
Given the abundance of Dale Chihuly glass at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, it’s not surprising that a wall of its gift shop displays the artist’s books, cards, shirts, etc. What might surprise you, though, is that you can buy a piece of Chihuly studio glass. Each year’s editions are limited in number and time of availability. Ranging in price from $4,000 to $8,000, pieces on display just outside the shop bridge the gap between museum art and what could be yours. Manager Christen Conger buys thematic items for major shows that grace the museum and also stocks pieces found in shops of the country’s best-known museums.
When you step from the Oklahoma City Museum of Art’s store into the elegant Museum Café for lunch, your nose will get in on the kind of pleasure your eyes have been experiencing. The smells of freshly-baked rolls mingle with the scents of lunch items ranging from juicy upscale hamburgers to grilled Atlantic salmon. Regulars start each meal with the Tuscan tomato soup. I choose organic spring mix salad with Bulgarian feta and a grilled asparagus panini. My friend tries the chicken, mushroom and goat cheese wrap panini. We’re both wowed. If you plan to eat before shopping, do a brunch with quiche or an omelet instead of lunch.
On our way to the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma, we stop at the Jacobson House, just a block away. It’s the sign advertising Chickasaw Nation-owned Bedré Chocolate that pulls us in, but the items for sale keep us there quite a bit longer than the time it takes for a piece of dark chocolate espresso fudge to melt in my mouth. Woven shawls, beaded jewelry, Navajo dolls – the selection today is small, but good, and it changes frequently. If you’re ready to pull out the big bucks, you can even buy an original Oscar Jacobson for somewhere in the $15,000 to $20,000 range.
Like the OKC Museum of Art, the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art is a member of the national Museum Store Association. That provides manager Mary Jane Rutherford with access to gorgeous items found in major museums from New York to L.A. While the addictively fun Buddha Board for water painting is a major seller, so are items like the mismatched folk art socks that come as “a pair with a spare” for kids, pop-up cards, each of which is a small work of engineering and art, storyteller dolls, ties, umbrellas, jewelry . . . Honestly? It’s more an art department store than an art museum store.
After unloading our bags at The Montford Inn and Cottages, we relax briefly before heading to Benvenuti’s Ristorante on Norman’s Main Street. Inside the former Interurban Trolley station, the softly lighted interior glows with the patina of original brick walls and dark wood trim. A great wine selection supports a menu of, among many options, superb pizza with a thin, perfectly charred crust that easily feeds two, as well as more expensive secondi dishes like Chilean Seabass and Colorado Lamb Rack. Of the superb pastas, my fave is the Mushroom Rigatoni drizzled with truffle oil.
I can’t imagine a better-run, more pleasant place to stay than Norman’s Montford Inn and Cottages. From our suite in one of the cottages, to the inn’s rooms, to the beautifully appointed common areas, this is the place to unwind after a day of great food and artful shopping. Antiques – including, my passion, stunning quilts – and gas fireplaces in each room add to the charm. Breakfast is included in your stay and we enjoyed good coffee, a creamy Tonhawa Smoothie, fresh fruit and an egg casserole with grits, corn and tomatoes. Every day’s menu is different, with service from 7-9 a.m. on weekdays and 8-10 a.m. on weekends.
We headed to Durant and decided on lunch at Salita's. The real art in Salita’s is on the plates, which come loaded with a traditional roster of Tex-Mex dishes. Tops on our favorite list is the Fireman’s Special – sliced chicken or beef fajita meat served over rice and covered with creamy queso. Since they opened in 1994, owners and Durant natives Mark and Markita Rawlings have challenged diners to finish Mark’s Grande Special, with one beef, one chicken and one cheese enchilada; one chile relleno, one tamale and one taco served with rice and beans. I don’t know who the namesake is, but Heather’s Spinach Quesadillas were veggie heaven.
From Durant we headed to Ardmore where the Charles B Goddard Center for Visual and Performing Arts provides food and wine for the evening openings of new shows, but also an occasional speaking series called Gallery Gourmet. Started by former director Mort Hamilton, these events provide the opportunity to take in a lunchtime lecture.
In the adjacent studio, artists will sell you the art right off their walls and shelves. Prices range from $50 for small pots to several hundred dollars for paintings. On this trip we found Director Maria Parrot offering a special group of Cuban paintings for sale from artists in the Oriente region. Vibrant, political and cool, they’re mostly in the four-figure range. Ask to see them – they’re stored.
Also in Ardmore and visible from I-35, Two Frogs Grill is a destination restaurant for many in the region and a must-stop for a lot of folks traveling to and from Dallas. Known for its hand-cut steaks, the venue has an eclectic menu ranging from Cajun to country and hosts a variety of live music events. A band called Oreo Blue even wrote a song titled Two Frogs Boogie, which you can hear on the restaurant’s website. No matter what you eat, leave room for the storied hot apple dumpling with vanilla ice cream.