Cattlemen's Steakhouse, 1309 S Agnew Ave., is no stranger to V.I.P. patrons. Once you host the president of the United States, everything else is gravy. (And no, it doesn't depend on the president — it's a huge deal regardless of how you vote.)
So, when Charles Barkley came by for lunch last Friday, Cattlemen's was primed to host the ex-NBA star turned TNT basketball analyst.
But the unsuspecting lunch crowd was not.
At high noon, the back dining room was full as usual and rumbling with conversation du jour. Enter the very tall, very recognizable round mound of rebound turned lean, mean talking machine.
The room momentarily turned mute as Barkley, wearing white shorts and a blue golf shirt, appeared. The rumble returned with renewed vigor as patrons dropped the scattered subjects of conversation from before to discuss the ultra-recognizable, 6-foot-4 conversation piece standing before them.
Barkley went straight to the table prepared for him and started directing his entourage, which included Oklahoman sports columnist Jenni Carlson and ex-NBA and Oklahoma State University basketball star turned up-and-coming artist Desmond Mason.
A TNT camera crew documenting Barkley's day tour of Oklahoma City followed. During lunch, a videographer and a sound guy hovered over Charles and Jenni as the interview commenced. At one point, the sound guy held his boom mike with one hand and did his best to stuff a burger down with the other.
Amid Charles handlers was a dietitian, who talked him through the menu and helped him order something that wouldn't be too damaging to his high-profile affair with Weight Watchers. He started with steak soup, a lunch steak and baked potato. No dessert.
The only bad news was Sir Charles ordered his steak well-done. He turned to his dietitian, who obviously had properly ordered hers mid-rare, and said, “People are supposed to bleed if you cut them, not your food.”
OK, so he'll never make a food critic. But his future as a politician might be brighter. Regardless of where he stands on the issues, Barkley charmed the room. He shook hands, shared hugs, posed for pictures and even held a baby and exchanged high-fives to the delight of the room, which drew one of those big ol' baby smiles that melts the heart like a Cattlemen's Blue Ribbon steak melts in your mouth. He delighted in the energy of co-owner David Egan's grandson, Alei, eventually picking him up to pose for a picture.
Eventually, I got a chance to chat with Chuck for a few minutes. He told me he'd had a great lunch: loved the steak soup, the steak, the potato.
“Everything was great,” he said.
He said he'd dined at Mahogany the night before and had a terrific time, swapping stories with a group that included Barry Switzer, Keith Jackson — who apparently gave Chuck an Indian headdress — and Billy Sims.
Based on Chuck's theory of bleeding food, it occurred to me he'd not only ruined a perfectly delicious lunch steak — I had one cooked at the proper mid-rare and it was tender and juicy — and probably a pristine cut of prime beef the night before.
He probably deserved some candid analysis of turrible dining acumen, but that's not part of the hospitality business. Cattlemen's and Mahogany both did what they do best: please their diners.
While I wasn't bound by the unwritten rules of hospitality, I opted to do something Chuck never does: hold my tongue. I wish I could say it was courtesy, but it probably had to do with him being 6-foot-4 and way more than capable of running me down thanks to his recent physical makeover.
Cattlemen's and Mahogany did their jobs, and so did Weight Watchers.
People are supposed to bleed if you cut them, not your food.”