KREBS — Halfway through a plate of perfectly al dente pasta mixed with tomato sauce at Pete's Place, Sam Lovera couldn't hold back any longer.
“Man, I love spaghetti,” said the owner of Lovera's Italian Market, just a few blocks away. “Just a simple plate of pasta and sauce. It's just great.”
Joe Prichard, the third-generation owner of Pete's Place, agreed: “I eat it about every day, but I can't get enough.”
Lovera, who doesn't speak loud but with conviction, said, “It's just peasant food. Folks couldn't afford anything fancy, but if you cook the same thing over and over for 30 years, you get pretty good at it. That's all it is.”
If that's all it is, it's no surprise Pete's Place still packs them in considering they've been producing the same simple Italian favorites since 1925. Along with Isle of Capri and Roseanna's, and GiaComo's in McAlester, the success of Krebs Italian food has literally kept the tiny town on the map.
The Prichard family has kept to the adage about not trying to fix broken stuff, so little has changed in 87 years.
“There isn't anything unique about our menu,” Joe Prichard said. “What's unique is the style we use to deliver it. We serve family style.”
That means community tables, and food served in bowls or dishes with empty plates for everyone in the party. The food was never fancy and won't claim to be now: pasta, traditional red sauce derived from an old family recipe, grilled steaks and pork loin — which was a real find — fried chicken and shrimp, chicken Parmesan, raviolis, and lamb fries like you'll find at Cattlemen's, though Prichard is quick to point out that while they source the fries from the same place, those at Pete's are better.
“We cut ours a little different,” Prichard said. “I think ours are a little better.”
On the day we visited, the raviolis were being made in the kitchen.
“Ours are different than most,” Prichard explained. “We use all-purpose flour and semolina. People either love them or hate them, There's not much of a dividing line.”
Served under that same traditional red sauce, the doughy raviolis are almost dumplings. They also serve them fried, which I didn't get a chance to try but could see the promise in it. As for which side of the line I stand on the raviolis, actions speak louder than words, and when all was said and done, no raviolis remained on the table.
Salad was perfectly dressed, served with an antipasti of olives and cheese.
Legend of Pete's
Pete's is no longer just a place to eat, it's a state treasure. And like all treasure, it has its own legend. Pete's Place would not exist today if not for the coal boom of the 1870s, which drew Italian immigrants in droves from Arkansas to North Texas. Krebs was among a handful of southeastern Oklahoma towns whose population spiked during this boom.
The Piegari family left San Gregorio Magno, Italy, and settled in Krebs in 1903. Pietro, 8 at the time of the move, applied for a job in the mines at age 11. To secure employment, he had to use a more “American” name, so Pietro Piegari became Pete Prichard.
He worked a decade in the mines before a cave-in broke his leg, leaving him unable to earn. Not one to convalesce, he started brewing his own Choc beer — a local delicacy handed from Choctaw Indians to their new Italian neighbors. Like any good bar owner, Pete Prichard recognized the only way to boost sales was to add food.