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Kitchen 324 pays homage to the past in pushing Oklahoma City area dining forward

Oklahoma City-based A Good Egg Dining Group's newest restaurant, Kitchen 324, is one for the ages.
by Dave Cathey Published: January 23, 2013

With its most ambitious concept to date, A Good Egg Dining Group has used a portion of Oklahoma City's history to offer a great new place to eat and abet the ongoing makeover of downtown.

An opportunity presented by SandRidge Energy allowed an idea sown about two years ago — to re-imagine the city's historic cafeteria culture — to see sunlight on the corner of Robinson Avenue and Dean A. McGee.

Kitchen 324 boasts American Rustic Cuisine, pumping out lunch, breakfast, breads and pastries seven days a week. To pull that off, corporate chef Robert Black's staff operates the subterranean kitchen all but about two hours a day.

Turns out, A Good Egg President Keith Paul and his wife and business partner, Heather, have unlocked the code for paying homage to the past while giving the needle for local dining a violent shove forward.

Kitchen 324 became A Good Egg Dining's crowning achievement with a simple formula: dream big, hire passionate people and cook from scratch.

Adjusting the concept

When cafeterias ruled Oklahoma City dining, the model was enormous. Boulevard Cafeteria, the last of the city's classic cafeterias, still operates under the old model, which included an enormous kitchen, huge dining room and comfort food made from scratch daily by a legion of cooks. The only kitchens like that anymore, outside of Boulevard Cafeteria, are typically commissary kitchens that supply multiple units.

Kitchen 324's main kitchen is below ground, and it's plenty large, but it's certainly not the largest kitchen in the city.

Keith Paul said the team also felt it was important to offer the high-quality service the group has a reputation for offering at places such as Red Primesteak, Cheever's Cafe, Iron Starr Urban BBQ and Republic American Gastropub.

“And we didn't want people walking around with trays either,” said Heather Paul.

The answer for the Pauls was a style of service unseen in this market. Kitchen 324 offers counter service and table service simultaneously. Whether you initially order from the main counter or the coffee counter, goods are delivered to your table, and additional ordering can be done from the table.

“We had to create a new POS (point of sales) system to accommodate what we wanted to do,” Keith Paul said.

The last spirit from the city's Golden-Age cafeterias the Pauls sought to channel was with the decor. Revered cafeterias such as Dodson's, Queen Anne, Anna Maude's and Lady Classen's didn't scrimp on the decor.

“The local cafeterias I grew up with were beautiful,” Heather Paul said. “They were almost fine dining.”

Located in the classic Braniff Building, white paint and floor-to-ceiling windows make Kitchen 324 a magnet for sunshine and conduit for positive energy.

Opening the door puts you in a good mood — unless a line of people stretches from the register to the tips of your toes. But then, that puts the Good Egg team in a good mood, so somebody is always happy at Kitchen 324.

The interior is a combination of what was great about the Braniff building with modern flourishes.

Cool + comfort food = American Rustic

As important as service is, food is the business. Not good food, great food.

To maintain the cafeteria feel, a dizzying array of fresh-made salads, breads and desserts flank the main register. At the coffee counter, you'll also find fresh doughnuts and pastries within view.

The menus show range without offering every side dish your grandmother ever made. What is on the menu is founded on reinterpreted comfort food, showcasing flavors made common thanks to the proliferation of world food culture.

Say goodbye to the trusty cafeteria roast beef under a heat lamp and sliced to order, and hello to the pot-roast-style braised short ribs or the hand-carved French dip tenderloin. Rather than casting buckets of fried chicken under another heat lamp to wait for a dance partner or serve chicken pot pie from sheet tray mounted over a steam table, the two comfort-food staples are combined into the transcendent fried chicken pot pie.

The meatloaf left to gasp for moisture on the line is put to rest in favor of a turkey meatloaf with smoked tomato gravy and smashed potatoes.

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by Dave Cathey
Food Editor
The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene.
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