1990: Nirvana for Oklahoma City Italian Fare
Kurt Cobain wasn’t the only guy who had a big year in 1990, just ask fellow psychology majors turned restaurateurs Pete Holloway and Tommy Byrd.
While Cobain was redefining rock music, Holloway and Byrd were redefining Italian food in Oklahoma City. With the recent opening of Stella Modern Italian Cuisine, the imminent arrival of Upper Crust Pizza in the Classen Curve development and 20-year milestones reached by the restaurants Holloway and Byrd began, it seems like a good time to take a look at the state of Italian food in Oklahoma City.
But I wonder if that would be the case had it not been for arrival of Pepperoni Grill in the Penn Square Mall during the spring of 1990.
Conceived by current Boulevard Steakhouse and Cafe 501 owner Pete Holloway, the chic, open space departed from the chain-favored red-checked tablecloths and mounds of spaghetti and meatballs in favor of a wood-fired Italian-style brick oven to produce rustic Italian pizzas and artisan bread served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Without Pepperoni Grill, there almost certainly would be no Stella Modern Italian or Caffe Pranzo, and there probably wouldn’t be a Sophabella’s.
Holloway was managing partner of Val Gene Associates, which boasted 10 restaurants, including Harry Bear’s, Texanna Reds, the Hungry Peddler and the Eagle’s Nest. Holloway, who studied to become a psychologist in college, fell in love with food as so many do and never shook the affliction. And Pepperoni Grill was his baby. Lori Tyler, who just opened Stella, was one of his employees.
“We were very proud of not only the food we were putting out but the overall experience we offered,” Lori told me.
And she had every right to be. To this day, I crave the shrimp-and-asparagus pizza preceded by a spicy lemon pepper chicken pizza, accompanied by sliced loaf of Tuscan Black Pepper Parmesan bread and an oaky chardonnay that mirrored the aroma emanating from the oven.
Mark and Ann Amme also worked at Pepperoni Grill. The innkeepers of the Red Stone Inn took over a little Italian sandwich shop in the Collonade Shopping Center and turned it into Caffe Pranzo. While Ann managed an El Chico, Mark turned Caffe Pranzo into a local favorite. After selling Pranzo, Amme helped good buddy Bill Brazil open Sophabella’s, which offers Chicago-style Italian fare.
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