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Nic's Expands brand, Tamazul shrinks its potential audience, and other nuggets heard on the line...

by Dave Cathey Modified: October 17, 2013 at 5:45 pm •  Published: October 17, 2013

Three years ago, I proclaimed Nic’s Grill as having the best burger you’ll never get to eat, but thanks to the Holloway family a solution to this problem has at long last been found square in the middle of downtown Oklahoma City.

The Holloways, namely Peter and his wife Sherree, have partnered with Nic’s owner Justin Nicholas to offer Nic’s Burgers at Ice House, which opened last week in the Myriad Botanical Gardens.

The Holloways are longtime operators in Oklahoma City’s restaurant industry, starting way back with the ValGene Group and building toward their current properties: Cafe 501, Boulevard Steakhouse and its sidecar bar The Martini Lounge. Peter and Sherree were looking to expand their empire when an opportunity came along to operate out of the vacant restaurant space in the Myriad Botanical Gardens. The Holloways jumped at the chance and have since employed chef Jonathan Krell, late of Stella, to become executive chef of what will be called the Park House. The Holloways also have chef Cally Johnson on the payroll at Cafe 501, who is helping out with that menu.

Next to the free-standing restaurant space is the area where Devon opens a seasonal ice-skating rink, which was also available. The Holloways wanted to do a burger stand there and went to the man behind what most folks who love burgers believe to be the city’s best example, Justin Nicholas of Nic’s Grill.

The burger stand is called Ice House, 125 Ron Norick Blvd., and the burgers are currently being grilled by

Jonathan Krell
Jonathan Krell

Krell, who endured a grueling griddling apprenticeship under Nicholas in recent months. Ice House opened last week while I was out of town, but I was able to make it out yesterday on a sun-splashed afternoon with my kids, who are on fall break. One bite into a huge cheeseburger with grilled onions and jalapenos and I was thinking: I’m really glad I’m not a competing burger purveyor. The burger included the signature crusty surface and ultra-juicy interior Nic’s is known for. Now for the even better news: the fries were terrific, too. Oh, yeah, and then there’s the shakes. Oi. My kids might’ve even more enthusiastic. Perhaps the most impressive stamp of approval came from my daughter Kate, who has a tough palate to crack. She’s a meat-and-bread-only kind of girl, and Ice House’s Nic burger delivered in this nearly naked state.

Now for the bad news: Ice House will only be open through the end of October before going into hibernation until next spring. For now, you can check out the burgers from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and til 9 on weekends. The only seating is outdoors, so bundle up or take it to go. For more information, call 232-NICS.

More Turnover at Tamazul

Another month, another major change at Matthew Kenney’s embattled Classen Curve locale, which started as the raw foods restaurant 105degrees Cafe, changed its named to Matthew Kenney OKC but not the menu, then completely changed the name and menu to the upscale modern Mexican eatery Tamazul and has now ditched that menu and kept the name. Whew.

Tamazul is still the name, Mexican is still the theme and Classen Curve is still the place, but the menu is now “plant-based,” which means not-quite vegan thanks to some dairy by the looks of the photos they’ve been posting. The new menu isn’t posted on the website, and frankly I’m not planning to go in to check it out anytime soon. If it’s still open in 2014, I will give it a fair shake. But honestly, there are so many other restaurants to visit and discuss in the area that don’t change with each flutter of a butterfly’s wings I think I’ll concentrate on them for now. Kenney’s attempts to maintain his Classen Curve space have worn me out.

A few years ago, Kenney told me in a phone interview about plans to convert the kitchen in his original concept, 105degrees, so that they could serve both raw and cooked foods. No more than three days after writing a column about the change, I was told by a person at a class at the now-defunct raw foods academy that the plan to install a kitchen had already been scrapped. When the name changed to Matthew Kenney, nothing changed–including flagging interest in the concept. Then came Tamazul, and the soap opera involving chefs Ryan Parrott and Pepe Rodriguez. Now, Rodriguez and vice president of operations Rob Crabtree are gone and so are meats and animal-based fats. Yes, veganesque Mexican food is possible. No, it’s neither essential nor better. Better for you? Yes. Better for your pocketbook? Not in Kenney’s hands. And no, there’s very likely no market for it in Oklahoma City.

But chef Kenney is entitled to attempt to disprove my opinion and I can say with 100-percent sincerity that I hope he is successful. If he’s succeeds, I will write about it at length and extol his indomitable spirit. But for now, this is all you’re going to read about Tamazul from me…

From the Crumb Catcher

On my way back from Texas, I noticed Stark Fine Dining in Pauls Valley was closed and the main sign draped in a “For Sale” banner.  This ambitious effort was put forth by Kevin Stark, whose greatest contributions to mankind involved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and a museum for toys and collectibles. My only experience eating at Stark’s was at the annual Omelette Party fund-raiser for the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. I liked their offering enough I grabbed some info with an eye toward visiting the restaurant. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it down before it closed.  I even got a phone call from local radio personality Jim Traber, who extolled the virtues of the restaurant. I’ve met Kevin a number of times, and he’s a really interesting and intelligent fellow with a fine palate. His attempt to expand Oklahoma culture is duly noted, and appreciated…If you are going up to Stillwater for this weekend’s homecoming activities, there’s a new food truck to check out. OSU student-owned Pie on the Fly will launch this Friday during walk-around. The truck will be parked in a location visible from the Greek houses as the streets fill with students and alums checking out the homecoming floats.  Pie on the Fly is a food truck run by three Stillwater locals: Alex Campbell, Stephen Griffin, and Brady London. Look for fried dessert pies this weekend but an expanson into savory pies is part of the plan….Empire Slice House was opened by chef Avery Cannon and Rachel Cope while I was back-and-forth between Texas over the past three weeks.  I’ve heard really good things, and I have major respect for the operators, so my expectations are high. If you’ve been to Empire let me know what you thought…Over at The Coach House bartender Kyle Fleischfresser will prepare a flight of cocktails to pair with chef David Henry’s culinary creations on October 28 at 6:30 p.m. Spirits that will fly include Russel Henry Gin, Lake Front Pumpkin Whiskey, Germain Robin Apple Brandy, Germain Robin XO and Allipus Single Village Mezcal. Cost is $68 per person plus tax and gratuity. Call 842-1000 for reservations.

 


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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