Great neighborhood restaurants are plentiful in cities with developed culinary personalities. In Oklahoma City, we have a lot of good neighborhood restaurants, but great ones are few and far between. (Of course, everything is far between in this expansive cityscape.)
Cheever's Cafe is one of those great neighborhood restaurants.
Just off NW 23 at 2409 N Hudson Avenue, tucked between several historic neighborhoods, Cheever's Flower Shop served local floral needs for more than five decades. When the Cheever family moved that business north in 1994, the building sat vacant until fall of 1997 when the space was turned into a casual cafe, opened for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
In 2000, Keith and Heather Paul bought the restaurant and have turned it into one of the city's most reliable spots for bold flavors and attentive service. Cheever's is the foundation of the Pauls' A Good Egg Dining Group, which also includes Iron Starr Urban Barbeque, Red Prime Steak and Republic Gastropub.
Chef Mark Ridener moved over from Cheever's ultrasuccessful catering operation to helm the main kitchen full-time in late fall. Under the guidance of A Good Egg Dining partner and executive chef Robert Black, Ridener continues the tradition of serving Southwestern and Deep Southern flavors splashed with sophistication in a simple, elegant setting where Tony Lama fits as comfortably under the table as Manolo Blahnik.
On a recent visit, I tried his braised pork rib special. Served over a raft of asparagus on a sea of spoon bread, the richly sauced wintertime entree gained needed balance from the bright greens. This dish exemplified what Cheever's tries to be, a launching point for comfort foods seeking elevation to art form.
Before entrees, we ordered Juan's Queso Chihuahua out of obligation to my wife's chemical dependency on melted cheese. This simple starter is a prime example of the Cheever's point of view. The common and expected chicken broth tempered with a few spoonfuls of processed cheese is reimagined into a bowl filled with layers of black beans, roasted garlic cream and melted queso Chihuahua cheese. Avocado slices and a restrained tomatillo salsa top the dish, which is served with tortilla chips.
My wife also had to have the Chopped Salad. She was introduced to the Cheever's Chopped Salad at last year's Chef's Feast, and she's longed for it ever since. Her yen is easy to understand when a bowl of mixed greens and lettuce with sun-dried tomatoes, black beans, red onions, roasted corn and spicy pepitas arrives — it's creamy lemon vinaigrette with blue cheese crumbles. Simple and inspired.
While I was fighting the good fight to finish half my entree, Lori was lamenting what was rapidly becoming clear about her Lobster Mac and Cheese: She had as much chance at finishing it as I have finishing one of her Lifetime movies awake. I sampled a bit of the cheesy dish with chunks of grilled lobster and immediately felt guilty for taking away a bite of something that so perfectly matched my wife's protein-limited flavor profile.
I only had a few regrets about my recent visit. First, why couldn't the citrusy C-Squared cocktail, balanced with cilantro simple syrup, be served by the pitcher?
Second, why couldn't it have been a summer afternoon so that I could've made the request without sounding like a complete lush? The C-Squared is part of Cheever's new signature cocktail menu and is destined to be a personal favorite.
Third, why did the special have to be so inviting that it lured me away from my favorite Mixed Seafood Tamales? Guess the good news is I have an excuse to go back soon.