Steven Paizis describes his style of cooking at the new McNellie's in Oklahoma City's MidTown as "fine dining meets pub food.” He's serving a number of items from the established menu of McNellie's Tulsa flagship restaurant/pub including burgers, meat loaf, fish and chips, ribs, pasta, salads, appetizers and desserts. The signature Mom's Sweet Potato Fries are already quite popular here, Paizis said. The Landlord's Cottage Pie, made with chipped beef, vegetables, mashed potatoes and cheese, is a pub version of shepherd's pie. Also offered are a Reuben sandwich that uses a marbled rye bread Paizis asked nearby Brown's Bakery to create especially for the pub, a St. Patty's Melt sandwich and even a Southwest meat loaf sandwich topped with pepper jack cheese and served on Texas toast. Paizis has added his touches to the menu with a grilled chicken sandwich topped with Swiss cheese and caramelized balsamic onions. "It's a pub,” the chef said of the 225-seat McNellie's, "but all our dressings and such are made here. We use fresh ingredients. Freshness is the key here.” The Culinary Institute of America graduate has called Norman home for almost a year after overseeing kitchens of some of Tulsa's finest restaurants: Polo Grill, the Bistro and La Villa at the Philbrook Museum. He also worked at Cedar Ridge Country Club in Broken Arrow for several years, where he was in charge of food service during two Ladies Professional Golf Association tournaments. Paizis, 39, said he'll continue to add his touches to the local menu of McNellie's in MidTown, which opened here last month in the Plaza Court Building once occupied by Veazey Drugs. The restaurant is associated with the Tulsa-based restaurant James E. McNellie's Public House. The pub offers 350 beers from around the world, including beers from China, Denmark, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Poland, Thailand and the Slovak Republic. Sixty beers are featured on tap, and there are organic as well as gluten-free beers on the roster. Currently, six flights of beer are offered, including one featuring Oklahoma beers. The chef is a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., where he worked in his Greek father's Manhattan deli after high school. He admits he disliked the restaurant business in the beginning but acquired basic cooking skills working in that deli. Gradually his love of cooking took hold, and he began cooking at home, even trying to re-create dishes he'd enjoyed at restaurants. "After a couple years, my father decided to retire, and I was asking what I was going to do. I didn't have the money to buy the business, and he didn't want to pass it on; he just wanted to get out. So, that's when I decided to go to culinary school,” he said. He also visited Tulsa a number of times where his older brother lived. Eventually the chef and his family decided to make the move to Tulsa. He admits moving to Oklahoma was a bit of a cultural shock at first. "I was used to New York being a melting pot and the cuisine of every country available. If you wanted Chinese food at 4 o'clock in the morning, you could get it because someplace would be open and serving it.” As time passed, Paizis developed the sources for ingredients and foods he preferred to use. When he learned about the job at McNellie's, Paizis said he worried owner Elliot Nelson would think he was overqualified for the job. Yet, "I can get creative here on the specials, and I can put my little flair on the items on the menu,” Paizis said. His shift from fine dining to the more casual presentations typical of pub food has come with relative ease. "You can still make a hamburger look good on a plate. People do eat with their eyes first,” he said. The chef said beer dinners will be added at the pub eventually, but not for a few months. "I can get really creative on the culinary end of it,” Paizis said. "I've done plenty of wine dinners — five-, six- and seven-course wine dinners. So I'm excited to bring pub food here and get it going.”
James E. McNellie's Public House eatery and pub Address: 1100 Class Drive (the intersection of NW 10 and Walker). Telephone: 601-7468. Hours: Opens at 11 a.m. daily. Online:www.mcnelliesokc.com
McNellie's menu sampler•Chips and white queso, $5.99. •European cheese platter, $12.99. •St. Patty's melt, $7.99. •Club sandwich, $8.50. •Southwest meatloaf sandwich, $8.99. •Beer House chili, $5.99 per bowl. •Landlord's Cottage Pie, $10.99. •Southwest meatloaf, $10.99. •Foster's beef ribs, $12.99.
Available beers•Fuller's Porter, England, draught $5.50. •Chimay Triple, Belgium, draught $7.50. •Grand Reserve Jeroboam, Belgium, 3-liter bottle, $125. •Tsing Tao Lager, China, bottle, $4.50. •Schneider Organic Edelweisse, Germany, bottle, 16.9 ounces, $7. •Tona Lager, Nicaragua, bottle, $4.50. •Singha Malt, Thailand, bottle, $5. •Choc Biere de Garde, Oklahoma, bottle, 22 ounces, $8.50.