The Deep Fork Grill, 5418 N Western Ave., turned the page in July on a turbulent couple of years with the addition of chef Beau Stephenson, a veteran of several local kitchens including his own Bin 73 Wine Bar just up the street.
But Stephenson wants you to know his work at Deep Fork doesn't spell doom for Bin 73, where he remains chef/partner.
“We promoted chef Keith Dabbs at Bin 73, and he's running things accordingly, every single day,” Stephenson said.
As part of his new Deep Fork Grill gig, which also includes some general managing duties, Stephenson has been hard at work paring down a menu that had grown too expansive over the last decade and was in need of some editing.
“There were 80 items labeled out specifically on the menu,” he said. “I cut it down. I cut in half. Pastas have been drastically cut, and pizza has been removed — it's no longer available here.”
And why not? Part of Deep Fork's repertoire of concepts is the wildly successful Wedge Pizzeria.
“We've gone more to the meat side of dining, bringing in a couple of exotics, but the star is certified Angus beef — we've got a great beef program here,” he said of Deep Fork Grill.
He said his goal was to streamline not renovate the restaurant.
“The beauty of Deep Fork is it's always been one of those places everyone can enjoy,” he said. “That was the trick, keep enough so the regulars can still enjoy their favorites and make sure they're still coming in.”
Stephenson divided the new menu by cuts.
“There is a chop section, a tenderloin section, fowl section, we've got a fish board,” he said. “This place has long been considered one of the top places in town to get seafood.”
Stephenson has added a live lobster tank, littleneck clams and mussels to tried-and-true dishes including seared tuna and smoked salmon.
One item he's added and encourages people to check out is the Smoked Quail Escabeche and Venison Loin, which is a cold-smoked, heavily seasoned quail stuffed with risotto served with wood-fired venison loin chop.
Even the very popular DFG brunch has gotten a makeover
“Just rolled out our new brunch menu,” Stephenson said. “We're featuring a lot of flavors from all over the world, implementing them with some of the most popular items that were already on the menu. What we've added is a lot of Southwest flair, with little bits of chorizo all over the place to (add) some heat people can dive into.”
Stephenson's first task was to pare down the menu, but the bar has been under his scrutiny, too.
“We've been working on the wine list, building it up. The bar is really great here,” he said. “We're also doing chefs dinners for $95 with suggested wine pairings.”
If you walked into the Deep Fork without reading this article, you'd be hard-pressed to guess it was ever a fast-casual fajita factory that was wrapped in glass, had a large dining patio and drive-through window. Deep Fork Grill is set up for private events as well as any restaurant in Oklahoma City, with eight options, including a club room on the second floor with full bar and absolute privacy.
“We have private dining options for as little as four and up to 100 seated,” co-owner Dave Attalla said.
Through the years
The space on North Western Avenue at the northeast foot of the Interstate 44 overpass originated as Two Pesos, which did a brisk business through the late 1980s. But in 1987, Taco Cabana filed a trade dress misappropriation suit against the concept, which carried all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1992 and ended in favor of Taco Cabana.
Chris Lower and Kurt Fleischfresser's Restaurant Resource Group swooped in on the spot and installed Portobello in 1991. Despite a great menu, Portobello was the third of three brand-new Italian restaurants that opened in Oklahoma City that year. The first two, Pepperoni Grill and Bellini's, still exist, although under different ownership.
But three was a crowd, so in 1997, RRG converted the spot into the original Deep Fork Chop House & Seafood Market concept. It flourished under Fleischfresser and his stable of apprentice chefs including Leonard Novak, who brought along a young chef named Cally Johnson.
But when RRG opted to pare down and eventually dissolve, Deep Fork was the one that got away. Fleischfresser ended up with The Coach House, Lower got The Metro Bistro & Wine Bar, and Deep Fork was sold in the summer of 2003 to a group that had opened The Mantel. The original partners included Attalla, Rod Meyer, chef Ryan Parrott and Wade Starr.
Parrott left the group in 2008 to join the Iguana Mexican Grill reboot and open Table One. Starr was the unofficial spokesman for the group and operating partner at Deep Fork Grill until recently. Starr's exit has been arduous, beginning when he became embroiled in a political tussle between attorneys. Starr ended up the only one indicted in the grand jury investigation over a victory party in 2006 for then-newly elected Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater. Starr eventually saw perjury charges against him dismissed as part of a plea agreement in February of this year.
Starr remained through the hard times and tried to adjust his responsibilities but ultimately opted to cash out of the ownership group, leaving Meyer and Attalla at the helm.
The Deep Fork Grill already had an opening for a new chef, but with Starr's departure, it also needed a GM.
Attalla said he admired what Stephenson had done at Bin 73, and has been interested in bringing him on for at least the past five years but never made any formal offers until the summer.
Luckily for Attalla, Stephenson was looking for an additional opportunity and actually had a history with the restaurant.
“I was here when I was really young,” he said, his slow, Oklahoma drawl growing wry. “I was here for a couple of months, and then I no-showed chef Kurt — I wanted to play golf more than I wanted to have a job, which shows how young and stupid I was.”
Stephenson said he's thankful Fleischfresser understood his folly and has never held the faux pas against him.
The Deep Fork group still owns The Mantel, two Wedge Pizzerias and The Drum Room. In the recent past were Home Run Sliders and Cafe Nova, which has closed and is being revamped for a new concept that hasn't yet been announced.
While the Deep Fork has had some turmoil over the past couple of years, the crowds haven't slowed down. A weekend reservation is still a tough ticket, and the standards for excellence in service remain high. Chef Stephenson's new menu is now available, and he's looking for feedback. So, if you haven't been to Deep Fork Grill in a while, get out and find out for yourself what Beau knows.
If you go
The Deep Fork Grill is open daily, including holidays. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.