The curtain comes down an outstanding run by Maggie Howell and chef Christine Dowd as proprietors of Trattoria il Centro 500 W Main St., this weekend.
The chaos created by two years of ongoing downtown construction must've felt like two decades in restaurant time.
While Trattoria will be missed, Howell and Dowd will continue with Aunt Pittypat's Catering, which is one of the market's most respected providers. Chef Dowd also told me she and Howell have some ideas for new concepts in the future.
Unfortunately, the long-term promise of developments like Devon tower and Project 180 often claim victims along the way. Let's be clear: downtown will thrive in the aftermath of this work. Trattoria il Centro was the classic victim of circumstance.
I also believe wholeheartedly closing the doors to Trattoria il Centro will lead them to a path of greater success. Chef Dowd is one of the market's most talented chefs. Don't believe me? Ask any chef who's ever worked with her and they'll back up the opinion.
The flash-fried breadcrumb battered poached egg she prepared for a couple hundred folks in Tulsa last summer at Odyssey de Culinaire was the talk of the event. I heard at least three different chefs announce it would be a special on their menus afterward.
Howell and Dowd bring energy and leadership to everything they do, and those are qualities you don't learn in books or in cotillion. You haven't heard the last of this dynamic duo. Here's hoping their next adventure begins sooner rather than later and the story it tells is as dynamic as the one they leave behind on the ground floor of the Montgomery Building.
Trattoria il Centro closes on Saturday for good, so be sure to get in and get your last fix of Dowd's eclectic turns on classic Italian fare.
New Chuy's to open
Word out of Norman is the new Chuy's Mexican Food Restaurant will open before summer. Don't be surprised if you can get yourself into a Texas Martini and a Chuy's Special before Memorial Day.
How will this Juanny come lately Tex-Mex operation from Austin stack up against Okie-Mex? The answer will be swift. The Norman Chuy's is opening next door to one of this market's most successful Okie-Mex chains, Ted's Cafe Escondido, on the west side of the Interstate 35 access road, just north of the Main Street exit.
While I was born and reared on Chuy's Tex-Mex, this isn't a mismatch. The Hal Smith Restaurant Group has more restaurants in more states than Chuy's. That didn't happen accidentally.
And then there's the free queso to consider. North of the Red River, patrons expect queso to be a freebie with their chips and salsa. That's not the case in Texas.
On the other hand, one Texas Martini and you'll happily buy that queso. Two Texas Martinis, and you might buy a round of queso for every table within view.
Chicago-style Italian roast beef
Chef Phil Custino's triumphant return to the metro is getting ready to expand. His partnership with Falcone's has ended, but the response from customers was positive enough to encourage his own place.
Custino's Italian Kitchen is set to open in a matter of weeks on Britton Road in the space previously occupied by KC Blues Barbecue and The Boneyard Steakhouse. His signature lasagna will be available with several other favorites, but the big news is the Chicago-style Italian roast beef sandwich will be available.
With a little luck, runs troo da river could be available as early as first of May. Stay tuned.
A Good Egg Dining Group welcomed chef Luke Fry back into the fold. Fry, most recently of Cafe 501 in Edmond, worked previously at Iron Starr Norman and Republic, joins executive chef Chris McCabe at Red Prime Steak. Fry takes the vacancy left by chef Kyle Mills, who is now at Norman's Local.
Cafe 501 in Edmond has hired chef Roy Erwin to replace Fry. Erwin has worked at the Royal Sonesta and Crescent City Brewhouse in New Orleans, was executive chef of the Marriott Conference Center at Norman's National Center for Employee Development, and most recently at the Downtown Sheraton. Owners Peter and Sherree Holloway are seeking a new chef for the Classen Curve location.
Chef Brian McGrew, previously of Stella Modern Italian, the Governor's Mansion and 501 Cafe Classen Curve, has taken over the kitchen at Cheever's Cafe. McGrew replaces chef Mark Ridener who is moving to San Diego to chase his culinary dreams.
Stellar view expands
Midtowners, your view of Saturn is getting ready to become very clear. Saturn Grill Chef Joseph Royer is ready to open a third location, and Midtown is the choice — details to come soon.
The fast-casual concept specializes in sandwiches, salads, pizzas and has a reputation for spot-on specials that is second to none. It began in Nichols Hills Plaza as part of the Western Avenue corridor — once the only spot in town for locals by locals. While Western hasn't backed off its position as grand poobah of locally owned, top-quality dining, it has some company now between Midtown and the Automobile Alley/9th Street corridor.
And to prove it's not giving any ground to neophyte hot spots, the Western Avenue corridor will be home to the second Tucker's Onion Burgers location. The fast-casual concept from A Good Egg Dining started last year on NW 23 Street and has been an unmitigated success.
Focusing on Oklahoma's original fried-onion burger and using local ingredients to build it, the new Tucker's will be in Classen Curve and could be ready by late summer.