When chef Joseph Royer was young, he dreamed of being an architect. Then he wanted to be an artist. At age 20, he settled on becoming a chef. Today, he’s combined all those interests to build a bridge to divert traffic from drive-through windows to food made from fresh ingredients and using artful traditions passed down over centuries. The owner of Saturn Grill recently added a second location, expanding on the reputation of serving some of the best pizzas, salads and sandwiches in the city. The sandwiches are the anchor of the restaurants’ success, but that hasn’t stopped Royer, 37, from expanding his menu to include entrees. On the other hand, Royer’s ambition isn’t stopping me from targeting his Seared Caribbean Jerk Chicken as our Sandwich of the Month. After an apprenticeship at Kurt Fleishfresser’s Coach House and Chris Lower’s Metro Wine Bar and Bistro — two of the city’s top fine-dining establishments — Royer has turned his attention to, of all things, fast food. We’re not talking the kind that comes in a sack and is delivered via a window. Royer’s view of fast food doesn’t abandon his formal training. "We want to be the embodiment of those traditions,” he said. "We want to be true fast-casual.” What’s that? "Consistent, approachable, affordable and delicious.” The result, Royer said, will help change the food culture of Oklahoma. And when he says change, he means elevate. Royer believes the war against processed foods will not be won by purveyors of fine dining alone. "Food is powerful,” he said. "It evokes strong emotions, happy memories. But when it’s dumbed down, it loses its power.” Royer believes Saturn Grill is positioned to reach broader audiences and embolden them with that power. The goal is spreading the word about better eating while adding mystique to the local dining culture, which ultimately helps Oklahoma City find its place on the national culinary landscape. "Food is part of our survival,” Royer said. "I want people to revel in their survival.” Originally, Laura Brown opened Saturn Grill, which became so successful she was compelled to sell. Royer took six months to work with Brown and ultimately buy the shop. The sandwiches were the foundation to that overwhelming success. What sets apart not only the Seared Caribbean Jerk Sandwich but the majority of Saturn Grill’s sandwiches from others is the homemade flatbread. "When you order a sandwich here, the bread is dough,” Royer said. Using a simple, rustic flour-based recipe, a 450-degree griddle turns that dough into a perfect canvas for Royer’s artistic culinary endeavors. The bread is pillowy soft on the inside and crisp on the outside. The Seared Caribbean Jerk Sandwich contains chicken tenders rubbed in jerk spices, grilled onions, fresh greens and the real secret weapon: curry-lime mayonnaise. "A lot of people substitute the curry-lime mayo on the spicy steak sandwich,” operations director Brian Ward said. "Or just order it on the side.” "We never made major changes to the menu,” he said. "We did add some pastas, tweaked some of the existing recipes. But the big thing we’ve done that’s had the largest impact is the daily specials.” The daily specials at Saturn Grill are far more than the usual. "When we first took over, the special might’ve been a salad,” Ward said. "But then we thought the specials could be a way to expand the menu.” The specials are often seasonal and always inspired by something outside of the normal Saturn Grill fare. You might find paella in fall or chili in winter. "Eating used to be seasonal,” Royer said. "And why shouldn’t it be?” Along with the new location, Saturn Grill added chef Chad Willis, who was captain of the kitchen at The Metro for eight years, as general manager. "It’s been a big adjustment going from fine dining to fast-casual,” Willis said. "But I’m really enjoying it.” With another expert hand in the mix, look for a major shift in the menu sometime this summer. "We’re planning to add six entrees to the menu,” Royer said. The added entrees will help balance what are currently lunch-heavy choices. "People look at our menu and immediately think of lunch,” Royer said. "We want people to be comfortable to come in for dinner, too.” Whether it’s dinner or lunch, the Seared Caribbean Jerk will not disappoint.
• Locations : 6432 Avondale Drive and 4401 W Memorial Drive.
• Hours : 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.
OnlineWatch video of the Food Dude’s visit to the new Saturn Grill location. newsok.com