Burger choices just got a lot better in downtown Oklahoma City as Ice House opened for business in the Myriad Botanical Gardens in March.
In a blog posted in June 2010, I called the burgers at Nic’s Grill “the best you may never get” because of the limitations of the legendary Ten-Penn burger shack.
But thanks to a partnership between owner Justin “Nic” Nicholas, the Holloway Restaurant Group and the Myriad Gardens Foundation, Ice House was born along Ron Norick Boulevard next to Park House. Those who’ve never waited in line to get one of the 17 seats at Nic’s can now experience the splendor of a perfectly crusted burger that holds its integrity until breached by your teeth, and the subsequent release of flavor-packed juices uniquely qualified to make your toes curl and the bun upon which it rests a holy mess.
Ice House, 125 Ron Norick Blvd., occupies the small space where folks buy their ice-skating tickets during the holiday season, and it serves Nic’s burgers, tasty fries, shakes and even treats for your dog.
Nicholas said he’s always been cautious about any kind of expansion of the Nic’s brand, because one of the ways he ensures quality control is by doing all the cooking.
“I was a little nervous at first, but working with the Holloways — they’ve just made everything so easy,” Nicholas said
The Holloways are longtime operators in Oklahoma City’s restaurant industry, starting way back with the ValGene Group and building toward their current properties: Cafe 501, Boulevard Steakhouse and its sidecar bar The Martini Lounge. Peter and Sherree were looking to expand their empire when an opportunity came along to operate out of the vacant restaurant space in the Myriad Botanical Gardens. The Holloways jumped at the chance, opening Park House in December.
Chef Jonathan Krell, late of Stella Modern Italian, joined with the Holloways’ son Jeffrey, a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in California’s Napa Valley, to write the menu for Park House and go to “Nic’s burger academy” with Nicholas to learn his secrets.
“Out at the CIA you learn a lot of techniques and incredible things, from people with a lot of passion for food,” Jeffrey Holloway said. “But a guy like Nic has just as much passion for what he does, so it’s been really great working with him.”
Beating the obstacles
Ice House opened briefly in the fall then reopened in the middle of March.
While the partnership might be a perfect fit, the concept doesn’t come without a fair set of challenges. First off, dining is completely outdoors, which is about as risky as beating the house at blackjack without counting cards. A chilly, windblown early spring is under way with storm season just weeks away. Obstacles don’t disappear with summer, which tends to be mostly hot with a 90 percent chance of miserable in Oklahoma.
But the best way to beat the odds is with a superior hand, and Ice House has that in spades. The burger-eating public will find their tolerance for uncomfortable weather increasing with each bite of a perfect patty topped with caramelized onions, cheese and all the trimmings. You can bet I’ll still be adding caramelized hot peppers to my Ice House burger in mid-August.
Ice House keeps its offerings simple, which is the thing to do when that offering is this strong. There is nothing extreme, volcanic or nouveau about the menu. You won’t find blue cheese, guacamole, steak sauce, chili, hickory sauce or sriracha as add-ons. You will find the basics plus the aforementioned jalapenos, bacon and ranch dressing for your consideration.
Beyond that, the menu includes french fries, two salads, shakes, a kid’s grilled cheese and a “bag of bones” — house-made dog treats.
“Humans can try them,” Jeffrey Holloway said. “We make (them) in our bakery from natural ingredients, but they are meant for the dogs.”
Holloway said he plans to experiment this summer with some different flavors of shakes as he expects they will be popular as the mercury rises.
But trips to the Myriad Gardens on gorgeous days will now be infinitely more delicious, and Food Row at the Arts Festival will have some serious competition. Ice House will remain open until October when it will go into hibernation for the holidays and return the following spring.
If you go
Ice House is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Holloway said hours will be extended for Thunder games and special downtown events. Also, if the weather gets terrible, it will close early. To check for special hours, call 232-6427.