Oklahoma City's Saturn Grill seeks to expand its orbit

The longtime fast-casual stalwart Saturn Grill introduces full-service dining and a bar program that includes craft cocktails at its newest location in Oklahoma City.
by Dave Cathey Published: September 18, 2013
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Chef Joseph Royer has built his culinary reputation among the masses with the fast-casual Saturn Grill concept, but in the chefs' community, Royer is known as one of the city's top talents.

So, it's no surprise that with his third Saturn Grill concept, Royer put his shoulder into evolving the concept.

“I wanted to take the knowledge of the eight years that got us to the point where we could open a third location and bring to it some things we hadn't tried before.”

The new spot, on the south side of what for many years was a furniture store, is at 1012 N Walker. It boasts a beautiful view of downtown Oklahoma City and promises to become a Midtown destination for dinner and drinks.

Servers come to the table equipped with iPads linked to the kitchen. Tabs are run from the same tablet.

When you walk in the door of the new Saturn Grill, there's no doubt about where you are. The signature bright colors and Jetsonian angles and touches are present, but Royer said a walk around Midtown inspired him to do his best to maintain some of the midcentury modern retro feel of the neighborhood. His solution was to keep a lot of the original brick and marry it to the signature flourishes the concept is known for. To maintain the feel of the digital menu boards of the fast-casual installations that preceded it, the new Saturn Grill features menus on transparent plastic, and the tables, which Royer built, combine orange plastic and air-filled packaging material.

Royer also did the tile work, some painting and a lot of finishing work.

“I'm a detail guy,” he said.

As much as Royer loves to get his hands dirty, his most profound talent is in the kitchen. To set off the new restaurant, he added appetizer and entree segments to the menu to go along with a full bar that includes craft cocktails.

Royer, who dreamed of a career in architecture and has the artistic acumen to prove it, can now offer guests the full range of his skills first developed in The Coach House Apprenticeship Program before moving to The Metro Bistro and Wine Bar.

While the menu offers a lot of new stuff, it also includes all the sandwiches, pizzas and salads the concept is known for. It also adds small plate offerings and a half-dozen fully composed entrees.

“The menu is a reflection of how I eat,” Royer said. “I like options, I eat a lot of vegetarian meals — I only eat meat once a day. So, we've got plenty of meat on the menu, but we also have 22 vegetarian and/or vegan items on the menu.

The new dishes include a fried polenta appetizer that really could be the next big thing. I'll be shocked if you don't start seeing homages to it pop up on menus around the city. The fried polenta wedges are streaked with balsamic caramel and strewn with halved cherry tomatoes, basil, thin-sliced onion and crumbled goat's cheese. Wow.

The small plates also include dynamite falafel and hummus with roasted red pepper sauce, green-lip mussels, vegan meatballs worthy of the fiercest carnivore and queso con carne.

The entrees are highlighted by pork loin medallions with orange-chipotle glaze served over fried polenta, plus cranberry-apple compote. Awesomeness.

“That dish started out as a special that was thrown together at the last minute at the original location,” Royer said. “I sent the first one out without even tasting it, the server comes back and says, ‘What was in that thing? The people can't stop talking about it.' So we made one up, and we understood. Usually, we really work through a long process, but every now and then you get lucky on the first try.”

There's also a nice beef shoulder cooked sous vide style before a quick sear and served over fresh spinach and garlic mashed potatoes. I wrote about the Cioppino back in January in honor of the San Francisco 49ers appearance in the Super Bowl. The seafood stew is not only delicious but a ridiculous value at $12.99. The entrees also include chicken Parmesan and lasagna.

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by Dave Cathey
Food Editor
The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene.
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