“What Saturn Grill really offers is elevated comfort food with a twist,” Royer said.
A new challenge
Just added to the concept last week is the cocktail menu, which Royer admits he knew little about when he embarked on creating a bar program.
“I thought to myself, if we're going to offer table service, let's try doing a full bar,” he said. “I was scared because we'd done wine and beer for years and years, but I didn't have a lot of experience making cocktails.”
He said he approached the task with great trepidation, deciding to approach the challenge as a chef would: He started testing ingredients.
“Premium Brands brought me a lot of stuff to try. And I started opening these bottles of small-batch, organic liqueurs, and when I smelled them I was like, ‘This is just like making food; it's the same process,'” he said.
He said it was ultimately a matter of tasting in increments until he had a good grasp of the flavors and pairing them with ingredients from the kitchen.
“We make a saffron syrup for one drink,” he said. “You'll find drinks with green tea, ginger vinegars. The Lumberjack has maple vinegar, maple syrup, sparkling apple juice and Canadian whiskey with a salted rim.”
The result is craft cocktails that not only stand alone but pair beautifully with food. You'll find plenty to drink that's been infused with herbs and based on fresh-squeezed juices as well as standard well drinks on the expansive drink menu. The Lumberjack, in particular, is the closest a cocktail has ever come to Willy Wonka's Everlasting Gobstopper and its palate-pleasing shifts in flavor.
Royer loves to cross-utilize his ingredients, so the house-made ginger ale recipe he developed works not only in high balls but also as a premium unleaded beverage.
The power of food
Whether serving fast-casual or in his new full-service spot, Royer's goal remains the same: To help elevate Oklahoma food culture.
“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 has helped embolden the dining populace with that power by adding value to its food through quality ingredients and classic techniques. Saturn Grill's position as one of the city's top fast-casual eateries has been a key cog in the growth of local dining. Royer's theory about the importance of food has stuck with me for years.
“Food is part of our survival,” Royer said. “I want people to revel in their survival.”
Changes at other sites
The new Saturn Grill not only signals a change in concept but a change in the brand. Both the original and Memorial Road Saturn Grill locations will soon transition into full-service restaurants.
“The Memorial Road location will be a snap,” he said. “It's set up for the change. Over at Nichols Hills Plaza we'll have to do some remodeling, so it could be a while longer there.”
In the meantime, you'll have to trek to Midtown for the new Saturn Grill experience, and when you try the fried polenta you'll understand what I mean when I say: “You're welcome.”
Like the first two Saturn Grill locations, the new one is open from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Royer promises the Midtown spot will soon offer later hours on weekends.