When Robert Ross and Rusty Loeffler opened Packard's New American Kitchen, 201 NW 10 St., on April 1, it culminated a dream spanning more than four decades.
Ross and Loeffler are pioneers in Oklahoma City's dining scene, opening The Interurban Eating House in 1976 in Norman. They were young and ambitious, seeking their fortune in the hospitality business.
Twenty-six concepts from Oklahoma City to Tulsa to Austin, Texas, later, Ross and Loeffler joined forces with their children to make an important addition to the white-hot Oklahoma City dining culture in a classic building that binds Automobile Alley to MidTown.
Packard's, which took more than a year to plan and execute, is in an elegant industrial space that's bathed in natural light by day and converts to an intimate, low-light restaurant by night. The food is an amalgamation of the experience of Loeffler, Ross and his daughter and consulting chef Maggie Humphreys, who designed the menu now executed by chefs Mitchell Dunzy and Chris Horn.
Breads are baked daily by chef George Hatfield, who builds algorithms to track and maintain his recipes and the conditions that have afforded adjustments.
If it sounds like a major departure from the broad, dependable, family friendly menu of The Interurban concepts, it's by design.
“We wanted to do something different,” Ross said. “Small menu, something that would allow us to do specials and concentrate on seafood.”
And for ol' dogs like Ross and Loeffler to get comfortable with a concept that on the surface appeared to carry higher risk, the only way to execute some new tricks was to take their time and lean on the children they raised via the restaurant business. Not only did Robert's daughter Maggie consult on the menu and kitchen setup while son John acts as general manager, but Rusty's daughter Lindsey Kleinhenz and son Jordan Loeffler were crucial to the planning and ongoing operation.
“This was probably at least 18 months of planning and executing,” Robert Ross said. “We really tried to listen, research and be open-minded, because we really wanted to try to make Packard's its own entity, and there were a lot of challenges to make it come together.”
Many of the challenges had to do with the classic building in which the restaurant resides — a former Packard dealership.
“We had a lot of work to do on the building,” Ross said. “Our architect had his hands full.”
Focus on next meal
Taking their time led to an opening that's allowed the concept to grow exponentially under the direction of general manager John Ross.
“We've been pleased with our first three months,” Robert Ross said. “But you're only as good as your last meal, so we try to stay focused.”
I've dined at Packard's three times in its three months and have come away refreshed and satiated each time.
My favorite appetizer thus far is the mussels, which are served in white wine, garlic, shallots and lemon with French bread made in house.
A close second is the warm olives, which is a combination of Castelvetrano olives with lemon, rosemary and garlic served on a board with almonds and tapenade. I also enjoyed the campechana, a ceviche-like preparation of shrimp, crab, avocado, cilantro, lime and tomato.
The menus vary a touch between lunch and dinner. Lunch service is casual with a menu that includes a well-planned succession of sandwiches inspired by cuisines from around the world.
I've tried the fresh grouper sandwich, served on a sesame bun, with caper aioli. It's a refreshing and light lunch choice. For something heartier, consider the roasted tenderloin on house focaccia with Swiss cheese, caramelized shallots and sweet Dijon.
For something a little more exotic, the Kahlua pork sandwich is calling. Served on a sesame bun is a healthy portion of pork smoked in banana leaf topped with Korean barbecue sauce and ginger slaw.
The Packard's rib-eye burger is a presidential representation of the American classic served with ground mustard and spicy tomato jam.
Dinner trims back on the sandwiches and expands on the entrees, which include pasta tinged in Italian, Asian and Cajun flavors. Steaks include a simple filet served with asparagus, fingerling potatoes, cipollini onions and caramelized shallots in a cabernet sauvignon reduction or the more adventurous sirloin wrapped in caul fat with Brussels sprouts, house-smoked bacon and crispy fingerlings served with Maytag blue cheese demiglace.
Desserts are handcrafted affairs with names like cracked caramel sundae, blackstrap apple pie, sticky toffee pudding and classic panna cotta with berry bourbon sauce.
Setting the bar high
Perhaps Packard's most shiny object is its bar. The one the dining room is wrapped around is well-appointed and expertly stocked, but the one you have to take an elevator to get to is destined to hold 80 or so of the most sought-after seats in the city on temperate spring and fall afternoons and summer evenings.
The rooftop view is aimed directly on Oklahoma City's blossoming downtown cityscape and offers plenty of umbrella coverage of the often-unforgiving Oklahoma sun as you enjoy a local beer from COOP Aleworks, Roughtail or Mustang.
If you go
Packard's now offers brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Lunch hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
Dinner is served 5 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday extending to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
The rooftop bar is open 5 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 3 p.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday.
The restaurant and bar are closed Mondays.