For those who have longed for full-service dining in the splendor of the Myriad Botanical Gardens, the wait is over. Park House, 125 Jim Norick Blvd., opened before Christmas, offering a menu of classics given a chef's touch with prices aimed for those who want a quick meal before a Thunder game or concert or who seek to engage in the theater of fine dining.
Regardless of what you order or how much your ticket runs, you will get perhaps the most spectacular view one can hope to pair with a burger, steak, sandwich, salad or half a chicken. Vast may have the broadest view, but no restaurant in the city can boast a more beautiful view as the tubular botanical gardens fill the circular glass walls with ever-changing colors at night. When spring blooms into its full glory, the daytime view may be even more breathtaking.
But Park House is only one component of the deal Holloway Restaurant Group struck, which also includes a seasonal burger and shake concept, a hot dog cart and management of private event planning and catering for the Myriad Botanical Gardens.
A space out of time
When a 5,500-square-foot restaurant space was built on the west edge of the Myriad Botanical Gardens in 2011, the group responsible for its development was determined to see it feature fine dining, with linen tablecloths, china, crystal and a menu populated by the kind of composed dishes that come with hefty price tags.
Many local restaurateurs were vocal in criticizing the idea. Among those dubious of doing ultrafine dining in the space were two of the market's most experienced operators: Peter and Sheree Holloway.
“The spec book they sent out was about three inches thick,” Holloway said. “And we didn't believe a fine-dining concept would be the best use of the space.”
Holloway should know. His experience in the local restaurant scene dates to his partnership with Jim Vallion and Gene Smelser as co-owners of Val Gene Associates restaurant group, which founded the Eagle's Nest, Pepperoni Grill, Texanna Red's, Shorty Small's, Harry Bear's, Triple's, Platter's, The Hungry Peddler, The City Cafe, Chicago's, The Red Eagle and Val Gene's Cafeteria and Coffee Shop, to name a few.
So, the sun-splashed space with the stunning view through its floor-to-ceiling windows stayed mostly vacant for two years, save for private events, temporary concepts and the historic OK Chefs Relief event last May.
Right group, right idea
After Peter's days at Val Gene, the Holloways formed the Holloway Restaurant Group, which includes Boulevard Steakhouse in Edmond, two 501 Cafe concepts and the Martini Lounge. The group also owned Classen Grill for a time. Pete is a true wine connoisseur, and Sheree is a passionate baker. Their children have followed in their footsteps. One is in California working (basking) in wine country. The other, Jeffrey, is a chef at Park House.
The Holloways had been involved in practically every style of restaurant before agreeing to shepherd the $2.9 million restaurant space built as part of the $38 million makeover of the Myriad Gardens.
It took a couple of years, but Maureen Heffernan, executive director of the Myriad Gardens Foundation, and Myriad Gardens Foundation Chairman Emeritus Jim Tolbert negotiated a deal that satisfied the foundation's desire for fine dining while maintaining more family-friendly concepts local restaurateurs felt would be best suited for the space.
Just days before Christmas, and in front of a spate of severe winter weather, Park House opened to the public.
Chef Jonathan Krell, who was at Stella Modern Italian Food before the Holloways hired him, designed the menu with Jeffrey Holloway, who attended Culinary Institute of America in Napa, Calif.
Krell said he had a blast putting the menu together: “I love food, man. I love to play with food, so putting together a new menu is just fun.”
The centerpiece of the kitchen is actually in the dining room.
“The rotisserie is so Holloways,” Krell said. “They said they wanted it to be like BOOM, there it is: this beautiful vertical rotisserie right when you walk through the front door. I spend all my time trying to think of differing foods I can stick in it.”
Chicken first and foremost rotates through the dancing flames, but Krell has managed to hang whole stalks of brussels sprouts and bacon-wrapped new potatoes in the device. The style of chicken changes, too.
“I was in Savory Spice Shop the other day, and they had this great guajillo chile paste in there,” Krell explained. “I sampled it and was like, ‘Yeah, we're doing Mexican-style rotisserie chicken.'”
It's that kind of experimental approach and the guest response that will determine the long-term culinary direction of Park House.
The original menu included a straightforward group of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, entrees and desserts, with prices for any kind of diner.
“I want to get a feel for who are diners are going to be,” Krell said. “We wanted this menu to reflect what Oklahomans have proven they like, but we also tried to do some things to those favorites that maybe they've never tried before.”
Along with rotisserie chicken, you'll find Mustard-Seed Crusted Pork Tenderloin, Pasta Carbonara, Filet Mignon, Halibut Fish and Chips, and Pan-Seared Scottish Salmon among the entrees.
“The fish and chips is probably one of our No. 1 sellers,” Jeffrey Holloway said. “It's one of those things you see on the menu, and your first impulse might be to ignore it, but with the fresh halibut in there, it's just ... oh man — you gotta try it.”
Fancy tots, nachos
Holloway said he and Krell try to stress simple, recognizable dishes with a chef's twist. The Chicken and Waffle Nachos include waffle fries instead of tortilla chips, which are topped with grilled jalapenos, melted cheese and avocado crema. The Deviled Egg Flight includes the picnic classic in four incarnations: house-cured bacon and Danish blue cheese; lump crab and goat cheese; goat cheese pesto and mascarpone; and traditional egg yoke mixed with mustard and mayonnaise.
The menu reaches to some of the earliest days of Krell's cooking history, in Philadelphia, where he began putting fancy tater tots on menus.
“This place I was working was really popular but it wasn't open on Sundays. So, I begged the owner to let me do a brunch, and he finally let me,” Krell said. “I'm also a (tater) tot freak, so I put fancy tots on that menu, and I've been doing them ever since.”
The tots in question are of the house-made ham and cheese variety with a charred green-onion and creme fraiche dip that would make any potato product sing. Napoleon Dynamite would never have to worry about having these tots smashed into his pants pocket because he'd never have had any left over.
The menu also offers entree salads, sandwiches, 10 sides a la carte, and a small selection of fun desserts, including milk and cookies, doughnuts and coffee and a hot fudge sundae big enough for four people.
Wine and pricing
Thanks to the Holloway family's deep connection to the wine industry, Park House offers an expansive wine list with more than 100 options.
“We decided to absorb the 13 percent tax on wine and pass the savings on to our diners,” Peter Holloway said. “And we offer bottles that range from about $15 up to a couple hundred.”
Wine is served with dinner or in the beautiful crescent bar facing the dining room. The bar sports specialty cocktails and shot glasses in the shape of boots.
My favorite bit of whimsy on the menu is The Round of Beers for the Kitchen, the most expensive thing on the menu at $30, but probably the best value. Remaining prices range between $11 and $26 for sandwiches, salads and entrees.
Krell said he wants to take advantage of seasonal ingredients as the restaurant progresses, and he is prepared to adjust to demand.
General manager Rachel Ferren, a longtime HRG employee, said the menu undergoes its first tweak this week, dropping one salad and adding a sandwich and a vegetarian entree.
Rest of the story
Park House might be the biggest, shiniest jewel in the deal the Holloway Restaurant Group struck with Myriad Gardens, but it wasn't all that interested the Holloway Restaurant Group.
Ice House opened in the fall for a short run, including hamburgers and shakes in the 350-square-foot building where skates are rented while the ice rink is open. HRG partnered with local burger-master Justin Nicholas of the terrifically (and deservedly) popular Nic's Grill at NW 11 and Pennsylvania to come up with the burgers. Ice House was open only a few weeks to gain valuable experience and input for a grand opening set for March 1.
The group also opened the Ice Cube, which sells hot dogs and “lots of hot chocolate” while the skating rink is open through the end of January.
HRG also handles private events and catering for the Myriad Gardens. Catering Director Julie Monroe said Park House already has been rented out for two private parties. The restaurant seats about 145 people but has capacity up to 245 for private events. Prices start at $10,000 for that privilege.
“The foundation really wanted to make sure that anyone could afford to have a special event at the Myriad Gardens, so people can rent it for as low as $1,200,” Monroe said. She said those who book the gardens have full access to the botanical tube and a dining area below it.
For information about catering or special events, call Monroe at 202-5306 or email email@example.com.
Park House opens at 11 a.m. daily, closing at 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
“If the Thunder win or are in the playoffs during the week, we might be open a little later, and it's right across the street, so come by and check us out after the game,” Peter Holloway said.
Park House also offers valet parking for dinner. Reservations are not necessary but can be made at 232-7275.