Jamil's Steakhouse owner Greg Gawey has been telling the story for years about how when he asked his mother for steak she served him bologna, and it's finally paid off.
The September issue of Food Network Magazine, which hit racks Tuesday, focuses on sandwiches from across the country.
Jamil's Senators' Smoked Bologna sandwich represents Oklahoma.
A magazine editor asked for me and several other food writers across the state to nominate three unique Oklahoma sandwiches, and it turns out Jamil's was one of my nominations.
The magazine was looking for unique sandwiches that are representative of Oklahoma. My other nominations were the banh mi from Saigon Baguette and the BBQ Club from Iron Starr Urban Barbecue. I was surprised to see banh mi chosen from Kansas, I'd put Saigon's against anyone in the country. North Carolina claimed the barbecue slot.
In the end, the Senators' Smoked Bologna was a perfect choice as it represents a restaurant that's been associated with the state for half a century and style of sandwich you just don't find much anymore.
Smoked bologna is a forgotten art.
When I moved to Oklahoma in 1989 — by way of California, Texas and Nebraska — the only bologna I'd eaten came out of an Oscar Mayer package. You'll understand, then, why I held bologna in contempt.
That changed when someone talked me into trying some from Leo's Barbecue.
Years before my arrival on red dirt, Jim Elias, known to his friends as Jamil, started out in the restaurant business in post-World War II Bristow. He moved to Tulsa in the late 1940s and eventually opened the original Jamil's Steakhouse, which moved across town in 1957 and remains open today.
Jamil's expanded to Dallas, Houston and Oklahoma City.
Gawey started working at the Oklahoma City location in 1969 and took over in '76, soon adding his childhood favorite to the menu.
Seeing how effective bologna-slinging was down the street on Lincoln Boulevard, Gawey decided to join the fray.
Long after the Spirit of '76 vanished into history, two thick smoked bologna slices between a pretzel bun with red onion, lettuce, tomato, barbecue sauce and a side of tabbouleh still draws folks into Jamil's daily, making the Senators' Smoked Bologna Sandwich the restaurant's top-selling lunch item.
“I can't tell you how many bologna sandwiches we've sent up to the Capitol in the past 30 years,” Gawey said.
With this new national attention, Gawey might want to get with FedEx on a special rate to Washington, D.C. The bologna-slingers there might want to fuel up for election time.