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South Side Rejoice! OKC's best kept dining secret is in your neck of the woods

by Dave Cathey Published: November 15, 2013
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The Cubano Sandwich with Chopped Salad from Venue 104 Bistro.
The Cubano Sandwich with Chopped Salad from Venue 104 Bistro.

My recent lunchtime hot streak continued on Thursday with a visit with what has to be Oklahoma City’s best kept secret, Venue 104 Bistro, 10400 S. Western Avenue, Suite 5

First it was Tsubaki Sushi, then a trip to Cafe Kacao to sample the new breakfast offerings, but Venue 104 might well be the find of the year.  Full disclosure, it should’ve been found long ago. On July 10, I received an email from Jane Burdick, urging me to make it down to the corner of SW 104th Street and Western Avenue to try what she called “the best ‘gem’ in the city.” Six days later, Pat Smith sent me a similar email, extolling Venue 104′s many virtues. I told both ladies that I would put the bistro on my list of places to visit. Everyone knows how widely Oklahoma City is spread across the prairie and that a trip across town here is like driving from Fort Worth to Dallas, but it shouldn’t have taken me four months to arrive at the Palaggio shopping center where former Governor’s Mansion chef Derek Nettle and Moto Chef Mobile Diner chef/owner Guy Romo are churning out delicious dishes prepared with technical precision.

Quiche of the day with Butternut Squash Soup from Venue 104.
Quiche of the day with Butternut Squash Soup from Venue 104.

Nettle is a lifelong south-sider who honed his cooking skills as a member of the first graduating class of Platt College’s culinary school before landing him a gig as personal chef to the Henry family during their stay at the Governor’s Mansion. Nettle came to know the Henry’s while still working on behalf of his family’s business, Jewel Box Florist, which opened back in 1952. But that’s a story for the expanded coverage I have planned for later this winter.

What I wanted to share immediately was how good the food is at this farm-to-table concept where made-from-scratch interpretations of bistro stand-bys and comfort foods are the foundation. Chef John Bennett joined me for the excursion, which began with a Creole-style crab cake — a dangerous proposition for any restaurant as Oklahoma’s chef emeritus makes some of the meanest crab cakes the prairie has ever seen, and he’s not shy about turning his nose up at pretenders. By the time we’d left the restaurant, chef Bennett was divining Nettle’s crab cake secrets.

The Meatball Trio from Venue 104.
The Meatball Trio from Venue 104.

As the crab cake was just disappearing from our plate, a meatball trio arrived. Seriously, this was mind-blowing. Three cleverly conceived and perfectly executed variations from the classic Sicilian-style with house-made port wine ragu to a variation made from turkey and another vegetarian. The trio worked both alone and in concert. I can’t wait to go back and have it again.

I could’ve left happy after those two dishes, but along came my Cubano sandwich with chopped salad. Chef Bennett went with the quiche and butternut squash soup. I could blowtorch you with adjectives and superlatives but chef Bennett summed it up proper on the drive back home.

“I wouldn’t have changed one thing,” he said.

And that includes the signature bread pudding with house-made caramel sauce. Neither of us are bread-pudding devotees, but this version was stellar. Once I’ve tried all the other desserts, I’ll happily order it again.

I plan expanded coverage on Venue 104, which also sports a premium catering service, in January.

In the meantime, check it out, and let me know what you think.

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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