There is a tendency for restaurants to compensate for a lack of overall quality with sheer volume. In Albuquerque, we asked the desk clerk at our Third La Quinta of this trip where to go for some good Southwest/New Mexican food. We wanted to sample some local stuff, and see if there really is such a thing as New Mexico Cuisine. His recommendation was a place that served food on plates the size of surfboards, with everything smothered in cheese, lettuce and onions. We saw a plate of Nachos served, and this is no exaggeration, that was a foot-tall tower of chips, cheese and meat. It was all just too much, but the locals seemed content with their huge portions of mediocre/bad food. I was reminded of the old Yogi Berra quote about “the food is terrible, but at least the portions were big…” This place totally reinforced my theory that sometimes more is not better; more is just more.
In an earlier post on the Supersizing of America and Americans (blame Starbucks and their “Tall Is Small” concept) I had mentioned how people have not only gotten wider, but taller as well; and what a farmer from the 1800’s might think if he were time-warped to a present-day Wal-Mart in Oklahoma City. The irony is inescapable as I sit here, typing this in the lobby of my fourth La Quinta of this cross-country trip, gazing over at, yup, you guessed it, a Wal-Mart in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma, both the city and the state are amongst the most obese in our otherwise very obese country. But the people here are just so damned nice; and why wouldn’t you be when the chances are good you will be having some pie real soon?
We had but one night here, and they say if you only have one night in Oklahoma City, you need to go to Cattlemen’s. Cattlemen’s is not some Western-décor, Cowboy-themed restaurant; Cattlemen’s IS a Western- Cowboy restaurant. It’s located in the Stockyard City district of OKC, and there are really stockyards there, along with more saddle shops, Western wear stores, and Cowboy hats than you could ever hope to see in one place. There is nowhere else in this country, where you can see your dinner, still on the hoof, roll by in a Semi truck while you are standing outside waiting for a table.
You know you are definitely not in California anymore when they ask you if you prefer the Smoking or Non-Smoking section, and are serious; so as our beeper has finally gone off, we are ushered in.
There are two different Cattlemen’s, actually: one half is an old 50’s style coffee shop, brightly lit, with a counter and lots of vinyl booths; the other a dark, wood paneled “Boys Club Steakhouse” with lots of roundy, button tuck booths and red floral print carpet you would definitely not want to see n the bold light of day. There are sketches of famous people who have eaten there on the walls of the main room, along with a room-length photo of, what else, a bunch of cows. There are two guys in the photo, both in suits, riding herd over them. The founders, perhaps? One guy is wearing what looks like a tux, the other a plaid sports coat and a fedora. Think “Mad Men meets Bonanza.”
In the front of the coffee shop side where people were waiting in the blissfully cool air conditioning, sat what was probably the World’s Least Used Scale; one of those Old Timey ones that you put a coin in and you get your weight and your fortune. Looking around a the size of the clientele, weight and fortune was probably information that most of these folks just didn’t want to have. I was afraid to step on, fearing my fortune would be “Better have the fish, Fat Boy…”
The menu at Cattlemen’s is not classic steakhouse, it’s more old time dinner house. Nothing is ala carte, all dinners come with a baked potato and a salad. They have all the steaks, and even the obligatory fish selections. Looking around the dining room, I am wondering if they really even have any fish back there or if, on the rare occasion anyone ever orders the Salmon, the waiters are trained to say, “Oh, I’m so sorry, Hun, but that Salmon was real popular tonight…”
Our server is cute as a button and she has that totally sincere Southern Hospitality vibe and is willing to do just about anything for your table, and do it happily. We guessed from her accent that she was probably from Tennessee (Alabama and Tennessee accents are very similar; but people from Tennessee just talk faster).
Every review we had read said that the wine list was a joke, so we brought our own bottle in which, we found out, is illegal in Oklahoma. The manager finally acceded to taking our bottle of Revana Cabernet to the back, bringing in back out and pretending like we had ordered it from them. “Excellent choice sir, and it’s brand new to our list.”
The steaks at Cattlemen’s were not massive slabs o’beef, their baked potatoes were not the size of footballs. But the beef was aged and grilled magnificently, the potatoes tasted fresh; the salad was a nice, manageable size and the house dressing was fabulous. Cattlemen’s is a great example of how more is not always better, sometimes more is just more, and less is better as long as it’s great.
The most interesting item on the menu at Cattlemen’s however, is not the steaks. It’s the “Lamb Fries”. All the reviews had said not to ask what they are, just order them. But we had to ask.
“Lamb Testicles,” our cute little five-foot-nothing server replied. They were sliced thinly, breaded and fried, and served with cocktail sauce, of all things. (And our girl knew her animal parts. I told her I had eaten “Rocky Mountain Oysters” before and that they were served in a somewhat more anatomically correct presentation. She correctly informed us that they were from a bull.)
In seemed a bit incongruous that a cowboy joint would be serving this particular part of the lamb. No lamb chops, just the juevos. They could have just thrown them away after removal, but probably some sheep-hating cattle rancher decided he wanted to eat them just out of spite; so now everyone that comes to Cattleman’s orders them. And so that is how the three of us came to be eating Lamb Balls at the most famous steakhouse in Oklahoma City. And I don’t think we’ll be putting that on the postcards.