Weekend Getaways · Yummy Places

The Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile: My Top 10

I have so enjoyed visiting the Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile in Pawhuska, Oklahoma twice and wanted to share some of my favorite things about it! It’s just a short 1-hour drive from Tulsa to The Merc, so grab some friends and hop in the car for a fun, short road trip!

1. Breakfast. OMG. The Pioneer Woman’s breakfast is OFF THE CHAIN! First off, if you want to avoid the lines, get there early, and you most likely will. My friend Kelly and I arrived there around 8:30 a.m. on a Friday and only had to wait for a table for 5 minutes! This here delicious dish is the Pancake Breakfast with Edna Mae’s Pancakes. It’s served with a sampler of three types of syrups: Aged Vanilla and Cinnamon (my favorite), Orange Zest and Clove, and Sea Salt Caramel. It also has some of the world’s most delicious sausage, bacon, and eggs.

2. The General Store. OK, imagine a Cracker Barrel store, only way cuter! The Merc’s store is full of fun finds for your kitchen, closet, and kids! It’s so fun to browse… and buy too, of course!

My personal favorite items there are the Presidential Finger Puppets. I mean, who doesn’t want to teach their kids about the U.S. Presidents by propping them on their fingers and telling them who Abe Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and George Washington were? Fun!

3. The Bakery. You know that if a place involves the words “Pioneer Woman” and “Bakery,” it’s going to be pretty epic. Cinnamon rolls. Sticky buns. Cookies. Pastries. Your mouth will water upon catching just a glimpse of these baked goods.

I took home a few cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, and fruit pastries after my visits to The Merc, and the recipients of them told me they would love me forever. OK, the recipients were my husband and mom, so they have to love me anyway, but still, this gesture didn’t hurt the love vibes one bit.

I mean, just LOOK at that icing on those cinnamon rolls! Well played, Ree Drummond. Well played.

4. Lunch (or dinner)! OK, I mentioned how amazing The Deli’s breakfast is, but the lunch/dinner menu is pretty spectacular, too! Granted, (at least from my experience), they are more crowded for lunch. I arrived at 10:30 and waited 1 hour. And if you come for dinner, be sure to come early, since they close at 7 p.m. on Mondays-Thursdays and 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The Mercantile is NOT opened on Sundays.

My mom and I enjoyed a delicious lunch at The Merc. She had the Fried Chicken Sandwich and said it was even better than a Chick-fil-A sandwich, which is really saying a lot! I had the French Onion Soup. Oh my! It was hands-down the best French Onion Soup I’ve ever had (maybe because there’s Oklahoma beer in it?!)! Granted, it’s a little difficult to eat due to the stringy/melty cheese, but that’s what you get when you order French Onion Soup!

Have I mentioned that everything on the menu at The Merc is a recipe straight from Ree Drummond herself? I like to imagine that Ree is actually back in the kitchen preparing everything. While I know that’s not actually happening, everything I’ve tried at The Merc is absolutely delicious, and that’s all that matters!

5. Coffee! Do you like coffee? Keep reading! The Merc has great coffee! That’s partially because their beans are from Topeca Roastery here in Tulsa. You can order a coffee beverage either while you’re dining in The Deli or if you go upstairs to the Bakery. I’ve tried both the Spicy Cowgirl (iced drink infused with chile syrup) and the Cowboy Coffee (sasparilla-infused hot latte). Both were yummy and very unique. I enjoyed sipping on them on my ride home.

6. Friendly People. Both times I’ve been to The Mercantile, I’ve met some truly amazing people. It’s so fun that this little city in Oklahoma is now attracting visitors from all over the world! During my most recent visit, I met a couple from Minnesota while I was waiting in line. The wife told me how much she loves The Pioneer Woman. We parted ways once our table was ready, but when we went to pay for our meals, our waitress informed us that our meals had already been paid from “with love from Minnesota.” Sweet couple from Minnesota, if you’re reading this, Kelly and I think you’re the absolute sweetest and are inspired to “pay it forward,” thanks to you!

7. Quality time in the car with loved ones. If you live in Tulsa, it will take you about 1 hour to get to The Merc. If you live in OKC, it will take you about 2 hours, 15 minutes. Either way, that equals fun time in the car with your friends and family! I got caught up on life with my mom and Kelly during my two visits. Plus, it’s a really pretty drive from Tulsa to Pawhuska on some less-traveled country roads. It was definitely time well spent.

8. Candy galore! There is candy of every kind upstairs in the Bakery area: jelly beans, taffy in every flavor imaginable, old fashioned rock candy, and more! It’s a kid’s dream come true. OK, fine, it’s my dream come true too! Sweet tooth heaven!

9. This floral couch. You guys, this couch is just gorgeous. That’s why Kelly and I had to sit on it and have our picture taken. If I could, I would bring my laptop and work from this couch every day while eating cinnamon rolls and drinking Spicy Cowgirls.

10. The possible chance to meet Ree herself. At least in the early days after The Mercantile first opened, The Pioneer Woman herself was up at The Merc ALL THE TIME. Taking pictures with people. Signing autographs. Potentially even whipping up some of the dishes (in my imagination). You never know who you’re going to run into at The Merc. Last time I was there, I spotted Ree’s father-in-law, looking happy as can be chatting with customers.

If you’ve been to The Merc, what were some of your favorite things about it? If you haven’t been yet, what are you waiting for?!

 

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Yummy Places

Take 2 = Eat Lunch Out & Give Back

We all deserve a second chance in life. That’s the theme of Take 2: A Resonance Café — a
great place to eat and support a local nonprofit while you’re at it. Take 2 at 309 S. Main St. provides tasty meals and a positive, educational environment where women recently released from prison can learn valuable skills.

When I visited Take 2 recently, I was surprised to see how bustling it was. On a Friday afternoon, it was filled with plenty of the downtown Tulsa workforce looking for a tasty lunch. The restaurant is resplendent with colorful murals on the walls and bright furniture. It’s not a place where you would expect to find ex-felons.

Everyone who works there is so nice — from Tom Butcher, chef, manager, and former Impressions owner, to the ladies who fix the food and ring up your total. Take 2 is actually very similar to the former Impressions, so if you ever went there, you’ll feel right at home.

I had a half order of the Prime Rib Au Jus, along with a big slice of Banana Pie (it’s half price on Fridays after 1:00!). The sandwich was delectable — tender meat served with hot au jus sauce — perfect for a chilly day. The slice of banana pie was huge and had actual slices of banana in it! In the future, I’ll share it with someone instead of inhaling it all on my own.

I was delighted that Debbie Gordon, Development Director for Resonance, was able to join me for lunch and share more of the Take 2 story with me. Debbie chose the Stew for her lunch and said it’s one of her favorite menu items.

Debbie told me that the sandwiches are a big hit at Take 2, and it’s clear to see why. The meat is fresh-sliced, and options abound: Prime Rib or Sirloin Au Jus, Roast Beef or Turkey Club, Corned Beef, and Pastrami, to name a few. Tom brought his favorite sandwich from Impressions to Take 2, also: the Stacked Deck (roast beef, ham, turkey pastrami, salami, swiss, cheddar). Cold sandwiches include Chicken Salad, tuna, and avocado.

Other items available to order include soups, prepared Chefs Salads and Caesar Salads, and baked potatoes. They also have a number of mouth-watering sides: tabouli, potato salad, shrimp macaroni, cottage cheese, and cole slaw. They also have a fully-stocked salad bar.

As patrons of the restaurant, you aren’t just purchasing food, you are purchasing a better future for someone’s mom, wife, daughter, sister or granddaughter. I had a chance to hear more about the program as I ate with Debbie. The women who are employed at Take 2 have already gone through one of the Resonance programs at Eddie Warrior or Turley Correctional Centers. It can be very difficult for a person coming out of prison to find employment, so Take 2 is a perfect opportunity for these women to prove themselves and find gainful employment.

“If a woman coming out of prison can get a job and a place to stay within 30 days, she can survive,” Debbie told me.

Debbie also showed me the loft above the restaurant where the women who work at the restaurant are able to live. It’s a perfect pair — easy access to work. Pretty amazing that Resonance has come up with an automatic job + housing environment for some of its graduates.

Most of Take 2’s traffic is walk-in customers who work in nearby downtown buildings. It really is the perfect spot for lunch if you work anywhere near central downtown Tulsa.

Take 2 is open 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday-Friday. They also do catering orders (boxed lunches and sandwich trays) as well as takeout orders. The number to call for catering/takeout orders is 918-861-4555.

Yummy Places

Diamonds in the Rough: Tulsa’s 5 Best Hole-in-the-Walls

I love discovering a restaurant that few people know about that it also amazingly delicious. Sometimes, these places are a little rough on the exterior. Sometimes, they don’t accept credit cards and I have to plan a trip to an ATM beforehand. But always, they deliver on taste and an authentic food experience.

Where can you find Tulsa’s Best Hole-in-the-Walls? Here:

#1: Viet Huong
7919 E 21st St.

Viet Huong is truly one of my favorite Asian restaurants in Tulsa. It’s my go-to spot for pho, and I crave their dumpling soup on almost any cold day. That right there (pictured above) is the BBQ Pork Wonton Soup. Don’t ask me to remember the “V+#” menu item, because I can’t, and their menu of course isn’t posted on a fancy website somewhere for
me to reference. But when you flip through their photo menu and see something listed like that pictured above, you’re going to want to order it. It comes with plenty of fresh vegetables that you can add to your soup, like bean sprouts, cilantro, and parsley. Yum!

My favorite appetizer at Viet Huong is the Spring Roll (pictured right). It’s filled with tons of deliciously fresh vegetables and served with a tangy peanut sauce.

When you visit Viet Huong, just walk in, grab an empty table (if they have one), and the nice Vietnamese waitresses will greet you and take your order. Make sure you bring cash; they are cash only! They’re also a great option for take out, and they supposedly have a drive thru, though I have never tried it.

 

#2: Linda-Mar Drive-In
1614 W. 51st Street and 5941 E. Admiral Place

The next time you’re craving a hamburger and fries, stop yourself before you head over to a staple drive-through like McDonald’s or Whataburger. Wouldn’t you rather support a local business, where the beef is fresh, and the food is cooked Oklahoma-style?

The original location in West Tulsa, which I visited on a snowy afternoon, has been open since the early 1970’s. I quickly realized that a drive-in is not quite the same as a drive-through. There was no place for me to drive my car through and place an order into a squawking box. However, I could easily park, go inside, and place my order for a delicious hamburger to go, or eat my meal inside the small restaurant while watching The Andy Griffith Show, which plays continually at both Linda-Mar locations.

Maybe it was the familiar whistling tune coming from the television that made me feel as though I had been transported back in time. I ordered the most signature item on the menu, the Westside Burger – double meat and cheese with grilled onion cooked into the burger, served on Texas toast. I also had a side of onion rings, which are available raw or grilled. I choose the less bad-breath-inducing option – grilled.

It makes sense that the Westside Burger received its name from the neighborhood where the original Linda-Mar is located, and fittingly, the new location boasts the location-centric name Eastside for its signature burger.

The exterior of the restaurant is intriguing – a cinderblock painted bright yellow and red. Inside, you’ll find NASCAR-themed décor with an image of Winston Cup champion Rusty Wallace’s Blue Deuce covering one wall of the dining room. Owner Mike McCutchen was at one time the owner of the Tulsa Speedway and used to sponsor a Sprint racecar team.

Burgers are the mainstay at Linda-Mar, but the menu also features several other items, including a boneless chicken basket (with a jalapeño option), a grilled chicken sandwich, a grilled cheese sandwich, a hot link sandwich, a coney dog and Frito chili pie. Side options include fried okra, crinkle-cut fries, onion rings, tator tots, fried cheese balls and friend mushrooms.

#3: Tacos Don Francisco
4008 E 11th St.

As you probably know, there’s a vast difference between authentic Mexican food and Tex-Mex. I’m a huge fan of Tex-Mex, but there are times in life when you feel the need to eat a burrito from a menu whose contents are entirely in Spanish, and to order it from someone who tells you “gracias” after you complete your order.

When you need that sort of authentic Mexican food experience, head over to Tacos Don Francisco.

quesadillasI first noticed TDF (as I affectionately like to call it) for the very first time a couple years ago on Christmas Eve around 11:30 p.m. My husband and I were driving around searching for any open venue that could satiate our late-night munchies. As the rest of the world was sleeping, awaiting the arrival of Santy Clause, the ONLY businesses open in all of Midtown were QuikTrip and TDF. So, did we confidently stride into TDF and eat some delicious tacos on Christmas Eve? No. Instead, like the pansy gringo/gringa that we are, we settled for some very un-authentic QuikTrip taquitos from the roller grill. #fail

It was only until recently that I discovered what a huge slipup that Christmas Eve decision was. On a recent weekday at lunchtime, mi amiga Beth and I strode confidently into TDF, knowing that we would likely be the only gringas in the establishment. We were greeted by a very friendly staff and the curious looks of some of the other diners (though I’m sure we would get that anywhere…we are pretty funny looking). Immediately, we looked to the sign above the cash burritoregister that displays the menu. We were pleasantly surprised to see that each menu item is displayed on “Hi, My Name Is…” stickers. Classy. But cute, and it made us laugh.

I carefully selected the Chicken Burrito Mojada, a huge burrito covered in red sauce, cheese, tomato and fresh avocado, complete with plastic silverware (as you can see in my photo at the top of this post). I was also delighted to see that TDF offers my favorite line of Mexican soft drinks: Jarritos. I plopped down in a booth with my Burrito Mojada and Fruit Punch Jarritos, and I was on Cloud Nueve.

Beth, fully aware that we were at a places with “Tacos” in the name, was wise enough to order a taco, a beef one filled tacos_DFwith onions, cilantro, and some sort of yummy sauce. She also tried a chicken quesadilla (which we gringas pronounce as “k-sa-dill-a.” She described it as being “very cheesy, full of flavor, and juicy.” Oh, and both the taco and quesadilla were served with a ginormous pepper.

Our whole experience was very positive. The staff was great, the food was delicious, and the portions were huge for the amount we paid. We also left feeling like we had just been in Mexico, which is always fun.

#4: Wilson’s BBQ
1522 E. Apache St. and 3616 E. 11th St.

North Tulsa is full of great BBQ joints, and Wilson’s is my favorite. They’ve been family-owned since the 1960s and serve up great original recipes.

Some of the favorites on the menu include:

  • Hickory smoked ribs served with baked beans, and coleslaw
  • Sweet potato pie or buttermilk pie for dessert
  • Hickory smoked brisket served with sliced or chopped pickles, onions, and bread.
  • Polish or hot style pork sausage links

When I’m there, I like to order the Pulled Pork Sandwich with potato salad. So yummy!

#5: Eritrean & Ethiopian Café
6934 S. Lewis Ave.


DSC_0004When the Tulsa Places crew visited Tulsa’s most authentic African restaurant, we started out with a delicious appetizer – the Sambusa with Veggie. It’s a vegetable shell pastry filled with lentil, onions and jalapenos. It’s not as spicy as you might expect. It comes with a delicious dipping sauce, and you can also opt for Sambusa with Chicken.

Let’s start with the mega space our meals took up. The largest plates I’ve 20160107_112813ever seen blanketed in a thin, almost-purple injera (a spongy flatbread that is about 18 inches in diameter), with SHIRO WOT steaming in a bowl in the middle. I’m a fan of chickpeas, and this dish’s main ingredient is chickpea flour. The spice of the dish comes from the Berbere sauce. It reminded me of curry but had elements I couldn’t quite place. The chili peppers in the berbere brought enough heat to give my sinuses a relief. The aroma was delectable.

The act of eating it made us question if we should have a demo on how to eat Ethiopian food. Using the injera as a vehicle, the yummy dish made it to my mouth. Luckily, my makeshift bib made it out clean.

I (Lindsay) tried the DERO TIBS – chicken breast with garlic, onions, green peppers and tomatoes. It reminded me a little of fajitas, actually! It was also served with a huge helping of injera.

DSC_0005We have to give the owners of Eritrean & Ethiopian Cafe props. They know their patrons are mostly Americans, proven as the tables filled up with Okie-accented guests. This cafe is eager to share Ethiopian cuisine and they have even noted which items on the menu Americans prefer, such as the Vege-Combo – seven veggies.

When you go to Eritrean and Ethiopian Cafe, have an open mind and a little time to spare. It’s worth taking the time to chat with the owners, take it all in, and enjoy.

Eritrean & Ethiopian Cafe is open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. It’s definitely an experience worth having in 2016!

What’s your favorite hole-in-the-wall in Tulsa?

Kid-friendly Places · Yummy Places

BBQ? Mexican? = tacocue. Yes, please.

In a world that is continually saying “yes” to fast casual eateries and most certainly places like Qdoba, Chipotle, Torchy’s, and Fuzzy’s, tacocue americano eatery has entered the scene as a unique twist on the typical taco. Just last week, it opened its first location at 9107 S. Sheridan Rd. in Tulsa.

Jeff Jackson, CEO and President of Legendary Q Brands, the franchisor of Billy Sims BBQ, launched tacocue and has hopes that it will become a franchise as popular as Billy Sims.

When I first heard about tacocue’s concept of BBQ and Mexican fusion, I was hesitant. I mean, I love BBQ, and I love Mexican, but combining the two? It worried me. I quickly discovered there was nothing to worry about when I bit into my tacocue burrito, loaded with pulled pork, guac, pico de gallo, and all the other typical burrito fixings (all of which are made from scratch at tacocue!). The tacocue pulled pork was soft and succulent, and the combination of flavors was delightful. When I followed my tacocue visit by a visit to Qdoba the following day, I wished I had gone back to tacocue!

The four menu items include the Taco Duo (two tacos), Bowl (Salad or Rice), Burrito, and Quesadilla. The eight different meats (Pulled Pork, Smoked Chicken, Hot Link, Chorizo, Hamlet Ham (because they’re co-located with the Hamlet for now), Brisket, Steak and Breakfast Bacon) are seasoned and smoked using pecan wood.

Upon selecting their menu item and smoked meat choice, guests can then choose from over 20 ingredient options to fill their item with, including three salsas – the spiciest of which is tacocue’s “KA-BOOM Sauce.” I tried the tiniest of bite of KA-BOOM Sauce, and let me tell you, it is not for the faint of heart! Only try this sauce if you’re ready to have chapped lips for the next couple days. I had the salsa verde (their medium sauce) on my burrito, and it was plenty spicy, but not overwhelming. And of course, there’s also mild sauce for the cautious.

I took the Taco Duo home to my husband. They were filled with smoked chicken and pulled pork, with a number of fixings, including cojita cheese, which I’ve never seen at any of the other taco joints. He commented on how flavorful they were and begged me to go back.

tacocue is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Their breakfast menu offers tacos, burritos, bowls, and quesadillas served with Pulled Pork, Hot Link, Chorizo, Hamlet Ham, Brisket, and Breakfast Bacon served alongside eggs.

I was most impressed by tacocue’s beautiful patio room (below). It can be opened up to the outdoors when the weather is nice and includes plenty of heat lamps if it’s a bit chilly. With a couple of TVs, it looks like a great place to watch a game. The main dining room is filled with fun pop art decor, created by Jeff’s wife, who is a graphic artist.

Affordable, tasty, and unique, tacocue is a welcome addition to the Tulsa fast casual dining scene!

Free Places · Kid-friendly Places

Tulsa Has a New, Old Library. And It’s Awesome.

img_5112Have you had a chance to visit the newly remodeled Central Library in downtown Tulsa at 400 Civic Center yet? Well, call me a nerd, but it’s now one of my favorite places downtown.

This library went over a major overhaul — three years of renovations totaling $55 million. It’s now a crowning jewel in downtown — a mecca of learning, creative thinking, oh, and coffee.

img_5119Yes, that’s right … coffee. The Central Library is home to downtown Tulsa’s first STARBUCKS! I enjoyed lunch and a Frappuccino with some friends on the Starbucks patio just the other day. I for one think it was a brilliant idea to put a Starbucks inside the library. Hopefully it will draw more people to the wonderful services that our Tulsa City-County Library System offers.

Speaking of those wonderful services… people, having a library card is the best free thing I have! (OK, I know I pay for it in taxes, but it’s totally worth it!). I LOVE our img_5117library system! You can do things on TulsaLibrary.org like download free audio books, read digital newspapers and magazines, and learn a language. I’m personally pretty old school, so I prefer books you can hold and audio books you pop into your CD player. So when I need these items, I can go on their website and request that those items by transferred to the library closest to me. The library makes it so easy for us! I love you, Tulsa City-County Library!

img_5114I really enjoyed strolling through the library during my recent visit. As a new mom, I especially loved the children’s area. It has a ton of interactive displays for the kids to play on. And books are organized in a more kid-friendly manner than they were when I was a kid, that’s for sure.

The new study rooms (left) are awesome, too. They’re beautiful rooms with views overlooking downtown. I’m going to have to find something to study just so I can use one of them.

Throughout the library, you’ll find really comfortable, modern-looking furniture. One room of the library is entirely dedicated to Tulsa, with books and other materials on the city’s history. Other impressive features of the library include a 3-D printer, a digital recording lab,  an educator meeting space with a kitchenette, movable furniture and magnetic board, pickup lockers in the lobby for patrons to retrieve items when the facility is closed, and a fantastic parking garage with free parking for up to 2 hours for library patrons (enter off Denverimg_5115; YOU’RE WELCOME!).

I look forward to spending many more lunch breaks exploring our wonderful new, old library.

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Yummy Places

South Tulsa’s Cafe Seville Speaks My Love Language

fullsizerender-1My husband and I recently discovered Cafe Seville in The Shops of Seville at 101st and Yale and realized that this adorable restaurant speaks our love language: breakfast food!

Their staff arrives at 4 a.m. to begin cooking delicious pastries and other decadent dishes. At Cafe Seville, they serve breakfast items that you won’t find anywhere else. Among the mouth-watering options are French Toast flavors like Caramelized Vanilla Bean, Orange-Almond, and Cherries Jubilee. I would like to try one of each, please! Oh, and don’t even get me started on the Bananas Foster Pancakes!

If you prefer something a little more savory, I recommend the Savory Bacon Tartlet (right). It’s a tasty pastry filled with a sauté of bacon, mushrooms, sweet pepper, thyme and smokey paprika, then topped img_5012with egg and baked into a delicious quiche tartlet and served with fruit. It was extremely filling and flavorful.

My husband went a little South of the Border with his breakfast choice — Blue Corn Stacked Enchiladas (below). Your choice of bacon, ham or sausage, two eggs, cooked any way you like, with potatoes, onion, bell pepper and cheese, then layered between blue corn tortillas, served with Seville Salsa.

Cafe Seville also has a number of breakfast sandwiches and basic breakfast combos with eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy, etc.

img_5011They are also open for lunch, serving a variety of sandwiches, soups, salads, and burgers.

Cafe Seville is open for Sunday brunch from 10-2 and Tuesday through Saturday from 7:30 to 2. They
have an adorable outdoor patio, complete with fireplace. If we can ever get some cooler weather this fall, it would be the perfect place to enjoy breakfast or lunch with a friend on a cool autumn day!

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Yummy Places

Maxxwells Restaurant Serves Up Delicious Eats Inside Campbell Hotel

maxxwellsIf you’re looking for consistently delicious food at a reasonable price in a classy setting, pay a visit to Maxxwells Restaurant inside the historic Campbell Hotel at 2626 E. 11th st. in Tulsa. I love the charm that both this hotel and the restaurant hold. Situated right along Route 66, the restaurant fittingly features black and white photos from Tulsa’s past and booths and a bar that will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

IMG_4787When my husband and I recently visited Maxxwells for lunch, we were pleased to find that it wasn’t very crowded, making it the perfect spot for a little date in the middle of our work day. He ordered the Buffalo Chicken Wrap ($11) — grilled chicken tossed in buffalo sauce, lettuce, celery, and blue cheese in a flour tortilla, with a side of sweet potato tots. He said the wrap was a little spicy, and the celery gave it a nice crunch.

The real star of his dish was the sweet potato tots. He had tried those before and had discovered that they are basically golden nuggets of goodness. I tried a couple and was truly impressed. They were better than sweet potato fries and better than regular tots – the best of both worlds combined!

I went for a lunch menu item — the half sandwich and soup ($7). I opted for the Open Face Turkey Melt — IMG_4788bacon, tomato, lettuce, Swiss and chipotle aioli on toasted wheat bread with a cup of Tomato Basil soup. The sandwich was delicious! The chipotle aioli definitely made this sandwich. My soup was served very hot and flavorful.

Other menu items that we have our eyes on for future visits include the Smokey Mac n’ Cheese — tossed smoked sausage and diced chicken breast, their Chicken Fried Steak and Chicken Fried Chicken, and the Spinach Salad Hot Bacon Vinaigrette. Oh, and I didn’t even mention that they have a complete breakfast menu and serve breakfast all day long.

IMG_4789We decided to indulge in dessert and ordered a slice of House Made Cheesecake ($5). It was served with fresh strawberries and whipped cream and was simply divine.

Maxxwells is open 7 days a week, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. It’s most certainly a Tulsa destination worth checking out!

Kid-friendly Places · Yummy Places

Do Not Let the Summer End Without Going to This Tulsa Summer Staple

IMG_4495During the summer, do you ever drive by these little road side shacks that have epic lines and wonder, what’s all the rage about? If you find yourself asking that, then you obviously haven’t tried Josh’s Sno Shack, Tulsa’s destination for ridiculously delicious snow cones.

Josh’s Sno Shack serves snow cones unlike any I’ve ever had in my life. The ice is perfectly soft — none of that crunchy stuff you get at other places. This ice is truly like fresh-fallen snow. How is that possible?

Josh Juarez, owner and founder of Josh’s, told me that the staff is trained to make sure the snow is always top-notch and will make tweaks to the machine if the ice is coming out as anything other than super fresh. And the flavors (there are literally hundreds of flavor combinations) … they are all made in-house with cane sugar, so the syrups are super fresh and high quality.

Josh’s has your regular snow cone stand standbys, such as my personal favorite, Tiger’s Blood josh's(coconut, strawberry), Fuzzy Navel (orange, peach), and Mai Tai (lemon, orange, pineapple). But there are also lots of combinations you can find only at Josh’s, like the Mexican Fiesta (blackberry, lime, margarita) and Peachy King, pictured right (peach, pina colada).

Josh’s is super kid-friendly. With flavors like Bart Simpson (banana, blue raspberry), Finding Nemo (black cherry, orange), and Spongebob (banana, vanilla), your kids are going to be begging for Josh’s (if they aren’t already!). You can also have gummy bears or pop rocks added to any snow cone – fun!

One thing you’ll notice when you visit Josh’s is how incredibly friendly the staff members are. I asked Josh about this, and he said he puts a lot of emphasis on hiring quality people and teaching them great customer service. It really shows! I don’t think there’s been a time I’ve visited a Josh’s when the young person taking my order hasn’t been genuinely interested in how my day is going. It just helps make your snow cone a little sweeter.

You can book a Josh’s Sno Shack for a special event! How fun would that be, to have snow cones at your wedding or party? Josh’s has 7 free-standing locations (8 if you count the one inside Safari Joe’s H20!). Be sure to visit one (or all 7) before the summer ends!

 

Free Places · Outdoor Places

Exploring Oklahoma’s Outdoors: Natural Falls State Park

IMG_4582If you’re looking for a fun, short road trip from Tulsa, Natural Falls State Park on the Oklahoma/Arkansas border is definitely worth checking out. Home to a beautiful, 77-foot waterfall and the setting for the 1974 film “Where the Red Fern Grows,” Natural Falls is a true outdoor wonder.

I had been wanting to visit Natural Falls for a long time, and it finally worked out that we were able to take the 1 hour, 15 minute trip from Tulsa in July when my friend Kelsey was in town. When we first pulled in, we stopped at the Visitors’ Center, which has nice, clean restrooms, snacks, souvenirs, and most FullSizeRenderimportantly, free maps of the grounds.

When you first head towards the falls, you’ll notice a railed observation platform that allows hikers to overlook the falls. This is a good spot to take a picture and observe the falls from above the water; but never fear, the view gets even better as you walk down several dozen steps that lead to the foot of the falls.  There, another observation deck offers a great view of the falls and the grotto surrounding them. Another great thing about being at the foot of the falls is that the temperature drops by 10 degrees or so.

After snapping some pictures in front of the falls with my hubby and Kelsey (along with my very pregnant belly), we decided to try a couple of hiking trails. We found success on the Ghost Coon Trail, which was about a mile hike through some woods. We kept joking around that only on the Oklahoma/Arkansas border would you find a trail called “Ghost Coon,” and kept our eyes peeled for zombie raccoons.

You can find picnic tables and grills throughout Natural Falls State Park. Campsites, including 44 RV sites with seven full hookup sites and 17 tent sites, are available along with a comfort station with showers. The Red Fern Reunion Center is available for group functions. Other amenities include four and 1/2 miles of hiking IMG_4592and nature trails, a picnic shelter, volleyball, horseshoes, a basketball court, catch and release fishing, playgrounds, a nine-hole disc golf course and a formal garden area. Pets are allowed on a leash only. Although swimming is not allowed in the park, there are several public swimming areas available within a short distance of the park.

Natural Falls State Park affords an opportunity to observe a variety of plant and animal life. The dense forest includes maples, chinquapin and white oaks, while plants such as flowering dogwood, sassafras, coral berry, spicebush, redbed, and pawpaw blanket the cool forest floor. The waterfall creates a moist environment where ferns, mosses and liverworts thrive.

FullSizeRender copyIMG_4591Whether you plan on staying overnight or just a couple hours, it’s definitely worth taking the short drive from Tulsa to visit Natural Falls State Park!

 

Weekend Getaways

Weekend Getaway: OKC Riversport Adventures

PhotoGrid_1449152809141By Bonita James

My fascination with the SandRidge Sky Trail, a vertical, 80′ ropes course, started three years ago. It was there, on day three of quitting smoking (Thanks 1800QuitNow!), I vowed I would climb that sucker and jump off of the Rumble Drop. My mission came true during my weekend getaway from Tulsa to Oklahoma City. Well, almost.

Weekend Getaway from Tulsa to Oklahoma City

I met my sister, Barbara, and a literal truck-load of kids (they belong to our family), at the Boathouse District off of I-40 on the Oklahoma River. Now, when I visited this area three years ago, there was little to be seen. The Oklahoma River, of course, the Chesapeake Boathouse, and this mega-ropes course which challenged me from the moment I saw it. That was basically it. Now, the dreams of OKC damming the river have been realized with OKC Riversport Adventures and it’s definitely worth the trip! The same will be said for the Gathering Place in Tulsa once complete and they reopen Riverside.

Once OKC decided to dam the river, endless possibilities came of it. Now, the site for rowing, para-rowing, and canoe/kayak training for the Olympics and Para-Olympics, the Oklahoma River produces world-class athletes. While driving to Riversport we could see a regatta race taking place.  Just pulling in, there is a sense of excitement and we were about to do some really cool stuff.

Zipping Away.

First thing first. Ziplining on the Sandridge Sky Zip. Well, signing waivers and then zip lining. I have to give props to the staff and to Riversport. Aside from looking up what type of shoes to wear, I didn’t prepare much. Riversport is a well-oiled machine and all of the staff are ready to help. Everyone paid special attention to our kids, too. Which, as the greatest aunt in the world, the entire experience for our kids is what’s truly important. Before they could take off or play on their phones, we were suited up to zip.

IMG_1580-e1471007960350
view from the bottom. You can either jump off into the Rumble Drop, slide down from the ropes course or climb the stairs to zip across the river.

We climbed the stairs outlining the ropes course all the way to a platform at the top. Despite knowing we were securely hooked into our harnesses which were hooked into the tracks above us, the higher we climbed the more frightened I became. With my nephews ahead of me and my sister and niece behind me, I suddenly realized I had gotten us all into this.

What happened next was much more than stepping off a platform and hoping for the best. Once the boys got to the final landing, pure fear struck one of them and pure courage struck the other. While Colin hugged the pole, Colton took it as a chance to go first. He wasn’t waiting for anyone. We cheered him on as he got hooked up to the line. Before I knew it, he walk out to the ledge and jumped without hesitation. In that moment, I saw this 10-year-old’s fearlessness and love of the thrill.

Gliding over the river, Colton looked back with the most amazing expression of “This is so awesome!” on his face. That’s all it took for Colin to quickly mustered up the courage to step up. And it was all courage. He was scared and he found bravery within himself. Just like that, he was off … and then it was my turn.

Now, I am the type of person who gets “over” her fear of heights by going skydiving, but I’m still scared of heights! It took a few glances at my sister’s super excited and encouraging face before I stepped off and zipped away.

I loved it! It’s like you sit down to fly and it’s an awesome ride. I pretty much screamed and giggled going across the river. When I landed on the other side, I had so much adrenaline going through me, I swear I was near an out-of-body experience. Zipping back, it was still hard to step off but this time I reveled in the trip. Going back, there is an expansive view of Oklahoma City’s downtown and it was gorgeous.

My sister was the last to go and when she landed we totally had a “sister, sister” moment. “Sister, Sister days” are full of memories and this one was special. Ziplining was one of the most fun experiences we had ever had together.

Post-ziplining photo. Colton is in the "refusing to smile" phase.
Post-zipping. Colton is in the “refusing to smile” phase.

“This is the best day of my life!” Colton was ecstatic. Colin took a little while to come around. Later, he told his dad he was proud of himself for doing it. Cue warm and fuzzies. My niece had the most beautiful smile on her face. Pre-ziplining, she was worried about her looks. Post-ziplining she had forgotten all about keeping up appearances.

After zipping in in OKC, I’m ready to zipline off of everything! We are already planning a trip to the PostOak Canopy Tours outside of Tulsa. You bet I’ll tell you all about it on Tulsa Places when we go, too!

We had some time to kill before the rapids. There is so much to do with your Day Pass at Riversport! Every area is super interactive. Kids and adults can wall climb, scurry through multiple Adventure Courses, hit the pump track, catch a thrill with Extreme Jumping, and hang out in the Youth Adventure area.  Everything at Riversport for the kids (and adults) to play on encourages and requires physical activity. Even the “splash pad” requires a turn of the crank. It makes sense with Riversport sharing a space with an Olympic training site. Activities go beyond the Boathouse District, too. On your weekend with Riversport, you can plan adventures at Lake Overholser and Lake Hefner. The list goes on.  

Next on the agenda, River Rapids.

This is an activity, not a ride.

Rapids at OKC RiversportAfter we were checked in for the rapids, we were asked if we had ever done this before. The answer is no, floating the Illinois river does not count. I made sure each of our kids were paying attention to the 20 minute safety talk. The Safety guide kept us interested with quips and jokes. But, seriously, the rapids are not a ride. You are not buckled into anything and you must be an active participant in the experience, and possibly in your own rescue. A lesson my sister learned well, was to french fry and not pizza. Basically, keep you legs in front of you and together while the rapids sweep you away. There are man-made obstacles under the water to replicate what you would find in nature. Keep you legs closed and in front.

Hannah, our amazing rapids guide, got our kids pumped up to get in the raft. Once we were suited up with helmets and PFDs, we were ready to get wet. And yes, you will get soaked!

Forward 4!

Rapids at OKC RiversportHannah put our two oldest in the front, my sister and I in the middle, and the youngest two in the back with her. After learning commands and some practice, she put Clayton, my soft-spoken 14 year-old nephew in charge. Captain Clayton emerged, a strong-voiced leader commanding our strokes.

I had never heard or seen this kid take such charge. Forget puberty, leadership changed his voice and we all followed suit. One. Two. Three. Four.

The first course was a blast! Hitting the bottom of a big spill sends huge masses of water crashing into the boat. After the first course, we thought it couldn’t get any better. We were wrong.

The second time around Hannah guided us to a different course. Kayakers ahead of us, battled the current, upping their experience points. Round two was a much different course and next thing we knew we were crashing into the water and paddling through intense rapids. My sister was there one second and gone the next. I saw her helmet floating ahead of us.

Hannah took us around again and stopped to see if Barbara wanted back on the raft. She opted to be our cheerleader instead.

We nailed the course much better the second time. I almost flew out, and at one point, we were all in the middle of the raft, scrambling to get our butts back on the sides. Somehow, we managed to dig our feet in and pull it together. There’s a calm before the storm ahead of the final “mega-fall” on the second course. Hannah put thrill-seeking Colton in the very front and told him to hang on. He loved every second! By then, we were better in sync and we hit the course for a third time. Hitting the rapids at OKC Riversport is totally worth the trip up the turnpike!

Now on land, I got to check in with my sister to find out what happened. She had a gnarly boo boo on her shin, one that cost her three stitches. Again, the rapids are not a ride! They are an activity and she totally participated in her own rescue by grabbing the rope thrown out to her. All of which was covered in our safety training.

OKC Riversport Adventures has safety built into everything they do.

If you get into a jam or tip your raft, trained rapid guides and staff are literally everywhere and ready to save the day.

After the rapids, we quickly determined there would be no ropes course this trip. Not in wet clothes. I’ll have to beat my mission jump off of the Rumble Drop another time. Despite not climbing the ropes course, I was proud of all of us. In one trip to OKC, we conquered our fears, took charge, put our vanity aside, and had an incredible time together. Our Riversport Adventures trip was a day we will never forget. And, I’m still a proud non-smoker, ropes course or not. 

Plan your own adventure to OKC!

Internet Cat Video Fest FunBelow is just what I squeezed into a weekend trip. Anything you are looking for, you can find at visitokc.com. The site is easy to navigate and has great content to help you find exactly what you are looking for. Get in on the social trend of the city by following and tagging #SeeOKC.

Earlier in the day we went to see Matisse: In His Time at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. This show was the catalyst to planning the trip in the first place. Check out more on my blog Must See Matisse and then go see Matisse! OKCMOA is the exclusive stop in North America and the show runs until September 18.

After Barbara and the kid’s headed home, I kept keepin’ on. Luckily, I was there in time Wheeler Districtfor the Internet Cat Video Fest hosted by the beautiful Myriad Gardens. It’s too good not to miss. Put on your whiskers and go next year. 

After a great night’s sleep at the Holiday Inn Bricktown, I woke up early to check out the new Wheeler District, OKC’s Ferris Wheel down the river from the Boathouse District. There, I met a couple of cyclist who told me how amazing the trails are for cycling. You can ride to and from all the Riversport locations — Lake Overholser, Lake Hefner, through the Wheeler District, and to the Boathouse District with no traffic.

Weekend Getaway from Tulsa to Oklahoma City Sunnyside Diner

I discovered the a new favorite for breakfast in OKC. My usual is Cafe Kacao, but I opted to try the new Sunnyside Diner on 6th and Classen. Holy Cannoli! I had the green chili pork tamales with eggs and tried a bite of the most amazing French Toast.

It was great to getaway and have all the fun right there at our fingertips. With little planning, you can get out of your own back yard and take the short trip to OKC. What do you like to do when you go to OKC? What are other fun things are there to do when we take the trip down the turnpike to OKC?