Downtown Tulsa has always had its fair share of unique places and spaces. From its art deco style architecture to iconic mid-century modern buildings, our downtown landscape is far from ordinary.
At the corner of 6th and Cincinnati -- at one time First National Bank, an auto bank with six drive-thru lanes -- sits a unique space to eat and drink. This mid-century building plays host to The Vault, Tulsa's eight-month-old classic American concept. Here, you'll find unique food, a piece of Tulsa's history well preserved, and folks serving up craft cocktails with quality food made from scratch.
Owners Jeramy and Libby Auld, best known for their first restaurant concept, Elote Café & Catering, definitely have a vision for creating great atmosphere paired with beautiful food. In the case of their new restaurant concept, it's a duet of perfect retro cuisine and attractive metro ambience through and through.
Upon entering the open two-story dining room, the first thing you notice is the spiral staircase and 1950s decor and feel. If I didn't know any better, I would have thought I was meeting James Bond for a martini at the lovely lounge style bar. I was jerked from my reverie, though, when the host had to ask me twice if we would like to be seated.
Black, orange and mint green color pops throughout the wood-and-steel finish, giving a nice, fresh complement to the linear, crisp architectural emphasis in the room. I have to admit I was quite smitten with the place at first, possibly because of my James Bond daydream, or because I wasn't alive in the '50s, '60s, or '70s, and the scene played into my need for reliving that era. The throwback atmosphere set the perfect tone for the meal we were about to order.
After visiting with the server about the pleasantries of the day, we began to scan the menu for dishes that complemented the mid-century motif. To our delight, we found more items to try than we could or should safely order during one sitting.
Under the appetizer section my eyes immediately landed on the "pickle flight." Now, I'm used to a flight of wine or a tasting of the house appetizers listed on a menu in a "flight" model, but this was my very first pickle flight. I'm a huge fan of pickled anything, so this was a perfect start. My friend ordered the "waldorf hearts" and asked about the specials. We decided to go with the pasta-less house made goulash (soup of the day), pimento mac-n-cheese and the BLT.
Our server was in perfect form with his bow-tie and up-to-date knowledge about the restaurant's special events, private party space called the Tom Tom Room, and the building's historical information.
Our food arrived in perfect time and was hot and artfully presented. The pickle platter was just as I imagined: colorful, tart, and simple. The beet pickled eggs, my favorite item, were slightly colored around the rim and had just enough sour accent to complement the perfectly hard-boiled egg creaminess. The carrots, cucumbers and cauliflower also had great bite and provided a nice diversion from the savory meaty goulash that we were devouring. I've had a lot of well prepared goulash in my time, most of which family members or my grandmother prepared, but this was my first without pasta. I would have described this dish as more of a refined chili perhaps; nonetheless, it was amazing. The meat was finely ground, seasoned perfectly, and was combined with stewed tomatoes, fresh cherry tomatoes, wilted basil leaves, and shaved parmesan cheese. It was comforting and seasoned perfectly.
Our second course arrived and was equally pleasing. The pimento mac-n-cheese took me back a few decades. My mother loved pimento cheese spread on white toast, and by default, I ate a many of those sandwiches growing up. This mac-n-cheese was a true to that taste and flavor profile. The dish starts with fusilli corkscrew pasta that is then bathed in a rich and creamy cheddar cream sauce. Pimentos, fresh parsley, parmesan cheese, and a pickled cherry pepper garnished the dish. I would not traditionally have paired these ingredients together in such a bizarre flavor combination, but this dish was satisfying and piquant all in the same bite. The BLT was a classic. Perfectly sautéed bacon, heirloom tomatoes and Farrell Family sourdough bread make for a well constructed sandwich. I wanted more maple aioli but figured with all the other rich indulgences, I should pass for fear of overdosing on a good thing.
Last but not least, I must mention the waldorf hearts. Creamy tart and tannic mayo based dressing held grapes, apples, celery and walnuts together perfectly as they sat on top of the baby romaine hearts. A good sprinkle of paprika, and I was on a trip down pot-luck lane. This appetizer was a good replication of the composed salads I witnessed from my rural upbringing. It was crunchy, hearty and a nice finale to our retro lunch.
The menu also features plenty of other options including pretzel sliders, eggplant moussaka, clipper ship chicken, the Vault filet, and pork bourguignon. There is also a special lunch menu called "No.7." This $7 lunch option -- served from 11am-4pm -- features combination plates like soup and salad or wraps and side dish fare, all of which could be paired with one of their unique cocktails -- all made using house-squeezed juices, house-made syrups, and fine quality spirits. There is also a decent wine and beer menu if you are looking for more traditional beverage options.
Overall, our experience at The Vault was delightful and memorable. There are few places in Tulsa that you can find the type of retro eats and unique food treats as this fun restaurant. The atmosphere will take you back and the food and service will keep you coming back.
As with their other concept, the Aulds are committed to using organic or all natural meats as well as fresh vegetables and fruit. If you come for lunch, dinner, or a late-night drink, you can expect the same great selection of food and hand-crafted cocktails, as the menu is the same for both seatings.
As President John F. Kennedy once said, "Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth." I conclude that conformity with food can bring a sense of comfort, but sometimes cause lack of growth in understanding a food culture or time. In the case of this fabulous eatery, I hope that more fellow non-conformists open restaurants like The Vault. It was not only a welcome break from the traditional 21st- century dining experience, but also delivered a memorable shout-out to what some would call "the Golden Age."
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