"The boss is in the kitchen." That's the catch phrase on the menus and website. And that's not always a bad thing, but the front of the house needs its boss out there to give attention, too. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear to be getting it at Jamil's Steak House. At least, not the night we were there.
When forced to move along with all of the other businesses along the Interstate 44 widening corridor, this long-time Tulsa establishment managed to find a spot less than a mile from the old location.
Jamil's hasn't changed much (other than the location) since we were there 15 years ago, and probably not much since its 65-year-old beginnings by Tyrone Elias' father.
That can be a double-edged sword to say the least. If you maintain the original quality and deliver what people want and expect, that is definitely a good thing. But if you don't keep up with the modern market and change with new tastes and trends (and generations), it can be a fatal blow to any business.
We sat for quite a few minutes before our server came to the table. It was difficult to get answers out of her.
She was curt, minimal in terms of information, and acted put out that I wanted to ask questions. One time, she even greeted my inquiry with a "humpf." To me, that means, "You've got to be kidding me, can't you see I'm busy?" as she looked around the room.
She and the other servers we observed just weren't very happy. Often, this is a reflection of the style of management they work under. You care about what your boss cares about. As I asked her questions to see what she might know about the menu, she literally turned her body toward the kitchen and began inching away from our table, all the while surveying the dining room, presumably to see if her other tables needed anything. By the time I gave up asking questions, she was behind me with her hand on the back of my chair.
A few minutes after she left, and before she came back to ask what we wanted to drink, a dish of crudité (mostly huge celery sticks) piled high with ice was placed on our table along with hummus and tabouli. She had to come back with the pita bread to eat with it.
The tabouli was flavor balanced, tangy and refreshing. Just the right combination of wheat, vegetables, lemon and seasonings and the hummus, though a bit soupy, was tasty.
A few minutes later, a plastic sort-of-popcorn basket lined with a greasy piece of parchment that contained bologna and smoked ribs was added to our already over-crowded table.
I would expect it to be served like that at "Charlie's Ribs and Bibs," but not here. Our waitress casually gestured that there was BBQ sauce in the silver cream pitcher on the table, but unfortunately, it was empty.
The bologna while flavorful, was greasy, (I know, I know; it's bologna), but the ribs were tender and delicious. They had a nice subtle, smoke flavor, not the bitterness you sometimes get from over-smoked foods.
Plates for each of us were delivered next with a large cabbage roll cooked in a fatty tomato broth. Unfortunately, this signature dish was very bland and not particularly appealing.
The salad and bread mentioned on the menu, never came. We definitely didn't need or want it, either.
By the time, we had eaten about half of the aforementioned, we realized that the entrees we had ordered were a moot point. We could have stopped right there and been full.
I had ordered a rib eye ($21.95), and my wife ordered a steak and shrimp combination ($21.95). After some hesitation, our server answered, "Uh, yup," that the steaks were all prime beef, but I'm not sure she believed it, and she definitely didn't convince us.
All that aside, it was in fact a very good piece of meat. My steak (21 ounces) was underdone but good anyway. I would rather eat beef a bit undercooked than send it back for "more fire" since it is ruined at that point -- tough and dry.
My wife's sirloin steak was also a decent piece of beef and cooked properly.
I want to comment about something, in particular, at this point: If I was going to advertise myself as a steak house, (and one look at Jamil's menu affirms that it is), I would have figured out some incredible, magical seasoning that I shook on everything before it went on the wood fired grill. While it is a good practice not to salt a piece of meat before cooking, there are lots of other great options available.
The shrimp tasted like it was a pre-breaded frozen product. It lacked flavor and excitement, unfortunately, and could be a lot better. You could pay some kid $7.50 an hour to bread shrimp with your own special house recipe and have enough in about four hours to feed the fifth battalion and end up with a far superior product.
The baked potato, which should be an almost equal partner on a steak plate, was just plain inferior. When you wrap a nice, high starch potato in foil and bake it, the moisture is trapped, and you end up with a steamed potato that is dense and mealy, instead of a baked potato that is light and fluffy.
Is your practice to bake all of the potatoes you need for the whole and hold them in a warmer? By the time your 8:30 customers get their potatoes they are not only soggy but brown and unattractive inside as ours were.
This is the 21st Century. It's OK to branch out from a boring baked potato. And it's OK to put a vegetable on the plate, too, but we didn't see any other than the celery, carrots and pickle slices in the relish tray.
Wines by the glass are limited to "A red, a zinfandel and a chardonnay. It's all we've got." The server's words, not mine: We never saw a wine list.
When we first walked up to the front door, I noticed an attractive couple standing outside talking. Thinking nothing of it, we entered and stood three or four minutes in front of a sign that stated: "Please wait to be seated." I assumed the hostess or host was seating someone and would be right back.
To my surprise, a few minutes later the lady who had been outside talking, came in, crooked a finger at two girls sitting on a bench behind us and said, "I'll seat you now."
I describe this event to you because we were not looked at, acknowledged nor spoken to during this entire time. Not even a simple, "I'll be right with you folks."
When she came back, we were seated relatively quickly. The décor is dark, heavy woods with low light and dark carpet -- a bit old school for modern tastes.
Since I had plenty of time, I looked at all the framed photos, newspaper articles and Jamil's memorabilia that hung on the walls in the lobby area. The website boasts that Jamil's has attracted such notables as Jayne Mansfield, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Danny Thomas, Roger Staubach, Leon Russell, Muhammad Ali and Mickey Mantle. The most notable thing about that list is that they all came in a long time ago.
As a matter of fact, the group of people they need to attract don't even know who those folks are. Tulsa has become a very competitive, ever-changing restaurant market, and it is important to move forward and change with the times and the clientele.
I fear that Jamil's might be banking on all that history to carry them through the next 65 years, but I am sorry to say that some very basic details are being overlooked.
Jamil's Steak House
3823 E. 51st St.
Hours: Monday-Sunday 4pm-11pm
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