Remember the old Middlepath Café? Well, for some reason I am reminded of it when I eat at Café Samana. The Cajuns have a word, patois (pat-wah), which essentially means a language out of the ordinary, or non-standard. When one eats at the Café Samana, "restaurant patois" is the phrase that comes to mind.
A recent conversation with owner/chef Tracy Caton, revealed that, for lack of a better term, "upscale hippie" is how she might loosely describe her place. Add eclectic to that and you capture it perfectly.
The servers are dressed in everything and anything, from a look similar to what a stylish young mom might wear to a pilates class, to striped leggings, and mod tops and headbands and everything in between. It's as if Tracy told them, "OK, wear what you want, as long as it's super cool." And the décor and the restaurant's ethos go right along with it. A mix of chairs and tables, art by local artist Laura Knapp on the walls, fresh flowers on the table, some tables with cloths, others without, and, well, you get the idea. There are even several chairs, wildly decorated in a sort of decoupage style that can be purchased, or read the tag attached to the back rail that explains how you can get one custom done to fit your tastes.
Flip the creatively itemed menu over, and Tracy's philosophy reveals that she and Café Samana are all about recycling: Nearly all of our plates, bowls, glasses, vases, napkins, tablecloths, chairs and tables were bought second-hand to reduce our consumption of resources.
As much food as possible is locally procured, and Tracy and company walk the walk, not just talk the talk. My wife's entrée salad had the creamiest, most wonderful goat's cheese on it, and I immediately recognized it as a product from Lisa Becklund's organic farm and Living Kitchen operation in Depew.
It's really an effort to make things like that happen -- you don't just run down to the corner store and pick up a pound of cheese or bacon, and I applaud anyone who takes the time and makes the effort to support local businesses in that way around here. We're not in L.A. or New York, where it is readily available year round at a huge local market. And while we do have a nice, growing number of farmers' market here in Tulsa, they are limited to certain times of the year. But we're getting there! A lot of her produce comes from Bixby -- bacon, chicken and other items are locally produced, and aside from just tasting fresher and better, it supports the local economic infrastructure. Kudos to Tracy and her crew!
The menu is simple, wholesome, healthy and tasty. From the starter section, we chose an artichoke spread. It was bubbly hot when it arrived, and surrounded by beautifully arranged slices of a Portobello mushroom that must have been the size of Rhode Island, crisp carrot slices and wonderful pita crisps, obviously baked rather than fried. They were awesome.
In an effort to forego any semblance of restraint we also ordered stuffed mushrooms.
These were anything but your standard sausage and breadcrumb filled mushroom cups. Baby bellas were filled with a tasty blend of fresh spinach and tomato creme, Parmesan cheese, and fresh Oklahoma pecans. A half dozen bread crisps accompanied the dish to give me something to scoop up filling that tried to escape the mushroom. If there was a low point (and there really wasn't), it would be that the bread wasn't very crisp, and had a bit of a "made yesterday and soaked up our Oklahoma humidity" quality to them. Pretty minor detail, but a detail none-the-less.
On this visit, our server came to the table dressed in a beautiful silky dress with an almost fairy-like quality to it and I felt like I was in a different world. She had a wonderfully beautiful style and smile to go with it. Absolutely charming. I know when you get to be my age, all young people are pretty, but these kids were cool and stylin'.
The salad menu boasts items such as The Sweet Sally Sesame Salad, a toss of dates, almonds, oranges and field greens in a peanut vinaigrette, or the B&B with mushrooms, red onion slivers, roasted red bell peppers, fresh basil and bleu cheese crumbles.
A large sandwich and wrap section sports everything from a very non-standard grilled cheese with either mozzarella, swiss or organic cheddar, and your choice of pesto, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, roasted red peppers or bacon to the Cherise -- a Reuben made with sauerkraut, swiss cheese, thousand island dressing and tempeh. If you are not familiar with tempeh, it is a soy-based product, very dense and solid, that is used as a meat substitute in many vegan and vegetarian dishes. It is particularly good sliced thin and pan fried to a brown crispy state.
A simple PB&J uses fresh ground organic peanut butter with jelly that Tracy makes in-house, while the roasted veggie sandwich boasts balsamic mushrooms, onions, peppers, mozzarella, and pesto mayonnaise.
Other sandwiches include a BLT with Applegate bacon, field greens, tomato and roasted garlic mayo, a chicken salad wrap with roasted chicken, grapes, walnuts, and chipotle dressing, and the Samana BBQ wrap with BBQ tempeh, peppers & onions, spinach and organic white cheddar cheese.
The "sides" section has a couple of sleepers that shouldn't be overlooked: Potato Patties were a steamed red new potato that is chilled and sort of hand smashed, then roasted at high heat to crisp them. I say "sort of" smashed, because the trick is to gently push on the cooked potato until it's tender skin just gives way and flattens into a "starburst" looking pancake. They would have benefited from a sour cream/horseradish based sauce, but it is simply a $4 side after all, and cost is definitely a factor when making decisions like that. No harm no foul.
The Samana slaw is so good! A wonderful, smoky (from sesame oil) blend of Mung bean sprouts, slivered carrots, and nice slices of skin on almonds in a peanut and sesame oil dressing. This was a quiet, easily overlooked dish at the bottom of the menu that came out beautifully simple on the plate, and fabulous on the palate. Don't pass it by! At $4 it was a nice sized portion with great strong flavors.
Asparagus bundles round out the sides section: Fresh asparagus is wrapped in marinated chard and finished with a lemon/cashew sauce. Unless you did something really bizarre (Tracy doesn't) it just has to be good with that combination of ingredients! They upped this one a buck and it tops out the side section at a whole whopping $5. If you're an asparagus lover, this is a mere pittance!
OK, so we've covered the menu, but do yourself a flavor favor and look up and read the chalkboard menu that changes daily. This is an area where Tracy really shines!
I chose the pasta special, a mix of fresh herbs, artichokes, zucchini, red peppers, and fusili pasta in a tomato basil crème topped with melted mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses -- a tasty bowl of pasta goodness. My wife went for an entrée-sized salad called the Perfect Pear Salad, a toss of Oklahoma pecans, pears, dried cranberries, mixed field greens and spinach, topped with some of that wonderful creamy chevre from Lisa Becklund I mentioned earlier and a maple/balsamic dressing. It was a perfect meal coupled with a cup of fantastic Butternut Squash and Plantain soup we tried first. Really tasty and natural, with just a hint of a middle-eastern spice, it was heavenly. Perfectly seasoned food should make you have to really think about what seasoning and flavoring is in it as this did. I think the undertone was an Indian favorite called fenugreek, but I can't be sure. At any rate, it was perfectly balanced.
Tracy's inspiration for menu items and specialties most often comes from cooking the way she likes to eat. There's a je ne sais quois (strictly translated from French as "I don't know what") -- and translated into Okie as "there's jus' sumpin' 'bout it" -- in the food of a cook that loves what they make, and that is true at Samana.
The blackboard specials are posted on the Café Samana Facebook page and you really owe it to yourself to check it out. I could list a bunch of items here, but you really, really need to see for yourself at facebook.com/cafesamana.
Tracy confided in me that one of her great loves is baking, and it was a tough choice for dessert. We decided to share a blackboard item called the Sweet Potato Baby Cake. Wow! Ordinarily, my wife and I are pretty gracious about sharing dessert, but we both kept eating faster and faster to get the bigger share of this little gem. It was "off-the-hook" good!
Find this little band of modern day hipsters working their magic in the former Blue Moon Bakery spot on Peoria, just a few doors down from that "root beer place", and treat yourself to a great little secret in the heart of Brookside. Good job Tracy!
3807 S. Peoria
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