Forrest Camp, chef and owner of Ella's Good Food at 31st and Harvard wants to make honest, home-style cooking.
"We want to make people feel as comfortable as possible and enjoy the place," he said.
Forrest and his wife, Karen, have done what we would all like to do: combined their passions and turned them into a business.
As much an integral part of their restaurant as the food and service, is a love of all things jazz, as evidenced by the music memorabilia that hangs throughout the place including a picture of the Ella, the late, great, Ella Fitzgerald, and an impressive list of live jazz and blues performers at different times throughout the week. Rather than list them here, check out the lineup for yourself at ellasgoodfood.com.
Camp claims the real namesake for the place is their basset hound of the same name and a set of framed pictures by the greeting stand display a sad/happy faced family member in a variety of poses. In true basset hound flavor, all the poses look the same, but if I were that long and low, I'd look that way all the time too. Cute little pup.
Camp described his menu as southern comfort food -- a style that has gained, or rather re-gained popularity lately. And while it does offer a variety of the typical items my Tennessee grandmothers fed me as a boy: chicken fried steak, a thick grilled pork chop, (order it southern style -- deep fried and smothered with onion gravy), the poster child for southern cuisine -- fried chicken, with a caution on the menu to allow 20 minutes since it's cooked to order, catfish with hush puppies and others -- I think the unsung hero of this menu is a great sandwich section with over 20 items to pick from.
I always wanted to be the guy who got to sit around and come up with names like: The Sharky Bonano that's the spicy Italian hot hoagie; The Fats Domino, a "Nawlins po-boy and The Bix Beiderbecke, a Reuben made with brats instead of corned beef. The list goes on, including the Etta James, The Ella, The Billy Holiday, The Benny Goodman, Fats Waller, Dave Brubeck and much more. Everything on Ella's "Sammich" menu comes in at $9 and that includes hand-cut fresh fries and a "hunkapickle".
I opted for the Tito Puente, one of my all time favorite sandwiches, the Cubano. To start with Camp has the bread shipped in from a little Cuban bakery in Tampa, and if you know a Cubano sandwich, you know it's nothing without the bread. Pile on ham, smoky pulled pork, Swiss cheese, dill pickle chips and spicy mustard, then press it on the grill till the already crusty bread is crispy and dark, the cheese is gooey and hot and dig in. Good stuff.
I washed it down with a made-to-order cherry limeade, but it was a tough choice between items like a chocolate covered cherry soda, raspberry Italian soda, vanilla or orange Italian soda, and a lengthy list of made-to-order crème sodas and of course! -- sweet tea, a southern favorite.
A lunch special consisting of a half of probably 80 percent of the sandwiches on the menu, and cup of soup, chili or a house salad all for $8, draws a good crowd from downtown, said Chef Forrest.
A burger, Ripper Dawg and brat section rounds out the hand-held options. Katie opted for a burger, and said it was very good. It came on a nice egg roll, and for a dollar or two more she chose the sweet potato fries which she loved. Ella's offers a great variety of burger toppings too, all the standards plus some not-so-standard stuff as well, like rich brown gravy, marinara sauce, a fried egg, pastrami, a grilled brat, spicy capicola ham, salami, pulled pork and more.
Our server was a charming young lady named Codi, and she did an excellent job of guiding us through the menu and making suggestions. The service was attentive but not overbearing, and it was a comfortable, relaxed meal.
Ella's is in the corner location of a small strip mall just north of the intersection of 31st and Harvard. A location that briefly housed B-52s, and then sat vacant for some two years.
Camp and his wife debated long and hard before pulling the trigger on the move.
"We deliberated for quite a while before making the move" he said, "it's a big commitment." That's true, especially when you take into account that they are doing this purely out of a love of what they do. Camp is a retired Navy man, who then went on to put in another 20 at a second career before retiring as a police dispatcher, so it's not because they have to.
Ella's boasts an open kitchen, which can be both a blessing and a curse to a restaurant operator. If everything is going well, running smooth, and the fried chicken skillet hasn't caught on fire, it's a great feature for the public. You can watch the young line cooks preparing your meal, while Chef Forrest pulls fresh rolls out of the prominently displayed oven, or a young man tops one of the house homemade pies, (all the desserts are made from scratch on premises) with piles of creamy meringue. Old fashioned buttermilk pie, coconut crème or chocolate meringue, icebox lemon pie, and homemade peach cobbler are just half the items available at the end of the meal, if you still have room.
The Camps want everyone to know that they run an unpretentious, family friendly operation in a comfortable atmosphere -- it has a bit of a New Orleans feel -- with good down home food and great local music.
Join Karen and Forrest on Saturday and Sunday for an extensive brunch menu, sure to please everyone. Everything from meat and egg combos, to made-to-order omelets, quiche, biscuits and gravy, and $5 all you can eat pancakes. Quite a selection.
Ella's offers delivery, and for $10, they will bring your meal to you in the Tulsa area, a big temptation on cold, rainy nights.
At this time they offer beer only, and while they can't open and pour it for you, anyone can bring in their favorite bottle of wine to go with dinner.
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