Of all cuisines from around the world, American cuisine may be the most difficult to define. In this delicious melting pot of ours, flavors and traditions comingle and do-si-do happily across this great land. We love our pot roast as much as we love our nachos and each region has its own signature dishes. In Oklahoma, home cookin' is where the heart is and one local Tulsa restaurant has worked its way to our hearts through our tummies since 1991.
Cardigan's Restaurant & Bar has been part of Tulsa's restaurant landscape for many years. It's one of those places that has become so ingrained in the Tulsa cuisine scene that it is oftentimes overlooked. So if you haven't eaten there in years or if it has fallen off your radar, then it is time for rediscovery, my foodie friends. Now with two locations -- one in midtown and one in deep south Tulsa/Bixby -- it is definitely worth consideration the next time you are looking for a comfortable yet classy dining experience.
The interior of the midtown location in the London Square Shopping Center on Lewis is intimately lit with rich colors, comfortable booths and a handsome bar area. It closely mimics what one might find in a chain restaurant, which is absolutely a good thing in that it is polished and creates a very specific ambience. It definitely exceeded my expectations.
My lovely lunch date and I were quickly greeted and seated in one of Cardigan's oversized booths. On this day, a late-day lunch beverage was in order, and Cardigan's boasted a hearty selection of wines, beers and cocktails. This would also be an ideal place to watch "the game" in their cozy bar while noshing on a menu filled with delicious eats.
For starters, Cardigan's begins with a bang with all the favorites you know and love, like Spinach & Artichoke Dip ($7.99), a creamy blend of artichoke hearts and garlic parmesan cream sauce, baked until bubbly and served with fresh tortilla chips. You can even add crab into the mix for only $1 more. Their Bruschetta ($5.99) with Roma tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic and onions marinated in olive oil with baked crostini was also a tempting choice, rivaled only by the not-so-typical Sun-Dried Tomato & Three Cheese Terrine ($7.59) with feta cheese, Parmesan and cream cheese blended with sun-dried tomatoes.
However, we opted for a classic appetizer that has almost become extinct from many menus. The Shrimp Scampi ($7.95) arrived with a nice serving of tender shrimp sautéed in a garlic lemon butter sauce with several slices of garlicky bread. This was every bit as good as I remembered, with the shrimp cooked perfectly while swimming in a luxurious mixture of rich butter and garlic with a subtle zing of lemon. This was definitely not a skimpy scampi!
The next item came from their specialty section, but was easily transformed into a great appetizer selection. The Chipotle Chicken Nachos ($9.99) featured tortilla chips piled high and topped with Monterey jack and cheddar cheeses, roasted chipotle chicken, spicy black beans, peppers and onions topped with shredded lettuce, jalapeño, sour cream and salsa on the side. The presentation made a huge first impression, as we realized our eyes may have been bigger than our stomachs. But as we explored the strata of the nachos, we found that beauty was only skin deep. Though topped generously with sour cream and guacamole, the chipotle chicken, though flavorful, made a meager appearance. The black beans and grilled onions were a nice touch, but only graced the top layer of the mammoth plate of nachos, leaving many chips below naked and lonely. The flavors were en pointe, but just needed a more proportionate chip-to-ingredient mix.
We plodded on to the entrees, and for lunch, Cardigan's has some outstanding Lunch Combos. A lunch favorite of Soup and Salad included a bowl of their much-anticipated French Onion Soup or their soup du jour -- on this day it was clam chowder -- paired with a house or Caesar salad for only $8.99. Other options were Cardigan's Crab Cakes ($8.99) which includes two house-made crab cakes served with fresh fruit and remoulade sauce, plus a choice of garden or Caesar salad or a cup of soup.
I was feeling crabby that day, so I ordered up the cakes with a Caesar salad. Two nicely-sized crab cakes with a dense outer shell were covered generously with a not-too-spicy yet flavorful remoulade. Admittedly, I can be persnickety about crab cakes, and these were just so-so. The coating was a bit too heavy handed and the interior was on the mushy side with an almost too-sweet filling overpowering a meager serving of crab. Strong hints of red bell pepper lent itself to a nice flavor, but overall it was a swing-and-a-miss at our table. The accompanying Caesar salad had a fresh, clean flavor, but lacked the depth that a good Caesar can offer. It was good but not great.
My lunch date happens to be a huge fan of beef stroganoff and from what I have heard, Cardigan's is pretty well known for their version of it. The lunch combo included a half order of the stroganoff (or fettuccine Alfredo) and choice of salad or soup for $8.99. The stroganoff arrived along with a piping hot cup of French onion soup. I was eager to steal a slurp of the soup, with its crown of melted goodness atop a small slice of bread and mahogany broth below. It was a delicious combination of flavors and perfect for an autumn day.
The stroganoff was definitely a variation on the classic. A thick, brown gravy was ladled generously on a bowl full of fettuccine noodles (an unusual noodle selection for this dish) dotted with chunks of tender beef topped with sour cream dolloped haphazardly. Traditionally, the sour cream would mingle with the brown gravy, but this preparation was a deconstructed version of the original. Tasty and filling, but not what one expects from a stroganoff.
Cardigan's has an extensive dinner menu of classics like meatloaf, chicken fried steak, even fish & chips, and features daily specials. Cardigan's following of devout diners flock to this locally-owned gem for a cozy atmosphere and comfortable fare that is a friendly respite from the typical ball and "chains" that all too often get undue attention. In this case, dining guests can feel good knowing their food is prepared with care and consistency while also supporting a Tulsa tradition.
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