The restaurant biz is a tough one when it comes to longevity. More restaurants close their doors within their first year and the numbers just get bleaker as time goes on. There are a handful of restaurants in Tulsa that have overcome that trend, and Café Olé on Brookside is one of them.
Going strong since opening in 1987, this little restaurant has been delighting diners with its southwest flair and perfect patio. Just off the beaten path of the restless ribbon, Café Olé is a quaint establishment that seats around 75 guests, with most of the seating located on the patio. There is some inside seating, but the patio is where the magic happens, with its inviting fireplace and view of all the action on Brookside. The evening I journeyed to this well known spot, it happened to be the perfect weather for dining on the patio with a couple of my favorite compadres.
I had only been to Café Olé one time and it was only for a margarita, but my two adventurous amigos are very well acquainted -- and have very different opinions. First, allow me to introduce Tulsa's most adorable self-proclaimed professional eater, "Lupita." In the other corner was el hombre muy guapo, "Jeffedore." Together, they would lead me through the menu and many margaritas.
As we took our seats next to the roaring fireplace, fresh tortilla chips arrived with an entire carafe of salsa almost immediately. The salsa was definitely homemade, with a nice texture -- not too chunky, not too watered down -- with spicy notes and just the right touch of cilantro. Good thing it came in a carafe, because I would happily drink the stuff. Luckily they have a large selection of margaritas and beers to drink instead.
The Top Shelf Margarita (large $8.50) had a nice kick of tequila without being syrupy sweet. They have a great selection of domestic ($2.50) and imported beer ($3.50), and nothing complements salsa better than a frosty cerveza.
The first menu recommendation came from my spicy senorita, Lupita. With bright-eyed enthusiasm, she said that ordering Café Olé's queso was a must. Jeffedore, however, did not share her enthusiasm. I found myself in a true Mexican standoff over the quality of the queso. Tales of Café Olé's queso have spread far and wide over the years, so I was looking forward to settling the score once and for all.
A large cup ($5) of the highly contentious queso was placed in front of us. Topped with a few pickled jalapenos, the queso had a fluffy, whipped texture. As I took one of their fresh tortillas for a dunk into the queso, I immediately knew this was not like any other queso I've had. The taste followed suit. Something was amiss. This was warm cream cheese masquerading as queso!
Do I love cream cheese? Absolutely. Should it under any circumstances be classified as queso? Absolutely not. As my two lunch-adores looked at me expectantly, I found myself torn. It tasted good, but cream cheese always tastes good. But in reality and all fairness, it was not even close-o to queso.
Another legend I chose to explore was something called the "stoner stack." I had heard of this off-the-menu dish on my first visit to Olé while dining with some folks in the restaurant business. I asked the waiter if he had heard of such a thing and he was intrigued. He conferred with the chef, and though they had never heard of it before, they were willing to give it a shot. Jeffedore gladly took them up on their offer, and the Stoner Stack ($13.50) was created.
Out of the kitchen came a concoction of diabolical proportions. Stuffed between layers of blue corn tortillas was pork and chicken, tons of cheese that was crowned with a fried egg. It was exactly what you would imagine a stoner stack to look like -- epic. The creaminess of the egg gave the stack richness, but the contents really lacked pizzazz. The ingredients were quality, but lacked any real seasoning, not even salt. Though filling, the stoner stack did not stack up.
My other food-friendly companion ordered the Stacked Blue Corn Enchiladas ($12) which was a dialed-down version of the stoner stack. Shredded chicken was layered with cheese between fresh blue corn tortillas that had been dipped in Olé's Colorado sauce. Again, it looked divine and the ingredients were super fresh. But in the end, despite all the potential flavor-boosting components, the same problem plagued this stack -- a lack of any real flavor.
So now the "whole enchilada" for this review resided quite literally with my entrée of enchiladas. I couldn't decide among the Chicken Verde ($11.50), Queso Blanco ($10.50) or the exotic sounding Enchiladas de Puerco ($11), so they let me choose two.
The queso blanco enchilada intrigued me, containing Monterrey Jack, ricotta cheese, and feta. This was insanely good. Most enchiladas do not include ricotta or feta, and the world has been missing out. Were these authentic ingredients? Of course not, but unlike the cream cheese "queso," this actually worked.
The Enchilada de Puerco had the savory zing I had craved all night, with a combo of pulled pork and chorizo. The chorizo gave the enchilada the flavor it needed, and the pork had a nice texture. It was topped with a verde sauce, but it was not noticeable. The only drawback was the undercooked, unseasoned rice and the super bland black beans. Overall, though, the enchiladas were a total knock out at our table.
Café Olé is a lovely restaurant with the most perfect patio on Brookside. The relaxed atmosphere, crisp margaritas and luscious salsa definitely work into the equation of their longevity. As for their food, after almost three decades, all this reviewer can surmise is that they must be doing something right to have won the hearts and tummies of Tulsans for so very long.
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