Is the Brady Arts District flourishes, there is a scramble to fill in the blanks with dining and boozing options that will appeal to the new crowds flooding the streets. Some restaurants cater to those who are looking for a more glitzy experience, but finally one restaurant is catering to those who seek a more laid-back atmosphere. As the closest neighbor to the ONEOK Field, The Rusty Crane came onto the scene swinging for the fences with its unpretentious bar grub and an easy-going approach. As with any new player, The Rusty Crane has had a few swing-and-a-miss moments. For this review, however, I entered with an open mind and empty stomach to see if the Crane had upped its game.
First of all, no one can deny that Rusty Crane is cool. The restaurant is a renovated building that was once a glass plant. The interior stays true to its roots, and it really has fantastic ambience with large tables and a robust bar with smaller tables nearby. The pièce de résistance, however, is the patio. Probably the best use of downtown real estate, the patio is lined with several tables and then has a perfect area to lounge and drink while watching the fireworks from the ball field on a Friday night. Like moths to the flame, eager downtown diners fill it up quickly, especially on weekend nights or those perfect Oklahoma evenings.
Wanting to avoid the overwhelming weekend crowds, my date and I decided to take advantage of the perfect patio on a beautiful Tuesday evening. The Rusty Crane's menu is filled with classic Americana favorites with healthy dose of Tex-Mex. You'll find a standard offering like the Double-Decker Nachos ($8.99) which is loaded with beef, cheese and all the accoutrements. Then there is an imaginative version of nachos, the Roasted Almond and Spinach Nachos ($8.99) that replaces the beef and beans with spinach and almonds.
You can't have nachos on your menu without having hot wings, and the Crane has several options. Chicken wings are something I crave often and am so often disappointed. They have a few flavor options, like regular Buffalo Wings, BBQ Wings or their signature Rusty Wings ($10.99/lb). We decided to give the Rusty Wings a test flight, and, boy, were they sky-high delicious!
A pound of perfectly plump and naked (un-breaded) wings arrived with a healthy coating of the "Rusty Dust" and just a shimmer of coconut oil. The flavor was fantastic and unlike anything I've had before. The Rusty Dust is on many of their dishes and has a seasoned salt base, a dash of cumin and barbecue seasoning with just a smidge of heat. Couple with the slight sweetness of the coconut oil, and those wings quickly flew off the plate. Finally, I've found a restaurant whose wings are real winners!
The main entrées stay classic, like the Hellstern Burger ($7.99) or the Mother Clucker ($9.99) which are all served on pretzel bread. They have a couple of steak options and wraps, too, but they give top billing to their "Yumladas" and tacos. A Yumlada is touted as being "better than an enchilada," with a beef, chicken or veggie option. Then, there is the Signature Yumlada ($12.49). It is a sun-dried tomato basil tortilla with seasoned chicken sautéed with red and yellow bell peppers, red onion, garlic, black beans and fresh spinach topped with Alfredo sauce, cheese and cilantro. I was skeptical about the flavor profiles working together. Mixing an Alfredo sauce with Tex-Mex? Heresy! But the flavors really worked together. The Alfredo was almost undetectable, but the red enchilada sauce was one of the best I've had, and all the ingredients inside the tortilla were fresh and full of flavor. The yumlada was aptly named.
The taco options again highlight how the Crane offers something standard -- like Dr. Don's Taco Plate ($8.99) with your choice of beef or chicken with the regular taco fixings. Then they get creative with their East Meets West Tacos ($8.99) with diced chicken sautéed with red onions, garlic, carrots and water chestnuts ished with low sodium soy sauce served hot with green leaf lettuce bibs. I had tangoed before with their more "exotic" tacos and let's just say it lacked rhythm. But the tacos are really what they highlight, so I gave them another go with their Mango-Coconut Fish Tacos ($8.99). The tilapia was super fresh and flaky with a very delicate flavor and texture. The mango salsa and lemon-garlic aioli were nice additions, having the slightest undercurrent of coconut.
On this evening, we were pleasantly surprised by how quickly the food arrived after we ordered. There was only one slight hiccup with service, which historically seems to be an element that could use some improvement, especially on busy nights. But like any new restaurant concept, it takes a little time to work out the kinks and improve your game. The Rusty Crane's casual atmosphere is perfect for family-friendly dining, which is in short supply downtown. They aren't afraid of being creative with the menu, and the prices are reasonable. It may be a newcomer to downtown, but if it continues to improve its short game, it's sure to be a long-term favorite.
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