POSTED ON DECEMBER 5, 2012:
Home cookingmomma style
That is it this time of year that makes the body enjoy hearty eating? Meat loaf with mashed potatoes and gravy, fried chicken, pork chops, and macaroni and cheese are some of the satisfying dishes during the long winter months. Places like Wanda J's are where those home cooking cravings are satiated. Being in and out of the restaurant business since he was 17 years old, owner Ty Walker said he began with the idea of offering "soul food at this Broken Arrow location, but really what I make is more like Southern cooking."
From 2000-2003, Walker's Wanda J's was on East Apache in North Tulsa with a menu more reflective of soul food, but moving to this new location in 2010, he determined that calling his food "Southern cooking" would be more attractive to the demographic.
"I'd say we are consistent with home-style cooking," Walker said. That is what a friend and I found when we dined here recently. The menu -- breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- screams home cooking. Entrees come with two sides, corn bread or dinner rolls, and are such dishes as chopped sirloin with brown gravy and onions, fried chicken, and chicken fried steak. Sides include green beans, brown beans, greens, cabbage, candied yams, and fried okra. The breakfast menu is very basic: omelets, eggs, and toast breakfasts with bacon, sausage, ham, and the like.
For our dinners, my friend selected the two-piece fried chicken dinner ($8.55) with sides of mashed potatoes and gravy and collard greens. I ordered the chicken livers ($6.99) with sides of okra and tomatoes and candied yams.
Walker said that "our meals can take a little longer to prepare than some would expect because we make all dishes to order. We do not have any of our food prepared in advance. It's put on to cook as soon as it is ordered, and comes hot out of the grease to the customer." And he is right; it did take a little more time than what we would have expected, but as we waited on our dinners, we enjoyed the pleasant conversations Walker had with his customers.
"We try to have a relationship with every customer," Walker said. "That is what they did in the old days. I don't want you as a customer; I want you as my friend."
The open dining area lends itself to open conversations. Wanda J's is in a former Wendy's that has been modified just a bit, but the dining room is still one large room.
This has to be one of the friendliest places I've ever dined. Walker knew everyone who was dining; he worked the dining room, conversing with the locals on whatever topic came to mind. At one time, he even invited us to join in on his conversation with other guests.
Our meals were served in about 20 to 25 minutes. The chicken livers I ordered were piled high in a small, white ceramic bowl. They were hot and very crispy, with a light, salt and pepper seasoned flour coating, which adhered very well to each liver. The texture of the livers was smooth and firm with a rich taste of dark poultry meat. They were some of the best I've had. The sides of yams were very good: soft, sweet, and surrounded in a buttery sauce. The okra and tomatoes were texturally soft, with a distinct taste of each. A large hot yeast roll came with the meal.
My friend's fried chicken was excellent! Very hot and crisp -- right out of the kitchen. Walker said his number one seller is the fried chicken. "I just cook it the way momma cooked it," he said, which is basically seasoning it with a flour mixture of garlic, salt, and pepper and frying it in hot grease -- at least that is all Walker was willing to share with me about his preparation secrets. The result is excellent-tasting fried chicken. The two pieces my friend ordered were a chicken breast and thigh. Both pieces had a very light flour coating -- Walker said he does not use any egg or milk coating. Each piece was hot, tender, and moist. Evidence of the coarse black pepper was seen not only on the fried chicken but also in the white gravy. The potatoes and white gravy were of the basic sort -- just good home cooking. The collard greens were chopped small, flavored well with bacon drippings and seasonings.[image-2]
Most of the cooking style and recipes come from Walker's family. Growing up on Tulsa's north side, Walker said "I had family living from 42nd Street North to 54th Street North," and it was at home with his "momma and grandma" where he learned to cook. "Momma and grandma believed in teaching us kids how to get through life, and one of the things they taught us was cooking." Walker said he is the main cook at Wanda J's, preparing 97 percent of the food that comes to each table. "I am a cook, not a chef," he admitted. "I don't create anything. I take simple food and make it good. That is what I strive to do." And he does this very well.
While Walker shunned the soul food moniker, his menu still has soul food. "You can say that I still have soul food on the menu. Neck bones, collard greens, yams, ham and beans, brown beans, and beef tips are some of those foods," he said. "Beef tips and rice, while more of a universal food now, was a staple at home." He adds that for special orders, "I also prepare pig's tail, pig's ears, pig's feet, chitlins, and oxtail."
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