POSTED ON APRIL 30, 2008:
State of the Union
Plenty of fried goodness and a few rarities adorn this menu
Union Street Cafe
Local cafes are some of the best places to find a good homestyle meal and to enjoy a relaxing time with good company. A friend and I arranged to have breakfast at Union Street Café one morning at 6am, but we weren't the first diners there. It seemed some West Tulsa local folk beat us, even at that hour.
Union Street Café was quiet that morning, with a few locals spread around the place talking at a level common to most library patrons. We situated ourselves at a secluded booth to allow a respectable distance from the other early risers and because, frankly, at that hour, we weren't ready for any social interaction. Both of us enjoy a hearty breakfast every now and then, so we were eager to see what the café offered.
I opted for the chalkboard special, Two Eggs with Chicken Fried Steak. This came with hash browns and a biscuit and gravy. My friend decided on the Mushroom and Cheese omelet with a side of hash browns and a biscuit and gravy as well.
Most of the breakfast options are the basic café-style meals. For those wanting a heavy start to their day, eggs may be accompanied with Steak, Ham, Ham Steak, Pork Chops, Corn Beef Hash or Hamburger Steak. These are served with two eggs, hash browns and a choice of toast or biscuits and gravy.
The "Hot From the Griddle" menu offers pancakes, waffles and French Toast; eggs and meat may be added as well. Omelet options include Cheese, Sausage and Cheese, Vegetable, Western, Ham and Cheese, Bacon and Cheese, South of the Border, Spanish and Supreme. Finally, sides include a single serving of many of the breakfast items as well as Home Fries, Sliced Tomatoes, Grits, English Muffin, Cinnamon Toast and Oatmeal with Butter and Milk. Breakfast prices are very reasonable, with most meals under $6.
My friend and I sipped on hot cups of coffee as we waited for our meals. Coffee has to be one of the best ways to begin a day. Our cups at Union Street Café were bottomless and our server was very attentive with topping them off. We only wished the coffee had been a little stronger; it was too weak for our tastes.
Our meals were soon before us. My meal was large and very hearty. I dove into the eggs first, prepared in the "easy-over" somersault fashion just as I like them. They were fresh and the yolks were warm and the whites set.
The hash browns were light and crispy and the biscuit and gravy were good. Until I spoke with Price, I thought the biscuits were homemade. They were stately and soft, and had a good old-fashioned flavor. The gravy was obviously a packaged version. Price admitted that making homemade gravy is not "cost efficient" given the two to three gallons they go through each morning. Also, she added, the "homemade version" does not hold up well in a steamer table.
The Chicken Fried Steak was very good, tender overall, and the coating was different, but enjoyable. "For our Chicken Fry, we dip the meat in buttermilk and then coat it with a southwest seasoned flour, a seasoning we prepare ourselves," said Price. I could tell there was a distinct seasoning--more than what salt and pepper can do--in the coating. The breading was not too thick, but did have a soda-esque taste, which Price said is the buttermilk flavor.
"Some people really enjoy a buttermilk coating to their meats and some don't," she said. "We can fix customers something without the buttermilk dip if they prefer. We want to please the customer." She said this coating was also on the Chicken Livers, which she said was a menu rarity these days.
My friend's omelet was good, but very basic. Canned mushrooms and lots of cheese were the featured ingredients.
Price said some meals that customers really enjoy are the Liver and Onions (with the livers lightly floured and grilled with the onions) and her lunch specials, some of which include Pot Roast, Turkey and Dressing, Pork Loin and Lasagna. She is also very proud of her soups, which she said are the most fun to create. "They are all homemade, and some of the customer favorites are Broccoli and Cheese, Potato Cheese, Mushroom, Vegetable Beef and Chicken Noodle."
Price took over ownership of Union Street Café four years ago, but the restaurant has been around for more than 25 years. Every morning she dons the chef hat to direct the preparation of the café's menu.
"Like most people, I've always loved to eat and I've always been particular with the food I eat. I don't want to eat something substandard, nor do I want my customers to have anything substandard either."
She has good training under Chef Mike Lavelle, who was formerly at her parents' restaurant, Blue Corn Café. Lavelle is now the chef at Rick's Café Americain, but is with Price two days a week at the Café, assisting with dish preparation and perfection. Price said both are currently working on a deep fried grilled cheese sandwich, reminiscent of Pennington's restaurant version in the 1970s. "They were called 'Cheese Frenchies,'" said Price. "And it was a cheese sandwich dipped in a batter, coated with corn flakes, and then fried."
I'm guessing I'll enjoy that sandwich during my next trip to Union Street.
Union Street Café
4759 S. Union Ave.
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