POSTED ON AUGUST 12, 2009:
Scratch and Win
Family-owned diner has a serious hankering for comfort food
Mark of a Beast. If someone can eat a 66-ounce chicken fried steak in 66 minutes, it is free. If it is not eaten in the allotted time, the challenger pays $66.
Tracy Norris felt it important to regain and maintain the family business--and his Oklahoma heritage. Riverview Restaurant, which evolved into the current Route 66 Diner, was first opened by Norris' parents, Chester and Deanie in 1989. After his parents sold the restaurant, it slowly fell into disrepair. So in November 2008, Tracy reclaimed the space.
Nostalgically, he wanted to bring back the quality restaurant his parents had established. In December 2008, Norris opened Route 66 Diner, capturing the beloved name of The Mother Road and enhancing this theme in its decor, complete with Route 66 mugs, key chains, t-shirts and other items for sale in a display cabinet.
"We do play on the Route 66 image," Norris said. "We have the 'Chicken Fried Challenge'," which he said is a contest. If someone can eat a 66-ounce chicken fried steak in 66 minutes, it is free. If it is not eaten in the allotted time, the challenger pays $66.
Norris is still looking for his first winner.
But in the meantime, he is the main chef in the kitchen. It's all about family here, as a granddaughter of the Norris family was my server on a warm summer morning. She briefly, yet affectionately, also told the history of the place.
Norris said he makes all menu items from scratch: biscuits, pancakes, waffles, hand-breaded onion rings and chicken. He said his ground beef is fresh, never frozen. For breakfast, the menu features common diner food: eggs, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, omelets, specialties and sides.
After sipping a fresh cup of coffee (served in a classic Route 66 mug) and reviewing the menu, I decided on hash ($7.50), which is listed under the specialties section. My friend selected a two-egg breakfast ($4.99) which comes with hash browns, bacon or sausage and a biscuit and gravy.
This was no ordinary hash. Traditionally, hashes are nearly always prepared from leftovers; if that's the case with this hash, I couldn't tell. Norris said it is their signature breakfast dish, and "they have received many compliments on it."
The dish begins with hash browns, chopped green peppers, chopped tomatoes and onions, pieces of fried bacon, diced ham and crumbled sausage. Then, two eggs are scrambled into the mix and covered with a generous amount of shredded cheddar cheese, spreading out to the edges of a serving plate. The shredded cheese had completely melted soon after I took a few bites of this gigantean dish.
While there wasn't one distinct taste that attracted my palate, this hash brought many flavors together, occasionally with an after-taste of bacon and green peppers. I slathered picante sauce and hot sauce over parts to jazz it up, which proved to be a good decision.
The biscuit and gravy was a dichotomous side; the biscuit was tall, stately and fluffy, but the gravy was the packaged version, as is most often used. Norris claimed that homemade gravy "breaks down and separates on a steam table within about 30 minutes." The packaged version is the best option, I suppose.
My friend's breakfast was a solid standard meal. The over-easy eggs were prepared perfectly, and the bacon slices were crisp and rich with that quintessential bacon flavor. The hash browns were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
In this industrial part of Tulsa, Norris said the breakfasts are hearty, and the lunches are just as good.
A stand out is the Fried Bologna Sandwich ($6.95), which he admitted is "different." A fried bologna sandwich would never make it to the haute cuisine list, but Norris said this sandwich "gets the same positive response as the hash. Now that it has caught on, many people are ordering it." This sandwich contains two thick pieces of bologna grilled with onions and then topped with Swiss cheese.
Norris said another favorite is the Philly Cheese Steak ($6.95).
"We do a traditionally Philly Cheese Steak, just like the original Geno Steaks. We buy our own steak, slice and grill it with onion and top it with Cheese Whiz." He said they will add grilled green peppers if a customer requests them.
Also popular is the Cardiac Burger ($6.95), which consists of double the meat, double the Swiss cheese, and bacon, ham and ranch dressing.
Norris said he grew up just a few blocks from Route 66 Diner and has always felt at home in this part of Tulsa.
Located in a strip center, this diner looks like a classic dive. However, once inside, the bright red walls and a "Get Your Kicks at Route 66 Diner" sign draw a customer in, as does the cleanliness of the place. It is a hometown diner featuring classic cooking at its best.
Route 66 Diner
728 W. 23rd St.
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