POSTED ON NOVEMBER 4, 2009:
Escargot's offers down-home buffet for families and church-goers
Unless a catering event has connected you with Sam Wilkerson, the name Escargot's is more than likely new in dining circles. Wilkerson has owned and operated Escargot's catering service in the old Harrington's clothier building (7th and Main) for 16 years, to not only the surprise of downtowners but even more surprising to him.
"When I moved to this location, I had no idea I would be here so long," Wilkerson chuckled.
He has been in the catering business for more than 30 years, and while he attests that he has had no formal training as a chef or baker (he majored in business and journalism in college), he knows how to put on a great event when called upon. In fact, he said he always thought he would be "on the front end of the business and not the back end" as he called it.
His most recent venture is a Sunday buffet at his location, mere steps from some of Tulsa's churches around "Cathedral Square." He said that he saw a need downtown for a place where people could dine after church because there are more than seven large churches in the area. His home parish of Holy Family Cathedral is only a block west of Escargot's at 8th and Boulder.
His idea was to have a Sunday buffet priced affordably for families and groups in a comfortable setting and close to where they worship.
Priced at $12.50 for adults, $6 for children ages 5-10, and free for children under 5 years old, this all-you-can eat idea has taken off since opening his doors less than two months ago.
Diners pay up front after entering Escargot's, so there are no surprises with additional costs or gratuity. Servers do bring beverages to the tables, though.
Named after the little edible terrestrial snail, Escargot's is slowly but surely providing a livelihood for Wilkerson. But now with this buffet, the pace of his work week has gotten busier.
"It's a lot of work," he said. "The food [at the buffet] is not fancy, but there is something there for all people." He said he has never owned a restaurant, so it was daunting when it came to planning what and how much to cook.
When I sampled the buffet, it seemed all was running smoothly and efficiently. Many diners were already enjoying their meals when I arrived shortly after 11am.
We paid first, found a table, and then went to the buffet lines. Sam said he does change up the menu each Sunday to keep the interest of those who come often. On this Sunday, an ample selection of entrees, salads and desserts were available for the adults as well as a separate section for children's favorites.
The hot dishes included: fried okra, baked carrots, cheesy broccoli, buttered corn, green beans with bacon, fluffy scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, hash browns, sausage, bacon, ham, tender roast beef, breaded and baked chicken breast with white gravy and shrimp with penne pasta in a white creamy sauce.
For the children, Escargot's offered corn dogs, fried drumsticks, chicken fingers, macaroni and cheese and barbecue beef. There was also a good selection of green salads and individual plated desserts (cheese cake, chocolate cake, white cake and more).
Wilkerson said he never intended to serve "health food," explaining that "real is better than fake," such as using real butter rather than imitation and authentic sugar rather than a substitute. While he said all the selections he serves are not made from scratch, he still makes many of the sauces and prepares many of the entrees, salads and house dressings. He said his motto is "if I can buy it as good as I can make it, I will buy it."
I filled up on breakfast items. The eggs were very stately--fluffy and hot; the bacon slices were "American style" (streaky, cut from the belly of a pig) was rich with smoky flavor and slightly crisp; the round pork patty sausage was moist.
The biscuits and gravy were warm, soft, tall buttermilk biscuits with white creamy gravy--pretty standard, really. My friend had the roast beef, which seemed to be choice or prime beef and slow cooked. It was tender and soft, not mushy as some can be. She had buttered corn and mashed potatoes with gravy. All tasted like eating mom's home-cooked Sunday dinner.
Wilkerson said that a few times he has had large church groups come in to dine, and he is happy to accommodate them but recommends calling ahead for reservations. He wants to be certain he has the table availability and the food to service these groups.
Looking ahead, he hopes to be open for dinners on the evenings of BOK Center events, pairing up with the T-Town Trolley to assist with getting the people to and from the BOK Center. For now, he concentrates on the Sunday buffet, providing a very good selection of foods for a leisurely meal on the traditional day of rest.
724 S. Main Ave.
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