POSTED ON APRIL 25, 2012:
Sweet on Lisa's
North Tulsa café hits sweet spot with down-home dishes
Tulsa is bursting with restaurants of every shape, size and taste, so no matter what's going to hit the spot, the options are numerous. But sometimes you crave something not just for how it tastes, but for how it makes you feel. We all have our versions of "comfort food," but for me, it's Southern cookin' and Sweet Lisa's Café has the perfect menu to feed my soul.
Sweet Lisa's Café is located in a quaint little spot on Pine near Peoria, and has a small dining room that fills up fast during lunch. Luckily it was a gorgeous Tulsa day when I stopped by so I took advantage of their outdoor seating.
Sweet Lisa's menu is short and, well, sweet. Pork chops, catfish and tilapia are their mainstays, with chicken breast, hamburgers and salad also. But like any great restaurant, you get what they're known for and you can't go wrong.
My lunch bunch and I placed our order at the counter and happily took our seats outside. It wasn't too long before the catfish dinners ($8) my pals ordered arrived. But my lunch was the real scene-stealer -- two plump pork chops with a rich, caramel color ($8). I relished the jealous looks as they eyed my chops like a buxom broad that entered a room. These lovely chops had a nice coating, not a breading, but more of a visible flavor varnish. You can get any of their selections grilled, but I ordered my pork chop fried which gave that first bite a nice snap and kept the center juicy. The other white meat can sometimes be something other than good in the wrong hands. Sweet Lisa's pork chop is beyond reproach.
Now I must admit I was ogling the two plump catfish filets being gleefully chomped across the table. I grew up fishing and eating my fair share of catfish and it's a dish that just says "home" to me. That also means I'm pretty persnickety when it comes to my catfish. When I finally tested the waters at Sweet Lisa's, it was like a blissful memory in my mouth. The cornbread coating was perfectly proportioned to the large, juicy filet and, again, perfectly seasoned. When you lather on some tartar sauce and add a splash of hot sauce, Sweet Lisa's catfish will definitely make you purr.
So Lisa's knows how to dish up the main event, but how 'bout those sides? Most dinners come with two choices and additional sides are $1.95, but you can compose an entire meal out of four sides that can stand alone for only $5.99. Each day differs, but their usual choices are fried okra, green beans, candied yams (which sadly weren't available the day I went), or mashed potatoes and gravy.
Ambrosial Delights. Find satisfing, homestyle cooking at Sweet Lisa's Cafe, 782 E. Pine St.
I could speak volumes about the virtues of mashed potatoes and gravy. There's nothing like diving into a bed of feathery spuds and covering up with a warm blanket of gravy. But I made a mistake of epic proportions during my visit to Sweet Lisa's. When I ordered up my fried pork chop dinner I was sidetracked by the fried okra, and, oh my, did you say homemade mac and cheese? In my wanderlust of comfort food, I overlooked the most comfortable food of all -- mashed potatoes with brown gravy.
One of my lunch dates stayed on course, however, and I felt myself coveting that warm scoop of obviously-homemade mashed potatoes with a brown gravy with the perfect viscosity. I asked politely for a bite, but had already planned to pillage his potatoes if he denied me. Luckily I caught him in a giving mood, and with just one bite, I understood the gravity of my mistake. The potatoes were nice and peppery, and sure, there were some small lumps here and there, but I welcome that as a sign of authenticity. And the layer of luscious brown lava on top was a welcome departure from white cream gravy.
After plowing through heaping helpings of happiness, there was no way to ignore the sweetest part of Sweet Lisa's -- the dessert case. It was filled with various pies, cakes and puddings for $3 and under, but I stopped short at the coconut cream pie ($2.76). Served in a small, individual pie pan, the crust was flaky and flavorful, the coconut cream filling was creamy, not custardy, with just enough shredded coconut to give it texture.
So maybe catfish and pork chops aren't the most glamorous of fare. But that's the beauty of a place like Sweet Lisa's -- the ability to take a simple ingredient and create something so full of flavor and love it is unsurpassed. And when you do something well, there's no need to overcompensate. It is with this quiet confidence and spirit of authenticity that Sweet Lisa's produces some of the finest comfort food in town.
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