Union Wood-Fired Grill going out in style with championship chicken in its final week
Jonas Favela is having his Dickensian moment: Winning the recent 405 Fried Chicken Challenge was the best of times, but announcing imminent plans to close Union Wood-Fired Grill days later was clearly the worst.
On April 28, Favela joined 10 local chefs to compete in the informal 405 Fried Chicken Challenge at The Hutch on Avondale.
A week later, he was announcing on Facebook that the former Meat Market Refectory would close after Saturday's service.
It's a tough break for one of the market's best chefs. Favela is best remembered for his time at The Ranch Steakhouse and has also worked at Boulevard Steakhouse, and The Metro. You'll be able to find Favela behind the stove again soon. He just signed a lease to join the team of micro-restaurants at Parlor OKC, which is due to open this summer. He's not quite ready to introduce his concept yet, so stay tuned.
The 405 Fried Chicken Challenge he won was the brain-child of chef David Henry of The Hutch, who was inspired by the Pastrami Challenge in which he competed at Café 7 last year. That day, chef Kathryn Mathis of Big Truck Tacos/Pizzeria Gusto/Back Door BBQ took home a $1,000 prize put up by fellow chef Brad Johnson of Hal Smith Restaurant Group.
Henry's charge to the chefs was simple: Make your best fried chicken, cooked on the bone, and accompany it with your version of white bread, onions and pickles. Only caveat: If you win, you must put the dish on your menu. The contest was peer-reviewed and judged by invited guests.
Among the invited judges were Victoria Kemp from Florence’s Restaurant. Her restaurant serves my favorite fried chicken, so I knew we needed her point of view. We also had chef Kurt Fleischfresser of Vast and his wife Jayne, Michel Buthion of La Baguette and McClintock's, Josh Valentine of Carlton Landing, Cathy and Sean Cummings of Vito's Italian Ristorante and Sean Cummings Irish Pub, Apollo Woods, (aka OKC Black Eats), Delbert Briggs of The Homeless Alliance, Nathan Poppe of The Curbside Chronicle, and the two Gregs: Elwell and Horton of IateOklahoma.com and 405 Magazine, respectively.
Henry’s wife Chris hosted a table of junior judges, and Alex Kroblin of Thirst Wine Merchants provided bubbles and whites to wash it down along with some beer sent over from Tulsa from American Solera.
Competitors included David Egan of Cattlemen’s, Jimmy Mays of Café 7 and soon-arriving The Hamilton, Bruce Rinehart of Rococo/The Manhattan, Sonya Walker of Goodness on the Go, Ryan Parrott and Chris McKenna of Picasso's, Oso and soon-arriving Frida; Kevin Ward of St. Mark’s Chop Room/En Croute, Brad Johnson of Hal Smith Restaurant Group, Roy Green of Oak and Ore, and Shane Roel of The Hutch. Chef Michael Paske jumped in late for fun and did a great job despite running to Whole Foods at the 11th hour and frying up chicken in about an hour.
After the finger-lickin’ was over, Favela's Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Interesting Spices took top prize. Chefs served as the first line of judgment. When those results were tallied, Favela was neck and neck with hosting chef Shane Roel. But after the tie-breaking guest judges tally was counted, which Favela won handily, Favela was named champion.
You've got a few days left to get over to Union, 2920 NW 63, to give it a try. Favela serves the chicken with Granny's Potato Salad, Chile Rojo Corn with feta, flake salt and thyme.
At the end of the competition, Johnson challenged the local chefs community to make a better meatloaf than he does, offering a $1,000 bounty for whomever can prove it at the 405 Meatloaf Challenge.
All we currently know is it will be a summer affair.
We also know you have until Saturday night to say goodbye to Union. Drop by before now and then and ask for the championship chicken.
Menu makeovers all the rage
With competition for diner-dom's attention at an all-time high, changes to operating restaurants are no surprise — even steak at The Drake.
About a month ago A Good Egg Dining's celebration of surf added turf. Group president Keith Paul said The Drake, 519 NW 23 St., made the addition at the request of guests but not until the timing was right.
“A lot of it was just waiting on the right program to present itself,” Paul said. “44 Farms was ideal for us.”
The cattle ranch out of Cameron, Texas, which is going on its fourth generation of family ownership, has been in business since 1909. They raise true Black Angus cattle without use of antibiotics or hormone treatment.
The Drake, which opened in 2015, is offering rib-eye, tenderloin, flati-iron and skirt steaks. for the steaks, I sampled a little of each. The Flat-Iron steak stood out. Don’t sleep on the house-made steak sauce, whether you use it on your beef or not, you’ll absolutely want to run potatoes through it.
Meanwhile, The Drake still offer plenty of great fresh seafood, salads and cocktails. Most important of all, the Lemon Cloud pie is still available.
A Good Egg has also been busy taking the reins at Museum Café, 415 Couch Dr.
A Good Egg has repainted the bar and dining room and revamped the menu. I stopped in to Museum Cafe for a preview service and tried a few things, including Smoked Carrot Hummus, French Onion Grilled Cheese Sandwich, Spicy Shrimp Risotto, and a Caramelized Pineapple Fool with Grilled Pound Cake for dessert. Smoky, colorful hummus with well-balanced cocktails called Persistence of Memory and Water Lillies were the beginning of an exemplary dining experience.
The lunch menu also includes Cacio e Pepe Naan, Beef Carpaccio and Crab Cakes. Other sandwiches include a Croque Madam, burger and prime rib sandwich. For full menu, hours and information about Museum Cafe, go online to www.okcmoa.com/cafe/.
Over in Nichols Hills Plaza, chef Kevin Ward has given the menu at St. Mark's Chop Room, 6462 Avondale Dr., an overhaul.
Ward, a Coach House Apprenticeship Program grad, is also executive chef for En Croute next door. Both opened a couple of years ago in Nichols Hills Plaza under the direction of Drew Tekell and chef Jonathon Stranger.
Stranger's original menu offered appetizers, small plates and hardy. Ward said he replaced the a la carte approach for traditional entrees at the direction of Stranger and Tekell. He said stretching his culinary skills for the new menu was a nice contrast to duties at En Croute.
"We make a lot of eggs over there (at En Croute), which is great. I love our eggs," Ward joked. "But it was nice to be able to push my skills a little, and I learned a lot of new flavors."
Ward pointed to the Bagna Cauda, a classic Italian hot dip made of ground garlic and anchovies, as a new experience.
"Jonathan told me about that one," he said. "Once I started working on it, I fell in love with it."
And you will, too, if you're a fan of classic European cuisine. The dish is served warm and arrives aromatic and rich. Anchovy lurks just beneath the surface waiting to spring upon your palate to splash it with brine before all that luscious garlic takes hold. It just needs a ride on the torn baguette riding side-saddle. Your move. Less adventurous palates will dive into Truffle Honey Fried Wings and land deliciously.
Beef tartare comes with beef-fat potato chips that are great with the garlic aioli that comes with the wings. I also sampled Lobster Pomodoro, Wagyu Tenderloin and Pan Roasted Veal Loin, which were both promising enough for a return visit. My favorite entree was the Wagyu Tenderloin served on a puree of potatoes with demi and scrumptious wild mushrooms.
The cozy dining room is still home to a well-stocked bar thanks to Tekell's tried and true cocktail-programming skills.
If you want to check out the entire menu before dropping by go online to www.stmarkschoproom.com. The restaurant is open 5 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and is available for private parties.
Next week I'll have coverage from Fatty's Smokehouse and the new Red Rooster Bar. You can get an early look on the Food Dude blog along with my recent visits to Stitch Cafe, Whiskey Biscuit, and McAlester for a steak cook off. Look for a new episode of the Food Dude's podcast "Community Table" to drop in time for Mother's Day.