As a New Yorker on a road trip through Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri, I was told by any number of locals that I had to eat at Cattlemen's Steakhouse in Oklahoma City.
I'm always wary of old-time classic restaurants — Cattlemen's opened in 1910 — but in this case, the legend lived up to its reputation. The food was superb, the service friendly and the atmosphere lots of fun.
But there were a few, shall we say, culture clashes, beginning with my assumption that the finest steakhouse in the region would be fancy. New York's top steakhouses charge around $50 per steak, no sides, but at Cattlemen's my 6-ounce filet mignon cost less than half that, with side and salad. And those famous New York steakhouses can be downright snooty, but Cattlemen's made us feel right at home from the minute my sister and I arrived in the parking lot. There we were greeted by a horse-and-buggy that provided a free ride from our car to the restaurant door, steps away.
I'll admit we were puzzled when the bartender served my sister's martini in a water glass, but the waiter was suitably horrified and immediately transferred it to the right stemware. Then we looked at the menu and wondered if we'd be laughed out of Oklahoma for asking for some modifications. The menu listed the filet mignon as being wrapped in bacon and the broccoli topped with cheese; we wanted ours bare. But our waiter didn't blink an eye at our request, and in fact, after confiding that his son was a vegan, he brought us a more interesting dish that we saw on a neighbouring table — mixed veggies, not just broccoli, simple but steamed to perfection.
Our next "we're-not-in-Brooklyn-anymore" moment came with the baked potatoes, which were accompanied by a tray of impressive toppings. In New York, you're lucky half the time to get more than one pat of butter per person. At Cattlemen's, the tray of potato add-ons held three large scoops of butter — and I mean, like, ice-cream cone size — along with two tubs of sour cream and a container each of grated cheese and bacon bits. But our potatoes were so fluffy, they needed nothing more than a scrape of butter off the knife.
As for the steak, it was about as tender, melt-in-your-mouth and flavourful as could be. We washed it down with a nice malbec, then asked an innocent question. Diners all around us were ordering something called lamb fries. What were they?
"Guess," the waiter said, a smile forming on his face.
"Um ... fried lamb?" I ventured, knowing the truth couldn't possibly be that easy.
Turns out, lamb fries are fried testicles. The waiter offered to bring some, and neighbouring diners encouraged us — dare I say egged us on? — to try them. My sister and I are actually adventurous eaters — bacon-and-cheese modifications notwithstanding — so sure, we said, bring on the lamb fries!
A sample arrived, battered and fried, with a lemon slice and cocktail sauce.
They were tender, mild and delicious. Reminded me a bit of calamari, though squid is much chewier. On Facebook, our New York friends were horrified by the tale; one said that if I thought testicles tasted like calamari, I'd probably think anything battered and fried was good. That may be true, but I swear, lamb fries are yummy!
Back home a week later, I was eating out with two friends when the bread basket arrived, holding exactly three tiny pats of butter — one for each diner.
I wasn't in Oklahoma City anymore.
If You Go...
CATTLEMEN'S STEAKHOUSE: 1309 S. Agnew, Oklahoma City; http://www.cattlemensrestaurant.com/ or 405-236-0416.