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First Looks: The Collective

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Well, it’s finally here: The Collective

It’s been months and months and months of waiting since watching the building go up, so much so that some of the initially announced concepts fell out and new ones took their places. 

I’ve heard questions from many of you, wondering if and when The Collective would open (officially, it opens July 29, 2019). But there’s more to it than just opening, so here’s the rundown on what you can find there and how it differs from other restaurants.

Theo's Doughnuts' donuts

1. Hours are complex.

Usually, a restaurant is open or closed. And while The Collective will have opening and closing hours, they are not the same for every concept in The Collective. As you might guess, some spots will be open for breakfast (Theo’s Doughnuts, the coffee shop) and others, like Okie Pokie or Local-Homa, that are more suited to lunches and dinners, will open later. 

Owner Truong Le said the doors open at 7 a.m., but the kitchens won’t get going until 10 a.m.. Other business owners may choose to open later in order to stay open later. 

“For right now, it’s open 7 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday through Wednesday,” he said. “The bar will stay open until 11 p.m. and then Thursday-Saturday, the bar stays open until 1:30 a.m. and some of the stalls will stay open later, as well.”

It would be great to have everything figured out already, but it’ll take some real-time experience before everything is settled. 

The Flying Pig's loaded avocado

2. Cash is not king at The Collective. 

Cards are welcome everywhere, but if you bring cash, you’ll need to exchange it for a gift card at the central kiosk. Why? There are a few reasons: having loads of cash at each location is a security risk, for one thing. For another, it should speed up ordering. 

3. Don’t get lost. 

Though it’s a food hall, The Collective is not built like a hallway. It’s more like a coiled snake, starting at the 10th Street entrance and going up and around to a rooftop seating area with more dining spaces along the way. 

The current list of restaurants includes:

The Black Cat's Earth bowl

Black Cat

bethlyon.com/the-black-cat

Beth Lyon’s bona fides are in the Oklahoma City A-list. She’s a graduate of The Coach House mentorship program (an honor she shares with Cafe De L’Asie owner Vuong Nguyen), she helped open Kitchen No. 324, Anchor Down, and Provision Kitchen, and she’s written menus for The Press and others. The lady can cook. Whether or not you believe in chakras, her Ayurvedic diet-friendly dishes are delicious. 

Cafe De L’Asie

thecollectiveokc.com/cafe-de-lasie-1

When Vuong Nguyen left for Tulsa, I was crushed. In fairness to the chef, he’d had a run of bad luck. After opening Guernsey Park, he struck out on his own with the excellent (but poorly located) Bonjour—one of the best breakfasts I have ever eaten—until it had to close. He designed menus for a few different restaurants, including the sadly doomed Dekora and Gigglez, before going to Tulsa for a big opportunity. Now he’s back, both at Ur/Bun in the Tower Theatre and with his classical French preparation of Asian dishes at Cafe De L’Asie. If there can be a shadow favorite for a place like The Collective, it’s here. 

The Flying Pig BBQ

theflyingpigbbq.net

David Greggs knows barbecue well, having operated The Flying Pig BBQ as a food truck for several years before joining The Collective. Initially, the barbecue spot in the food hall was meant to be The Rocking L Ranch Smokehouse, but...something happened. I don’t know and nobody’s talking to me about it, but if it means I get the over-the-top barbecue dishes Greggs is known for—check out the massive B-52 sandwich—then I’m not complaining.

The Fried Taco

thefriedtaco.com

Ruben and Kristal Pacheco’s food truck, The Fried Taco, is one of those places that drives people wild. Literally, I mentioned it to the lady cutting my hair the other day and she stopped what she was doing to tell me that, every time she sees their truck, she stops immediately. Well, she’s going to be right around the corner from their semi-permanent home and I bet they’ll see a lot of her. It’s not Mexican food; It’s Puerto Rican. The eponymous taco comes from a recipe they got from Ruben’s mom and there will be other Puerto Rican dishes on the menu now that they’re working in a space much larger than a truck.

Local-Homa's grilled short rib plate

Local-Homa

local-homa.com

This was the concept that most concerned me when I heard about it and the one I was most enthused about when I got to try it. Gary Arnold is a first-time restaurant owner and his concept at Local-Homa sounds daunting—making fine dining fare, but fast and much more affordable. I tried a piece of short rib he made with some parsnip puree and WOW. Keep your eyes on this place, because I get the feeling it’s going to get wild over there.

Oh! Baby

ohbabyokc.com

Dutch baby pancakes are not impossible to find in Oklahoma, but they’re not the most common dish, either. Oh! Baby plans to change that up with their sweet-and-savory menu of delicious pancakes. The shakshuka I had—it’s a Middle Eastern dish of tomatoes, onions, and garlic topped with a soft-boiled egg and feta cheese—is my new obsession. The addition of the pancake at the bottom hold it all together. Try just the pancake and you’ll be equally enthused. It’s got a pleasant chew to it, like a good pizza crust, but that just means you keep the flavor in your mouth a little longer.

Okie Pokie

noodeeokiepokie.com

Already a smash hit when it was on 23rd Street, Okie Pokie is owned by the same folks running The Collective, so it makes sense for them to put the two together. Poke bowls are all the rage for a reason: they are delicious, fast, and kind of healthy. I wonder if nearby GoGo Sushi knows what they’re up against, because this could be a game changer.

Oh! Baby's shakshuka dutch baby

Press Waffle Co. 

presswaffleco.com

The one and only non-Oklahoma concept at The Collective is the Texas-based Press Waffle Co. which makes, you guessed it, waffles. Much like Oh, Baby!, Press takes a breakfast treat and makes it either sweet or savory. Unlike other waffles, Press uses dough instead of batter for something a bit more sturdy. 

Shaka

shakaokc.com

Patton Simpson has cooked at some wonderful local spots, including Musashi’s and the gone-but-not-forgotten KD’s, on his way to owning his own concept. Shaka is inspired by the flavors of Pacific islands and his youth eating in Hawaii for a menu that has me very excited. Loco moco, teriyaki steaks, musubi, Hawaiian-style chicken—if you like complex flavors that are deeply comforting, you’re going to like Shaka a lot. 

Theo’s Doughnuts

theosdoughnuts.com

Brioche donuts are some of the best you’ll ever have. The richness of the dough adds layers of flavor and richness that are hard to find in your average donut shop. In addition to a super-rich and tasty crumb, the fillings go above and beyond the norm. Key lime pie cream-filled donuts? Or maybe seasonal jam? Best of all, you won’t need to get a dozen, because these are so filling that one will likely be enough.

Excitement for The Collective is at a fever pitch right now and it’s not hard to see why. If they can iron out the kinks (where to wait for your food without being in everyone’s way, where to park, etc.) I foresee The Collective becoming a big hit. Which is good, because there are already more food halls on the way, including Parlor in Automobile Alley and The Railyard in Edmond.

About the Author

Founder and Eater-in-Chief of I Ate Oklahoma, Greg Elwell has been reviewing restaurants and writing about Oklahoma’s food culture for more than a decade. Where a normal person orders one meal, this guy gets three. He is almost certainly going to die young and those who love him most are fairly ambivalent about it. You can email Greg at greg@iateoklahoma.com.

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