It’s Friday. The weather is nicer than it’s been all summer. If ever there was a prime time for #FoodTruckFriday, this is it. As always, Food Truck Friday reviews are brought to you by Citizens Bank of Edmond and Heard on Hurd, the monthly food truck street festival that returns to downtown Edmond Saturday, Sept. 15.
I’m frequently dumbfounded by the depth and breadth of the OKC food scene. (To be fair, I can be found dumb pretty much all the time.)
It may not seem like a lot to people from Dallas or San Francisco or NYC, but to see Oklahoma City’s restaurants today vs. a decade or 15 years ago is to see a landscape that has been almost completely transformed.
This may be a weird example to make, but for me the change is exemplified in a place like Klemm’s Smoke Haus.
The metro had barbecue in the olden days. Good barbecue, even. But it was all very homogenous. Some places smoked on different wood. Some focused more on beef or pork. It was a hodgepodge of barbecue styles all crammed together, and I don’t mean that as an insult. But OKC wasn’t ready for specialization back then. Restaurateurs were just trying to scrape something together that would stay open amid the endless influx of chains and their basement-level prices.
So it’s a big deal to see a German-style barbecue food truck. And it’s a big deal to see that food truck plant roots in the community and become a brick-and-mortar.
We’re finally past the survival stage. Now restaurant owners are capable of specializing, focusing and even alienating a few customers. They don’t have to be for everyone; they can just be right for the right group of people and not just linger, but thrive.
It’s been incremental, but that’s a huge step. It’s an evolution of our restaurant scene that affects all of us, because we can finally begin developing our palates. We don’t all have to love the same thing because there are actual choices. That’s enormous.
I will allow one complaint about Klemm’s Smoke Haus and only one. That is this: Klemm’s Smoke Haus isn’t open enough.
But even that rings hollow. How can you fault a restaurant that specializes in slow-cooked meats for being closed long enough to slowly cook those meats? Certainly if the Supreme Court can rule that corporations are people, then we also must allow that restaurants are people and need time to pursue their non-barbecue related dreams.
Being open five lunches and only three dinners a week isn’t the most convenient FOR ME, but I’m also capable of understanding that their family does not revolve around my wants and needs. They’re not my Netflix queue.
When they are open, however, you’ll find some of the finest smoked meats in the state. On the truck or in the store, two of the biggest sellers are the four-rib plate ($10) and the loaded fries ($10).
As the name implies, the four-rib plate includes four ribs and a side on a plate. Pretty straightforward. The ribs are by far the sauciest barbecued item on the menu and I’m okay with that.
Ribs are fatty and if you can’t handle that, don’t order ribs. Personally, I revel in the fattiness of ribs. The low-and-slow cooking bastes the meat in fat, keeping it juicy and flavorful. Yes, you may have to eat around some larger chunks of fat, but again — you’re eating ribs. This is the trade-off for luscious meat with a big spice hit that propels you through bite after bite.
The loaded fries are crispy, not crunchy. Deeply browned and mottled, you are getting some real potato flavor under a drizzle of queso and a pile of your meat of choice. My recommendation: pulled pork.
I have a real love-hate relationship with pulled pork. More often than not, it’s bland and dry and boring. Klemm’s is the kind of pulled pork I love. Big chunks of well-seasoned meat, still moist but with a gorgeous flavorful crust that has a lovely peppery punch.
The queso is the same cheese sauce used on the macaroni and cheese side dish. It’s definitely a heavier version of this classic, because the sauce is loaded with cheese. You can taste it in every bite.
Chopped brisket is baby-cue. It’s the meat choice that even the pickiest eaters can agree on. One thing I like about Klemm’s version (which you can find on the $9 brisket sandwich) is that it’s chopped up fresh when you order it. It’s more like tiny matchsticks of brisket than the stringy mess you usually get. All that surface area is perfect if you’re a fan of barbecue sauce, because it has plenty of space for it to find purchase.
I’d rather have the sliced brisket ($10 for ½ pound) myself, because I think it shows the artistry and skill of Klemm’s pitmaster. The bark is gorgeous — crispy and bristling with spice — and the interior is supple and juicy. There’s a vein of fat that runs across the slices, but don’t you fret. It’s like silk. Once it hits your teeth, it transforms into a torrent of pure flavor. That’s my kind of barbecue.
On the side, I think the red cabbage and apple slaw is a winner. It’s a vinegar slaw, so put away your pitchforks, mayonnaise haters. Each bite has a lovely crunch, with sweet apple chunks balanced perfectly against the tartness of the vinegar.
It’s not available on the truck, but I’d be remiss not to recommend the jaeger schnitzel ($13).
If you’ve never had wiener schnitzel before, you’re missing out. It’s pork loin that’s been pounded out, breaded and fried. In this case, they leave it a touch thick, which allows for a juicier cutlet, and the breading is made of buttery breadcrumbs that present as a golden blanket wrapped around the meat.
Jaeger is German for “hunter” and, in this case, refers to the sauce. It’s a rustic, woodsy gravy of mushrooms, onions and red wine that is extremely rich and creamy without being heavy. Culinary sorcery if ever I’ve tasted it.
As long as you’re in the store, go for another store exclusive and get the fried okra. They make it themselves and you can tell. The breading is delicate and crazy tender with a perfect pop of seasoning.
It’s not that I don’t think Klemm’s would have worked in OKC 20 years ago. This food is so good, I think it could have changed the direction of our barbecue scene. But this truck and restaurant are here at the right time. The city isn’t just trying to get fed for the least amount of money possible (we’d learn to cook if that’s what we wanted). We care about our food. We care about the story. We’re open to trying new things. And if Klemm’s is open, that’s one new thing you absolutely need to try.
Food Truck Friday reviews are brought to you by Citizens Bank of Edmond, which presents the monthly street festival, Heard on Hurd in Downtown Edmond. Heard on Hurd is an authentic block party style festival that features three dozen food trucks, a live concert with local artists and retail pop-up shops. Edmond has a special vibe of its own and Citizens Bank of Edmond provides an outlet for the Edmond community to shine. Heard on Hurd highlights the importance of supporting local eateries, artists and retailers. At the heart of Heard on Hurd is Citizens Bank of Edmond which is proud to provide the means for so many local thriving businesses.
The next Heard on Hurd is 6-10 p.m. September 15 at the corner of Broadway and Hurd in Edmond. For updates, follow @HeardonHurd on social media with hashtag #JointheHurd