Stylish Eats reviews are brought to you by Steven Giles Clothing, the menswear store for those with discerning taste. Style extends well beyond the confines of clothing, so Steven Giles is teaming up with I Ate Oklahoma to bring you reviews of eateries with a refined palate across the state.
Before Tucker’s Onion Burgers and Red Prime. Before RePublic and Iron Star. Before Barrio’s The Drake and Kitchen No. 324 and Mexican Radio...there was Cheever’s Cafe.
A Good Egg Dining Group has become a hit maker over the last two decades, churning out a variety of concepts, both low- and high-end, but almost all highly acclaimed. And it all started with Cheever’s Cafe, which came to Oklahoma City in 2000—not exactly the height of the culinary boom.
Owners Keith and Heather Paul worked their butts off* to make Cheever’s a success, blending their Southwestern flavors into a new-American menu. It’s not the most-expensive restaurant in town, nor is it the cheapest, but the quality remains high, even 20 years later.
*This is why I’ve never seen Keith or Heather seated. I honestly believe their butts are gone.
What makes this old flower shop-turned-restaurant so timeless? The menu has changed plenty over the years, but it’s always modern and usually ahead of the trends. And yet there are mainstays that will, one assumes, never leave the menu—chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and jalapeno gravy, for instance—which gives the restaurant a sense of stability.
It’s not exactly hidden away. The tile sign for Cheever’s remains visible from NW 23rd Street, though when you’re actually on Hudson Avenue, giant bushes give the patio, and the rest of the restaurant, an air of privacy.
A Good Egg Dining is known for great food, but those in the industry also know the great pride the entire company takes in its service. Visit any location of any of their restaurants and you’ll find unparalleled hospitality. I don’t know if there’s a boot camp for servers or some kind of facility that makes pod people who are extremely friendly and thoughtful to customers, but it’s one of the hallmarks of Good Egg restaurants.
Nowhere is that more evident than Cheever’s Cafe, which remains the group’s flagship store. The staff are always working to make the diner’s day a little better, whether that’s with menu recommendations, a cup of coffee to go, or just pleasant conversation. That it seems to come naturally is all the more impressive, because if you’ve spent any time around restaurants or the service industry in general, you know it’s not.
And that, as much as the food, is why visiting Cheever’s at lunch is one of the most stylish meals you can have. Business lunches are the norm here, but so are birthday meals and lunch dates and long-time-no-see meet ups. It’s a spot that draws in out-of-towners for its reputation and in-towners for its blend of welcoming attitude and the air of feeling just a bit superior to those who aren’t dining at Cheever’s that day.
The weather has me thinking soup and one seriously misnamed soup in particular comes to mind. Cheever’s chicken tortilla soup ($4.50 for a cup, $6 for a bowl) is not a soup. Yes, it comes via bowl or cup. Yes, it’s eaten with a spoon. But order yourself a cup and then tell me, honestly, is this soup or stew?
Look inside your heart and then look me in the eyes and then look at that cup and say the words: It’s a stew. It’s an incredibly rich and creamy stew. It has so much chicken in it that I feel confident Cheever’s is somehow losing money on each bowl sold. The flavors are wonderful, with just enough heat to radiate throughout your body, but it’s not a soup. It’s a stew. And I recommend you get it.
But, if you’re not up for chicken tortilla STEW, then the soup of the day ($4.50 for a cup, $6 for a bowl) is another good option. Last time I went I had a chicken-lemon-rice soup that was brothy and extremely a soup, and also delicious. There was just a hint of spice slipped in that sent a wave of warmth through my chest. That was a lovely cup of soup.
For something a touch heartier and also something that could, at a distance of three yards, repel an attacker, I recommend the bleu cheese potato chips ($10). They make nice, thick-cut potato chips from Kennebec potatoes and cover them with chopped up bits of bacon, drizzle on the bleu cheese fondue, and finish with a dollop of green onion pesto.
This is that good stink. They are pungent and delicious and, yes, they will make your breath so lethal that it needs to be registered as a weapon in several states. (NOT OKLAHOMA, THOUGH.) Get them to share or, if your server is super-cool, they might tell you about a secret single-sized option. But shhhhhhh. It’s a secret. Here. On the Internet.
You might have missed the BLT quest I undertook a while back, but you should not miss the Uptown BLT ($11).
The things you need for a BLT are, in order: bacon, lettuce, and tomato. Cheever’s nailed all three. But then they decided we, as customers, deserve more than just three ingredients. They use sourdough bread, which is sturdy enough to hold up to a weighty and wet group of fillings, and flavorful enough to stand up to a big burst of flavor. Then they add avocado, because you should almost always add avocado, and some garlic cream cheese to really send it over the top. Sincerely, this is an excellent sandwich.
I wanted to like the shrimp and grits ($17) more than I did. This one just didn’t come together for me in all the ways I wanted it to, but your mileage may vary.
What you get is a substantial mound of grits covered in cheddar and green onions. Myself, I’d prefer the cheddar and onions mixed in, but also I’d like the grits just a bit creamier. That said, everyone likes grits their own way. This just wasn’t my way. The sriracha honey butter moat around the outside is a nice idea, but, again, I wanted that fat in the grits, making them more flavorful and irresistible. That’s the thing with good grits: they’ll make you ignore everything else on the plate.
Not that I wanted to ignore the shrimp, which were done perfectly and served up even better. The tails were removed, meaning you can easily eat this dish with a knife and fork, never worrying about losing precious shrimp meat to the inside of the tail. And they shrimp were wrapped in bacon, which was crisp and fatty in perfect balance. If the grits were a little creamier and had a touch more fatty flavor worked into them, I’d probably order this every time.
Then again...let’s talk about the chicken-fried steak ($15). I mean, legally, we have to talk about it. Here, I’m going to try a quick experiment.
Well, that kind of failed. I asked Twitter to say what first comes to mind about Cheever’s Cafe and I expected 90 percent of them to immediately say “chicken-fried steak.” Only one of them did. Here it is:
So...wow. Maybe it isn’t mandatory to talk about this much-heralded piece of Oklahoma’s culinary scene, and yet, here I am. It’s a great chicken-fried steak. It’s crispy on the outside, with a good bit of body so that all the jalapeno cream gravy and hide in the nooks and crannies. The meat inside is so super tender you can cut it with the side of your fork. The mashed potatoes are lovely. It’s just a whole mess of goodness and, I dunno, I thought people would be climbing over one another to extoll its virtues. That said, if you ask people where to get their favorite chicken-fried steak, Cheever’s always comes up a lot.
Truthfully, though, I think Cheever’s deserves to be known for something else: The Burger ($12, add Cheddar cheese 50 cents).
Look, A Good Egg Dining knows from burgers. Tucker’s Onion Burgers and RePublic are all about those all-beef patties, but I never expected Cheever’s to come out swinging like this! Two thin-but-still-juicy beef patties, American cheese, peppered mayo, bacon jam, and a buttery bun—I was blown away.
Talk about great burgers in the metro and this one is rarely, if ever, mentioned. Why? Because most people who go to Cheever’s aren’t getting the burger. Well, let’s change that, because this is good enough to be in the conversation.
There are a few things at play here. One is the texture. From the top of the super soft bun, all the way down through the meat, cheese, bacon, sauce, to the bottom of the bun, this thing is tender. Like, there’s no resistance. It’s like a magic trick that this thing is solid, because you’re not taking a bite—it’s giving you a bite. The burger is feeding itself to you.
The beef is quality and you can taste it. But the bacon jam is the real MVP, because you’re getting a bacon cheeseburger without any of the things that make bacon cheeseburgers annoying. Bacon jam retains all that fatty flavor and sweetness without any interruptions. No pulling at those uncooked chewy bits that didn’t quite render or dealing with shards of overcooked meat. It just melts into every bite. As they sometimes say, “I just want the baby, not the labor pains.” Well, this is the baby. And it’s delicious.
The menu changes a fair bit at dinner, with more of a focus on seafood and steaks, but when you’re after an upscale, elegant lunch, Cheever’s is a great place to be. The quality of the dishes remains high regardless of when you’re there, so it’s a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of daily life to just go eat lunch in a nice place, surrounded by nice people, eating really wonderful food.
Stylish Eats are sponsored by Steven Giles Clothing, a high-end men’s fashion store in Classen Curve providing expertly tailored suits, timeless casual wear and everything in between. Visit them online at stevengilesclothing.com to schedule a fitting or stop in at 5850 N. Classen Blvd. to browse their selection in person.