Lured by the Sign
My eyes are well trained in spotting vintage signs in cities and towns.
Then I made Don turn the car around to let me get a better look.
Was this place even in business?
We hoped so. We love local steakhouses and cafes. I actually don't care that much about eating steak, but I love a good neon cow sign... or cow statue. I'll take whatever food comes with it.
We hoped they'd be open for dinner, since it was Monday and our hotel's restaurant was closed...
Frank Lloyd Wright's Price Tower
We had actually come to Bartlesville to stay in the iconic skyscraper, built by FLW in 1956.
Luckily we got to have both, with our visit to this small Oklahoma city.
Murphy's was open!
Two signs were glowing when we arrived around 8:00. The newer sign announced, "Home of the World Famous Hot Burger...''Gravy Over All" WooHoo!
We parked and headed inside. There was a good sized waiting area. I heard there used to be lines out the door.
If we'd been there at 6 on a Friday, I'll bet the little room would have been filled with locals. Luckily there was no wait.
I wanted to look at all the framed news articles and photos, but we wasted no time. Small town businesses don't love it, when non-local diners stroll in, just when they're gearing up to head home.
We stepped inside the restaurant, which looked a little more like a diner than a steakhouse. We were told to sit anywhere.
The restaurant wasn't due to close for 90 minutes, but the place looked pretty cleared out. There were lots of options. The corner table near the window was cute... but kind of large for two.
Dining at the Counter
Oddly, the counter had chairs instead of stools. We could have had a more authentic experience if we'd sat down at the counter.
But there were more employees than diners at this point. I had a feeling we'd be intruding on their "end of shift" banter if we'd eaten at the counter.
We figured we should pick a a nice orange-ish booth and be quick about it.
We weren't exactly up for a romantic dinner, so we chose a booth not far from the counter and kitchen window. Lots to watch.
Everyone seemed nice, but I didn't spot anyone who seemed old enough (or chatty enough) to share Murphy's history with us. Sometimes you have to just quietly take it all in and not ask tons of questions.
The table gave us the first bit of info. "Established in 1946" The employee shirts prompted a question. "Gravy Over All" was written on the back. What did that mean?
One Order of Hot Hamburger!
Our young server seemed hurried, so we just ordered the food that the place is known for. While our meal cooked, we watched some staff with brooms and rags. Two women sat at the counter doing important tasks. One was counting money and the other was filling small plastic "to-go" containers, with the famous dark gravy.
I laughed when Don's Hot Hamburger arrived. Toasted white bread, covered with ground beef patty, buried beneath a mountain of hot fries and blanketed with chocolate-brown beef gravy!
I was actually happy, with my grilled ham and cheese. (no photo) The ham was a nice thick slice. It hit the spot.
Reading Some History
It was still 30 minutes until closing when we finished. But there wasn't a person in sight who looked open to chit chat. I decided to study the walls for some history.
Jane and Michael Stern of "Roadfood" fame, had a write up on the wall. Their books and articles have guided us to many locations. But it was the cow sign that introduced us to Murphy's.
Melvel & Lorene Murphy
The best framed piece, was a photo of the couple who started this little place in 1946. This photo must have been after the remodeling and expansions of 1957 & 1966.
The couple must have had some big stories to tell from early on, when there were only 8 stools and 4 booths... and Mickey Mantle sat at the counter in 1949.
I read that the steakhouse weathered some difficult times over the years.
I guess the building must have been rebuilt after the fire. I heard they were only closed a few days after the tornado.
Back to the Tower
As we headed back to the Tower, I had another thought.
I so wish Melvel and Lorene were still around, so I could ask!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.