Burger Joint in Oklahoma!
You have to love a burger joint that also serves, Root Beer and Fresh Pies!
Old Place & Old Car
Don and I passed through Tulsa, last November. We stopped in for lunch.
We parked near a mighty fine, vintage Ford. That was an added bonus!
I actually couldn't remember much about the interior.
Once we stepped inside, I thought it might be possible that they've done zero redecorating, since our last visit in the 1990's. That worked for me!
When we first entered, the counter seating was all open.
I talked Don into eating at the counter, because I couldn't resist those orange-y red stools, with little foot platforms!
Bowl Specials... Root Beer...
We had a good view of the menu, with the daily Bowl Specials.
I chose Monday's special, Frito Pie. It seemed like we should be ordering malts and fries and the works. But it was early, and we'd already enjoyed a big breakfast.
We ordered and I spent a few minutes looking at all the curious stuff, in the little restaurant.
There was a coat rack, holding a cheeseburger hat. There were shelves above the windows, displaying lots of... stuff.
I'm sure there are stories behind the plastic toy collection, but I didn't ask. It looked like most of the goodies were more from my kids' era than my own.
In the front of the restaurant, I spotted a large window with more knickknacks on the sill.
I was curious and dashed outside, to see if the window had been some kind of ordering window. I also wanted to compare the exterior, with a photo I'd seen.
But by the time I got outside, a man in a knitted cap, was standing on the sidewalk, in front of that window. He waved two fists above his head and shouted in anger, "JUSTICE! JUSTICE!"
I was totally freaked out and decided to take photos later. I quickly turned and rushed inside, with a racing heart.
I didn't take a photo of the restaurant staff & diners, when I re-entered. If I had, it might have looked like this old photo of Brownies. The entire restaurant looked up at me, as if I'd been the one who caused the crazy outburst on the street! I just shrugged and laughed and all was good.
It was time to eat!
Don ordered a basic cheeseburger, simple as that. That shiny bun lid looks pretty good to me right now. It was gone in a second!
My Frito-Pie was only $4.50. It was pretty tasty, by itself. But, when I noticed the guy sitting next to me, drinking 3 mugs of root beer, I decided I was missing something.
Cold Root Beer
I flagged down our young server and told her I needed to go for a root beer, after all.
We didn't get to meet an owner or even an old customer, but I enjoyed a few old photos, on the way out.
This photo is from a 1983 newspaper. That was years before we lived in Tulsa, or had kids. But those little faces look sort of like our two kids and their friends. I wish I had a photo or two, from an old visit.
This photo is of the pie baker, Mrs. Cleo Peace. The old snapshot reminded me that we had not sampled pie!
Well, next time I'll let the words on the sign remind me! I'll have Root Beer AND Pie!
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!
Oldest Bar in Oklahoma
Don and I lived in Oklahoma years ago, but experienced Eischen's for the first time this past September! We rolled into Okarche about 1:30 pm and parked in back, near the beer drinkin' cowboy. I was pretty thrilled to finally visit the bar, that Peter Eischen opened in 1896.
We walked around to the front entrance. It didn't exactly look like the Oldest Bar in Oklahoma, but it still had a great small town, retro feel.
Signs and Announcements
I was prepared to see a line out the door on a Saturday, but we were able to head straight inside. There was hardly time to take in all the information on the windows and doors... about supporting our heroes... praying for their safe return... Oldest bar in Oklahoma... No credit or debit cards... No coffee or tea or outside food and drink... And what was up with all those stickers near the door handle?
When we arrived, almost every bar stool was taken and the booths and tables were full. That gave me a little time to study the place, which was mostly filled with locals on that day.
It didn't take long to get filled in on some of Eischen's history. I found a bar photo taken before 1993, when a grease fire in the kitchen destroyed the restaurant/bar. The image is so dark, it's hard to see if the hand-carved 19th century back bar is in the photo.
The Back Bar Shrine
On the back wall, I found lots of photos and memorabilia. A charred piece of the old backbar helped create a bit of a shrine to the Eischen family business.
A photo of George Eischen was displayed at the top of the bar's arch. I believe George (known as Boog) was the great grandson of the original owner, Peter. He worked as a butcher at the IGA grocery store, next door. In the 1960's, he started offering fried chicken as a prize on Wednesday night shuffleboard tournaments. Boog's chicken caught on and it is his recipe that has been drawing crowds since that time.
After a short wait, Don and I were offered a table in a different room. We held out a while and got this great round booth, opposite the bar. Our young server seemed sort of excited to know we'd come all the way from Texas. She assured us the chicken was worth waiting for. One whole chicken, cut and fried up in 8 pieces, for $14.00 including tax. Don ordered a beer... since we were at the Oldest Bar in Oklahoma.
Don enjoyed his draft beer in an Eischen's cup. He enjoyed it even more when our server said, "No charge for First Timers!" Cheers to that!
Chicken, Pickles and Bread
Another woman served our food. I had noticed her earlier, rushing back and forth carrying trays of food. She brought us our piping hot chicken in a paper container. There were about 8 slices of bread and a huge helping of dill & sweet pickles and sliced onions. There were no veggie or French fry options. We could have ordered chili or fried okra, but we had our hands full with the chicken.
The place was too busy for me to ask more than a question or two. I believe Kat was the name of the sweet woman, carrying the trays. She seemed delighted that we were enjoying our first visit to Eischen's. She said she was working the day of the fire in 1993. She suddenly got called away before I got to hear more of that story! That really left me hanging!
After eating, my hands needed a good scrubbing. On the way to the restroom I sort of glanced into the kitchen and wondered about that fire, nearly 30 years ago. The fire was many years after the fried chicken days began. Boog first started cooking the chickens in an iron skillet, but by the 1990's there were numerous fryers working at once. Whew! That must have been a scary day!
The IGA Room
Just past the kitchen window, there was a door to the other dining room. I don't actually know what they call it now, but the space once housed the IGA grocery store, where Boog worked as a butcher. The Eischen-owned grocery store didn't suffer from the fire, so after the bar reopened, they eventually closed the store and offered up more dining space. I was pretty amused, looking at all the grocery store memorabilia.
Off We Go
We hit the road feeling full and satisfied. A complimentary beer and the best fried chicken I've had in a long time... along with friendly staff and a decorative charred bar! Not bad!
Over the Road Restaurant, Since 1957
I'm surprised anyone can resist a stop at this roadside... or rather roadtop stop!
I had another reason for stopping and it had to do with a page from a 1962 cookbook.
Don and I love traveling and stopping at restaurants that are featured in our vintage Ford Motor Cookbooks. However, I was driving alone and didn't have the book. I called Don in Texas and had him text me a photo of the page, featuring an image of the grand structure that once housed a gift shop, snack bar and The Broiler Room Restaurant.
Brand New Look
Up to Second Floor
I woke up my travel legs by climbing the stairs to the spacious, fast food floor. I should have gotten a closer photo of the Will Rogers statue. I believe the famous Oklahoman was holding a lasso, not waving out the window.
Evidently in 1957, one of Will Rogers' sons, attended the opening of The Glass House. How many get to attend a celebration, above a turnpike... that's named after their dad?
Auto Art and More
There was more to look at, than 25 years ago. There was an interesting piece of hanging art, as well as numerous displays about the history, of what is now called the Will Rogers Archway.
Maybe it was because I was up in the sky, but I felt like I was in an airport. The few people I saw all appeared to be travelers, so that added to the airport feel.
Signs and Directions
Maybe it was the sign saying "Westbound to Tulsa" that made me feel like I was being guided to the proper terminal. Maybe those signs are for the people who get woozy from the view and lose their sense of direction. You don't want to go down the wrong stairs and end up on the wrong side of the turnpike.
Table with a View
Next time I travel the turnpike, I'm packing a tablecloth and some china and crystal. I'm going to order a Big Mac and a sparkling clear, soft drink. Then I'll spread out my feast with this view. This view was worthy of fine dining back in 1957. Why not now?
Proceeding with my Cookbook Adventure
Instead I went towards the gift shop, where a nice looking woman was working behind the counter. I struck up a conversation about the building's past.
A young customer heard my question and butted in. "Oh it's always been a Mc Donald's!" Faye knew better. She was born and raised in nearby Vinita and the Glass House was built when she was very young. When she was old enough, she and her sister walked 2 miles just to buy the lollipops in the gift shop and ride the escalator. She said the place was very popular and held events and proms. She also knew that it had been a Howard Johnson's for a short while. She laughed when I told her my husband had texted me a picture of The Glass House from the old cookbook. She smiled while she studied the beef tenderloin recipe and illustration. I didn't ask if she'd ever dined in the Broiler Room. I figure she would have told me if she had.
Coffee With a View
Before taking off, I had another conversation with a trucker and his grown daughter. He talked about Amish food in Indiana. She talked about taking selfies, while riding in the truck.
I'm sad there are no trucks whizzing by in my photo. But I'll come again and snap more photos... after I set up my table with cloth and china. I'll bring the book, too!
Nearly 20 Years Ago
I had been told the small town was the winter home to the Carson and Barnes Circus. Surely we could pat a baby lion or watch trapeze artists train! Or maybe we could just have a picnic and then stare over the fence towards some circus trucks and a distant pen of elephants. Good enough!
Feasting with the Locals
So a few days ago, I talked Don into helping me give the town one more try. At Angie's, we could eat breakfast and feast our eyes on circus memorabilia.
When we made our mid-morning entrance, diners looked up to take note of the folks who were "passing through." The crowds had thinned by the time I pulled out the camera, but there were quite a few still lingering over coffee or chatting with Shamisha, the cashier.
Samisha was more than happy to chat with me, in between checking out the customers... who called her by name and often teased her. She told me about the time she took her 3 small children to see the circus in Paris, TX. "Oh the circus was wonderful, but my kids were so wild. I had us sitting at the top so no one could see when they misbehaved! I even tried using those little harness things and those worked terrible. " She said they didn't try to stay more than an hour and as they moved down to exit, her little boy made a dash into the ring. "It was so embarrassing!"
Shamisha showed me the photo of the clown who used to wear the shoes and hat. The clown is (or was) just one of many circus locals who frequents the cafe. Evidently he came in one day and said they could add his shoes and hat to the decor. He was retiring... to become a nurse.
Back to the Table
I returned to the table, where Don had not been ignored. A soft spoken man had passed by the table with a greeting, "The Lord's been good to you today, hasn't he?" Don, wasn't sure if the question needed a reply but he answered, "Absolutely!" Then he sipped his coffee and enjoyed the conversation of the men behind him, who were flipping coins to determine who paid the bill. Before the last 2 left the table, I heard one tell the other, "Let's blow this popsicle stand!"
Our server Levi, kept our circus mugs full until our plates arrived. I went for a couple of fried eggs, bacon, hash-browns, biscuits and gravy. All good! Angie herself had cooked up those biscuits in the kitchen. They were a perfect blend for people like me, who can't decide which they like better, biscuits or rolls! Half of Don's huge omelet went out the door with us in a box.
Breakfast Clubbers Depart
But nobody was in a big hurry to leave, because the real conversations seemed to start up near the cash register. One fellow laughed that I hadn't taken his picture yet. I was happy to have him pose, but he got distracted with Samisha, telling her he wanted to pay the bill for a man across the room. Then he turned back to me and got serious about the circus locals. "You know a lot of people don't have high opinions of circus folk. But they are some of the hardest working people in the community. In fact one of the circus owners who lived here retired and then he became town manager. People figured anyone who can run a circus, can run a town!"
Endangered Ark Foundation
I am a huge fan of elephants and yes I know the controversy about circus animals. But I would like very much to believe "Ark" is a good thing.
Don and I peered through the fence, since tours are only given on Saturdays. Bill, who was mowing the property, took a break and filled us in about the non-profit foundation dedicated to endangered Asian elephants. "There are 12 or 14 here now. It's a farm for retired circus elephants. But they aren't all old, 'cause they breed elephants, too." He pointed to the youngest, 4 year old "Hugo" who hanging out near his aunt. Looks like I may have to visit Hugo one more time (on a visiting day) to see the talented little guy, who can paint!
Trucks, Trailers and Barns
We followed more tips from the diner folks and traveled down the road to see more signs of circus. Since June is when circuses are on the road, I was glad to see at least a few colorful goodies left behind. A ticket trailer here and concessions truck there!
And a Stop at Showman's Rest
Some might think that's an odd outing, especially for kids. But the folks at the diner encouraged a visit.
A Welcoming Place
It's pretty clear that Hugo is proud of its circus heroes. And I'm guessing that these festive looking gravestones were meant to be enjoyed.
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.