A new owner refreshes Cafe Olé’s menu, keeping many of its longtime favorites.
One of my favorite things about visiting New Mexico is the heady smell of piñon wood burning from chimineas all over the state. The fragrance is by all means unique, something we don’t get to experience too often in our parts.
But if you head due east of South Peoria Avenue on 35th Street, the piñon smell is likely to grab you, along with the smell of toasty tortillas, both beckoning you to walk through the doors of Cafe Olé.
Don Jones and his partners bought the New Mex-themed Brookside eatery in January 2013. After he took the reins, the staff got to work immediately.
“We closed for a week to get things cleaned up and organized,” he says.
The shiny patina is evident in both the restaurant’s appearance (new booths have been added in the back hall) and the food. Jones tweaked some of the longtime menu items and added a handful of new, healthier dishes.
The restaurant itself is closing in on three decades of operation (it opened back in 1987) and did a brisk business for many of those years. Jones hopes its loyal customers will continue to come.
He brings a multitude of restaurant experience to the table, so they should. Jones was a founding partner of Peppers Grill before leaving to open The Savory Chef, a popular retail cookware shop and cooking school that he operated for several years with his wife, Leslie.
After the store closed, Jones managed the restaurant at Bass Pro Shops until the Olé deal came about, and he is happy for the new challenge.
“This is unlike any restaurant I have ever been a part of,” he says. “It is the closest thing to a real backyard barbecue.”
The kitchen still cranks out many original menu items. Among the most popular dishes are Olé Queso ($5.50) — a secret creamy blend of melted Monterey Jack, cream cheese, peppers, onions and spices; the Olé Grill ($7.50), grilled Monterey Jack cheese on whole wheat bread with green chilies, red onion and tomato slices; and Stacked Blue Corn Enchiladas ($12), three blue corn tortillas dipped in red chili Colorado and layered with black beans, your choice of chicken, pork, beef or veggies, melted jack, mild green chilies and sour cream.
Because of customer requests, Jones added a traditional queso dip ($8), made with three kinds of cheese (Chihuahua, Monterey Jack and white cheddar), green chilies and spices. I take advantage of any opportunity to enjoy breakfast for dinner, so I often order huevos rancheros ($7.50), two blue corn tortillas smothered in ranchero sauce topped with two over-easy eggs, served with black beans, sour cream and rice.
Unlike many other Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurants, Olé’s sauces, beans and rice are all vegetarian. Vegetarian entrees, salads and other somewhat lighter dishes now pepper the menu. I’m quite fond of the tortilla soup (pulled chicken in a savory tomato broth; $4-$5) and its spicy sidekick, jalapeño cornbread.
Stop in for brunch on Saturdays (9 a.m.-noon) and Sundays (9 a.m.-2 p.m.) and enjoy authentic New-Mex dishes, including those huevos rancheros, as well as breakfast burritos, Olé Hash and other hearty fare. Banana bread and pancakes also are offered to satisfy those with a bit of a morning sweet tooth.
Leslie Jones, an accomplished baker, is in command of the desserts. Her rich and creamy key lime pie alone is worth a visit.
Besides the great food, the best reason to visit Cafe Olé is the patio. On any given evening, the fireplace is roaring, the lights are twinkling, and the tables are full of friends and families enjoying the ambience. No matter the weather outside (clear plastic curtain walls and heat lamps keep the chill at bay during cooler months), the patio is the place to be.
And if the heat of our Tulsa summer does get to you, the famous Cafe Olé Margarita, made with fresh-squeezed lime juice and gold tequila ($7.25/$8.25) is just an order away.
Tamales to go
Cafe Ole’s tamales are made by hand in small batches, wrapped in cornhusks and steamed. Choose from five fillings (roasted pork, cheese, ranchero chicken, veggies and chili verde chicken) and five sauces (queso, chipotle, ranchero, chili verde or salsa) for $36-$45 per dozen. If possible, call ahead before the craving strikes; the kitchen needs a 24-hour notice.
3509 S. Peoria Ave., 918-745-6699 www.cafeolebrookside.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday; 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Saturday; 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday