The Alley brings gastropub fare to midtown Tulsa.
The term “gastropub” was coined in 1991 when two classically French-trained chefs bought The Eagle pub in London. A combination of “pub” (short for public house) and “gastronomy,” a gastropub refers to a pub specializing in food a step above the more basic “pub grub.”
The new owners of The Eagle wanted to keep the pub atmosphere but elevate the quality of food served. Dozens of restaurateurs followed. Now, more and more have taken on the term to describe their establishments.
Brian Biehl, owner and general manager of The Alley in Tulsa, is one of those people. When he took over the site that was the former home to St. Michael’s Alley for more than four decades, he wanted to keep some of the restaurant’s feel, but modernize the space and the menu to resemble the gastropub culture.
The name may be a nod to the former tenant, but the similarities end there. The cozy restaurant, nestled into a corner in the Ranch Acres Shopping Center, takes me back to the pub cultures of London and Ireland.
The Alley is essentially two restaurants in one. The front space is filled with a new bar (with abundant seating overlooking the open kitchen) and several high, wooden tables. The feeling is like that you might find in any Dublin watering hole, with friends gathered around pints of Guinness, sharing stories and laughs.
Saunter through to the quiet dining area, painted in a cool gray the color of the London sky, and enjoy a family meal in a cozy atmosphere. The space is decorated simply, with new tufted banquettes lining the wall, a trio of antiqued mirrors and a gorgeous pig portrait (that I was tempted to pack into my bag had it not been 3 feet wide), giving a subtle hint to the dish on which you might be dining.
Chef Mitch Neely’s take on St. Michael’s famous white chili is on the lunch menu ($5, cup; $7, bowl), as well as a dozen or so offerings that include skirt steak salad ($8, small; $14, large), croque madame with pulled pork and bleu cheese béchamel sauce ($9) and stout-battered fish and chips with malt vinegar tartar sauce ($14).
Tate and I popped in on an unseasonably warm winter’s evening and started with a frothy pint of Guinness and The Alley’s take on poutine, Quebec’s version of cheese fries, which is typically made with french fries topped with brown gravy and curd cheese. This version featured Alley fries topped with melted cheese curds, braised short rib gravy and shallot jam ($7). It was rich and satisfying, but in my opinion had a bit too much gravy and not enough curds.
Other snacks include the Scotch Egg — boiled egg, surrounded by house-made sausage, breaded and fried — served with tangy mustard cream ($5), mussels steamed in a lemongrass-ginger broth ($9) and a cheese and sausage board ($12).
We skipped the soup and salad course in favor of heartier offerings, but choices include French onion soup or corn chowder ($5, cup; $7, bowl) as well as a soup of the day and a trio of salads ($6-$10).
We really enjoyed the braised short rib. Yes, I said rib — one enormous, bone-in short rib is braised to extreme tenderness and served over roasted purple cauliflower and velvety parsnip purée, and topped with a rich shallot jam and Port wine reduction ($18).
Our Alley Burger ($13), served with Cabernet onions, pickles and baby arugula, was fairly salty, and the bun was too dense for a hamburger. Surrounding diners all seemed to be enjoying dinner, with the butternut squash linguine with ricotta and basil cream ($14) as the popular choice. I also eyed a gorgeous plate of pan-seared trout, served atop a tomato-bean ragout with pickled fennel slaw ($18).
There are five side dishes to choose from ($4-$6). We loved the roasted heirloom carrots, but other choices are Brussels sprouts, twice-fried fries with bacon salt and rosemary, roasted cauliflower, and fingerling potatoes.
The Alley is a gastropub after all, and in true style features approximately 10 beers on tap (“ours” and “theirs”) as well as nearly three dozen bottle selections (featuring many American craft beers). Bar Manager Roger Byers has cultivated a varied wine list as well as a handful of signature cocktails. I’ll be back to try the Hop-a-rita (Hornitos Reposado tequila, triple sec, fresh lime juice, agave nectar and Coop F5 IPA; $7). And be sure to pop in after 5 p.m. on Tuesdays for “Pig & a Pint” night, which features the monthly pork special (carnitas tacos when we visited) and a pint of draft beer for $10.
Along with the debut of a popular new brunch menu, Neely has been working on The Alley’s spring offerings (that will undoubtedly be unveiled before this article goes to press), so I’m sure these hearty dishes will be replaced with lighter, seasonal fare. I can’t wait to check back in to see what he has cooked up.