I don’t know how I ever missed noticing three large paintings in one of the dining rooms at the Hammett House in Claremore. One says “spaghetti sauce mix” with a painting of a bowl of spaghetti, one “chili seasoning” with a bowl of chili and one “seasoned herbs and breading mix” with a plate of fried chicken.
They were signed in 1975 by celebrated Tulsa (and for a while New York City) artist P.S. Gordon. He was just starting his career and was in graduate school at the University of Tulsa.
“I think the restaurant wanted to market its sauces and seasonings at the time,” said Hammett House owner Bill Biard. “Pat grew up in Claremore, and they got him to do the paintings. They’re on loan from the Hammett family.”
Hammett House is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It was founded by the late LaNelle Hammett in 1969, the same year Claremore’s J.M. Davis Arms & Historical Museum opened.
Though LaNelle was legally blind and learned to cook largely by touch, she soon built Hammett House into one of the most popular restaurants in northeast Oklahoma. It was known for its “pampered” fried chicken, mashed potato rolls, “skinny” soup, chicken-fried country steaks, towering pies and rural delicacies, such as turkey and lamb fries.
Biard and his wife, Linda, have operated Hammett House for 29 years.
“We haven’t changed a whole lot since we’ve had the restaurant,” Biard said. “We have added a few things, like the onion blossom, but people don’t often come here to find something new.”
We dropped by for dinner recently, and the place was packed. We ordered a couple of entrees we have not had in the past — the pork chop rib-eye ($16.99) and Chef Caity’s lemon chicken pasta ($14.99).
The 8-ounce boneless chop was fairly thick, juicy and tender. It was topped with brown gravy and sweet sautéed onions and served with a side of pan-seared Fuji apples that had a touch of cinnamon. It was a sturdy dish, good for any season.
The pasta dish included a sizable amount of fettuccini sautéed with a tiny bit of spinach, pieces of asparagus stems, red onions, mushrooms and chunks of grilled chicken, all tossed in a lemony sauce.
We also shared a piece of buttermilk chess pie ($5.59) that had a nice flavor, though I think I preferred pies I’ve had in the past, such as double-crust cherry, chocolate cream, lemon pecan and banana cream.
I probably have had the fried chicken 90% of the times I’ve dined at Hammett House, and I assume it hasn’t changed. It features big, meaty pieces (breast, wing, leg and thigh) that are perfectly breaded and fried.
I’ve also had the turkey fries and lamb fries. If you don’t know what those are, look it up. I prefer the milder-tasting lamb fries, and both are good with cocktail sauce and cream gravy.
Most entrees come with a choice of salad or soup, plus one side. The popular skinny soup — tender vegetables in a light broth — was developed from a recipe LaNelle got from a Weight Watchers book in the 1970s.
The restaurant also is featuring five salads for the summer months, including a roasted chicken salad with fruit, Waldorf salad, shrimp and lettuce wrap, blue cheese wedge and tangy pasta salad.
Our server, Tonya, was friendly and hard-working, and John, the general manager, checked in on guests during the evening.
Hammett House has a separate lunch menu. The dinner menu starts at 3 p.m. Both are lengthy, so most everyone should be able to find something that catches their eye.
The two dining rooms have gray booths and corner banquettes, wood tables and walls filled with Claremore memorabilia, including a photo of legendary Western swing performer Bob Wills leading the Will Rogers Parade in November 1941 and a photo of young cadets marching at the former Oklahoma Military Academy.
A family photo of the Biards includes sons Matt and Chris, who grew up in the restaurant. Matt is executive general manager at a Charleston’s in Oklahoma City, and Chris is chef at a restaurant in Bluffton, South Carolina, near Hilton Head.
“They chose not to come back here, but I couldn’t be more proud of both of them,” Baird said.
About a year ago, Baird renovated the kitchen and dining rooms.
“We put in a new vent hood,” he said. “We had been working with a galvanized box from 1969. We took out the carpet and put in wood floors, the best thing I ever did, and fixed up the fireplace and put on some fresh paint.
“A lot of our decorations play up the fact that Claremore is called Museum City. We have five museums in town.”
Some might say Hammett House makes it six.
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