Review by Scott Cherry Photos by Stephen Pingry
At the interview and photo shoot at Molly’s Landing, I asked Russ White if his mother and restaurant owner Linda Powell ever brought new decorations into the 35-year-old restaurant anymore.
Most of the stuff looked familiar, though it was impossible to tell if any of the hundreds, or more likely thousands, of items were newcomers.
“Well, she brought in that airplane (a large, metal model airplane I totally overlooked) to hang from the ceiling, and we had to move some stuff around for it to fit. There’s always this or that.”
This or that could mean anything from stuffed quail and pheasant, elk and moose heads, a canoe, Tulsa State Fair posters from the 1980s and ’90s, a piano, flowers, metal art, a traffic signal, movie posters, a couple of Ann Landers columns, wood-carved American Indians, a huge American flag, a sombrero, stained glass, many different light fixtures and so, so much more.
It is all contained within a barn-sized log cabin with vaulted ceilings and many girders and beams in four or five dining areas, depending on how one defines a dining area, that can hold about 160 guests. It sits next to the Verdigris River in Catoosa, just a little past the Blue Whale attraction on old Highway 66.
Linda Powell and another son, Doug Powell, who had been working on a horse ranch in Kentucky, moved there in 1984 and built the original log cabin. White, a Navy veteran who was working in the bar and restaurant business on Coronado Island near San Diego, was summoned to take over the kitchen in 1987.
“We all do a little of everything, but Doug pretty much takes care of the bar and construction and the gardens,” White said. “Right now, he has a field of hops that should be ready for its first harvest in August. We are talking to a local brewery about using our hops for a proprietary beer we can sell in the restaurant.”
We looked forward to going to dinner there recently because on past visits we enjoyed the food as much as the decorations. This time didn’t disappoint, either.
While deciding which entrees to order, we shared an appetizer of fried mushrooms ($9.25), and there were plenty to share. The mushrooms were fried in a light Tecate beer batter and served with good ranch dressing and a feisty chipotle mayo dipping sauce. They were juicy and flavorful.
For our entrees, we finally settled on the 9-ounce filet mignon ($40.95) and the 12-ounce grilled pork chop ($26.95).
They were remarkably similar in some ways. Both were thick, at least an inch and a half, and were juicy, tender and flavorful. Both were simply seasoned — maybe a little black pepper — which allowed the flavor of the meat to shine, and both were perfectly cooked, medium-rare on the steak and just under medium for the chop.
The chop could be cooked with jalapeno seasoning or with the restaurant’s signature spicy 1872 steak seasoning, but I liked it the way it was.
Dinners come with a choice of baked potato or rice, a garden salad and ciabatta bread with butter and a whole bulb of roasted garlic. Unfortunately for us, we had a late dinner and the kitchen was out of roasted garlic, a real treat. House-made ranch and Parmesan peppercorn dressings were excellent.
The salads were fresh and the baked potatoes well cooked. Toppings one chooses for the potatoes — butter, cheese, bacon, sour cream — come in separate containers. We added an order of spinach au gratin ($6.75), which was cheesy and flavorful.
In addition to steaks and chops, the menu also includes grilled quail, grilled chicken breast, fish and chips, swordfish steak, salmon, mahi-mahi and a sweet and smoky guajillo shrimp over rice.
“I had the guajillo shrimp at a Mexican restaurant on a vacation trip to Panama,” White said. “They took me in the kitchen and showed me how to cook it.”
White does some teaching of his own. He said much of the kitchen staff comes from Verdigris High School.
“I teach them how to prepare the dishes, and they do a lot of the cooking,” White said. “One time, I had five graduate on the same night, so I called in former cooks, and they came in and had a fun reunion. Once you learn to cook these dishes, you never forget.”
The dining tables were painted by Linda Powell. Some are portraits of cows or chickens. The tables are set with red napkins and candles.
Some of the staff have worked at Molly’s Landing going on three decades. Our server, Julie, has been there three years and was friendly and efficient.
The road into the restaurant is partly covered by the old Verdigris River bridge and off to one side is a new venture, Molly’s Taqueria food truck.
“People are coming from all over for the street tacos,” White said. “It has been a nice complement to the restaurant.”
The truck will be featured in a future article.
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