We recently spent a warm and sunny early afternoon at The Local Bison, a new eatery and bar in the Deco District of downtown Tulsa.
The address is on Boston Avenue in The Meridia building, but the restaurant actually is on Sixth Street across from H.A. Chapman Centennial Green Park. Large windows provide a sweeping view of the park.
One lady was tossing a flying disc to her dog, and children were running around the park, perhaps a glimpse of things to come when the park gets planned upgrades.
Basketball fans, mostly in Iowa State colors, were roaming the sidewalk, and I was sipping a blackberry mezcal mule, a smoky little number made with muddled frozen blackberries and limes with Mezcal Machetazo and agave nectar double-strained over ice and topped with Fever Tree ginger beer.
It was a nice little sipper while we plowed through an appetizer of beer-battered onion rings ($6) as if they were a prelude to our last meal. I’m seldom a fan of thick-cut onion rings, but these were great. They were sweet, tender and had an airy and light batter like a tempura that held snug to the onions. They came with a thin, mild barbecue sauce and were delicious with or without the sauce.
Watching people, watching basketball on television and munching on the onion rings was a pleasant way to pass the time while we waited on our entrees — The Bison burger ($14) and The Whole Hog flatbread ($9).
The burger included a bison blend patty with bacon jam, caramelized onions, brie cheese, arugula and tomato. The bacon jam was more bacony than jammy and blended well with the brie.
It came with an unexpected surprise, a nice horseradish sauce on the side that we incorporated into the burger. We forgot to ask that the patty be cooked medium-rare, or at least something less than medium, so it wasn’t as juicy as it could have been. Our bad.
The burger came with a choice of chips, fries or cilantro lime slaw. Instead, we asked for the crispy Brussels sprouts, which were, indeed, crispy and tasty, though a few were a little too fibrous to chew.
The Whole Hog was a large flatbread cut into eight pieces. It was dark brown to charred around the edges, which was a good sign it would have just the right crispiness in the middle. It did.
The flatbread was topped with jack cheese, achiote pulled pork, crispy pork belly, bacon jam and chicharrones with a drizzling of barbecue sauce.
A pork shoulder had been marinated and braised in the reddish, peppery achiote paste so it was tender and flavorful. Pork belly added another meat dimension, and the cheese and jam brought in more flavors. The soft chicharrones seemed more decorative than necessary.
At first, we both had our eyes on the potato chip chicken ($14), a signature dish that features a local beer-brined potato chip-crusted chicken thigh, but it wasn’t available the day we were there. A good reason for another visit.
The menu isn’t particularly long, but it offered a number of interesting looking choices, including Korean cauliflower banh mi and jackfruit al pastor sandwiches, Southern shrimp and grits, steak and hummus flatbread, coconut corn chowder (I wish I had remembered to order this) and fried green tomatoes.
Vegan and gluten-free dishes are available, and a dedicated brunch menu is offered from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.
The Local Bison has full bar service, and the bar stays open to 2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday after the kitchen closes at 10 p.m.
The menu was crafted by executive chef Joey Guns, who also sings with his wife, Bria, at local venues. As luck would have it, Bria turned out to be our server, as well, and she did a fine job juggling our needs, along with a table of 10.
The tables, by the way, are made of thick wood. Chairs are black metal with black cushions. Teal and taupe walls are decorated with Tulsa-themed artwork and photos, and five televisions provide for easy viewing anywhere in the restaurant.
The owners are Emily and Tony Galvez. Emily spent the past 13 years in the corporate world, and Tony was manager at The Warehouse Bar & Grill in Brookside for eight and a half years. Guns was sous chef at SMOKE. Woodfire Grill on Cherry Street for more than six years.
“I’ve known Chef for a while because I booked him to play The Warehouse in the past,” Tony Galvez said. “We had a vision for the menu, like the potato chip chicken, and he already had a potato chip chicken in mind. I think he had most of the menu done in 24 hours.
“I’ve been in the bar business for 20 years, and I was blown away by how much people have been enjoying the food. Chef and Emily and I also wanted good vegan food. Libby (Billings, owner of Roppongi, The Vault and Elote Café) caters to vegan and vegetarian diners at her places, so we wanted to make this an inviting area for vegans to visit, as well.”