The little yellow building with green awnings and red door is an eye-catcher as one enters the Rose District in downtown Broken Arrow.
At first glance, it could pass as one of the gift shops or boutique clothing stores that dot the downtown area. Closer inspection reveals it is a quaint, new Italian restaurant, Cheri Ann’s Trattoria.
The cozy restaurant, open only for dinner and Sunday lunch for now, also has been drawing enthusiastic crowds among the locals since it opened.
Cheri Ann Humpleby, the cook behind the restaurant’s name, said her infatuation with the building goes back several years.
“I had my eye on it for a long time, and after we leased the building, we spent two years remodeling and bringing it up to code,” she said. “It was terrible when we first walked in; it smelled like a sewer. We found the old pipes under the foundation had gone bad.”
She said her husband, Kenny, a former contractor, wasn’t particularly thrilled when he saw the work to be done but took on the project anyway. Along with sons Jacob and Johnny, they turned the space into a quaint, welcoming spot for dinner and Sunday lunch.
We recently met our daughter and son-in-law there for dinner on a weekend night and smartly had made reservations. The 34-seat dining room stayed full for the more than two hours we were there.
Two at our table went for the chalkboard special that night — a 9-ounce N.Y. strip steak ($20) with garlic mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. Other entrees were spaghetti and meatballs with house marinara ($13) and pork loin chops ($18).
The steaks came out a perfect medium and an almost-perfect medium-rare (pink in the middle but drifted toward medium or more toward the edges). They were tender and covered in a slightly sweet, flavorful mushroom Marsala sauce.
The spaghetti and meatballs was an impressive dish that included three large meatballs and a bundle of spaghetti bathed in the tasty, tomatoey marinara sauce. The lightly seasoned meatballs had a nice texture, and it’s only a slight exaggeration to say they were the size of tennis balls.
I wavered between the farfalle with white wine cream sauce and herb-crusted chicken ($14) and the pork loin chops. Given this sort of choice, the chops usually win the day, and they did this time, too.
Two nice-sized chops were relatively tender and covered in a flavorful herb wine reduction sauce. I saved one for lunch the next day.
Among the side dishes, the mashed potatoes were fine, and the asparagus ran from excellent (on the thin, flowery ends) to so-so (on the thick stalk ends). That’s just the way asparagus is for me.
We also shared a bruschetta appetizer ($6) that included six toast points covered in a traditional mix of tomato, shredded Parmesan, fresh basil and olive oil. The ingredients were bright, fresh and tasty.
Humpleby, a former caterer who supplied a hotel with desserts, makes her own desserts and they are worth making room for or taking home. I had an opportunity to taste her tiramisu, New York cheesecake with berry compote (fourth-generation recipe) and cream puff. Each was excellent.
Chalkboard specials are posted each day. It’s worth noting that the Tuesday special always is lasagna, and it goes quickly. On a recent Tuesday, it was gone by 6 p.m.
“We make everything we possibly can from scratch,” Humpleby said. “We don’t have a freezer, and we don’t have a fryer.”
Beverage choices include a selection of red and white wines, and Humpleby said beers will be added in the near future.
“We also probably will add lunch before the end of the year,” she said.
Son Johnny was our server, and he was quite good, understated, informative and polished.
Most of the dining room, including wood beams, ceiling and concrete block walls, is painted white. Two sides of the room have large windows. Humpleby said the bones of the building go back some 90 years.
“It used to be Harper’s gas station and grocery store, and people lived upstairs in an apartment,” Humpleby said. “The dining room sits where they used to work on cars in the garage.
“The grandson of the founders bought the building at an estate sale, and we leased from him. He was able to tell us some of the history of the building, which is really neat.”