Not to belabor the bear theme too much, but I suggest one bring a Papa Bear’s appetite to the new Black Bear Diner.
The food portions are huge at this new California-based chain. That’s a big selling point for some diners. For me, that just means more for lunch or dinner the next day.
For most, though, size is much less important than quality. I must admit, based on years of observation, my expectations are not particularly high when a chain comes to town, and most times, those restaurants pretty much meet my expectations. Most are OK but not above average.
Black Bear Diner was a little different. We recently visited the restaurant with a granddaughter and selected several items from the far-ranging menu. We were rewarded with some tasty versions of traditional comfort food fare.
I had learned through an earlier conversation with Jolisa Johnson, vice president of marketing and communications, that Black Bear Diner offers its whole menu — breakfast, lunch and dinner — all day.
“If you want pot roast at 8 a.m. or pancakes at 8 p.m., that’s fine,” she said.
Our granddaughter took advantage by ordering breakfast for dinner, the California Bacon Benedict ($10.99).
This turned out to be a super-charged Benedict and a good choice. An English muffin was cut in half, and each slice was topped with thick-cut smoked bacon, avocado slices, fresh spinach, grilled tomato slices and a poached egg, all covered in a flavorful hollandaise sauce.
It came with a choice of hash browns, red potatoes or fruit. We selected the hash browns, which were just barely crispy and covered a good portion of the serving platter.
All of our entrees had nice presentations and came on oblong white platters with black-and-white-checkered trim and paw prints in the middle.
For our other entrees, we ordered the fried chicken dinner ($14.99) and the wild Alaskan salmon ($14.99). Each came with a cup of soup or a garden salad, cornbread muffin and a choice of two sides.
We ordered the salmon minus the pesto sauce it normally comes with, and it stood well on its own. The 8-ounce grilled fillet had a pleasant fish flavor but wasn’t “fishy,” was moist and had a nice, flaky texture. It sat on a bed of fresh spinach that was oddly bland.
Sides were a basic garden salad and baked potato. The salad came with excellent bacon ranch (real bacon bits) and blue cheese (blue cheese crumbles) dressings. It had crisp greens and was large enough to be a dinner salad. The potato, need I say it, was large and tender. We got it unloaded, with only butter and sour cream.
The fried chicken was a full half chicken with leg, thigh, wing and breast. It was cooked well and was juicy under a layer of extra crispy crust. I got it with mashed potatoes that were a little lumpy — not a bad thing — and were covered in a good cream gravy.
I had my eyes on onion rings for the second side, but in a brief nod to healthful aspirations, I chose the seasonal vegetables, which turned out to be steamed broccoli and sliced carrots. I was happy I did. The veggies were tender, tasty and a nice balance to the chicken and potatoes.
I also liked the cornbread muffin. It held together well without being dry and had a slightly sweet flavor.
The breakfast menu offers the normal range of dishes, such as egg combos, omelets, Benedicts, scrambles, waffles, pancakes, French toast and, yes, avocado toast. Raise your hand if you are a modern American diner and don’t have avocado toast. Didn’t think I would see many hands.
Lunch is dominated by a variety of burgers and sandwiches. In addition to fried chicken and salmon, the dinner menu offers evergreens such as pot roast, meatloaf, fish and chips, chicken pot pie, chicken-fried steak and a hot turkey plate.
Most of the main breakfast and lunch items are about $10, give or take, and most of the dinner entrees are $10 to $15.
Each section has a “Little Less” list of smaller-sized items for a lesser price.
An all-you-can-eat fish fry ($11.99) begins at 4 p.m. Fridays, and 10-ounce cuts of prime rib (ask server for pricing) begin at 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Both are full dinners.
Beverage choices include coffee, juices, lemonade (I had a tasty raspberry lemonade), soft drinks, teas, hot chocolate and milk. I didn’t see any alcoholic drinks.
Calories are listed for every item on the menu.
Table condiments include original, chipotle and habanero pepper sauces and bottles of ketchup, all proprietary brands of Black Bear Diner. Tables also have packets of butter and jellies.
Maybe it was because of the fried chicken, but it seemed to take a longer-than-normal time for our food to reach the table. We had various other serving glitches.
The menus are printed in the form of tabloid newspapers, with local and national articles of bygone years on the front and back. Ours included articles about Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys performing at Cain’s Dance Academy, motorboat races at Tulsa’s “new” Lake Sequoyah and President Roosevelt’s signing of the Social Security bill.
The exterior and interior are rustic in nature, full of bear wood carvings and all things bear-related.
“The diners are all similar but different,” Johnson said. “All will have similar décor, a juke box, gift shop and custom wood carvings of bears. This one (located in a former Logan’s Roadhouse space) is one of our larger ones.
“We have two in the Oklahoma City area and now the Tulsa store, and all have been very well received. We are looking at a site in Owasso, but that isn’t for certain yet.”