After more than seven decades and through four generations of the Elias family, Jamil’s found itself this year the last traditional Lebanese steakhouse left standing in the Tulsa city limits.
Two of the final three — Eddy’s and Silver Flame — closed last year. Freddie’s Bar-B-Q and Steak House in Sapulpa and Freddie’s Steak House in Mannford are the next closest in the Lebanese steakhouse family.
The road has been sometimes bumpy for Jamil’s in the past decade. The restaurant was forced to move a mile east nine years ago from its beloved, quirky home due to Interstate 44 expansion. Some customers no doubt have been drawn to the swanky — and expensive — new steak places that have popped up, and some loyal guests simply have been lost to age.
“We’ve worked hard to keep improving and moving forward, and things have been looking up,” said Jennifer Alcott, a daughter of Tyrone Elias. “We still get a lot of out-of-state and international guests. We attracted the cake decorators at the fair this year, and the umpires for the Drillers games have been eating here for many years. Uncle Steve has been a great help, and the next generation is bringing new energy to the restaurant, too.”
That last sentence takes some sorting out of family ties. Jim S. “Jamil” Elias moved from Bristow to Tulsa in 1944 to open Jimmy’s Hollywood Club on 11th Street. Two years later, he opened Jamil’s steakhouse at 2705 S. Harvard Ave., and in 1957, moved it to 2833 E. 51st St.
Sons Michael and Tyrone would become the face of Jamil’s locations in Dallas and Houston, and a cousin opened one in Oklahoma City. Another son, Bernard, has worked in all of the Jamil’s locations. Tyrone took over the Tulsa restaurant after his father died in 1977, and Bernard has been bar manager for a number of years.
Meantime, cousins Eddy Elias III and Steve Elias operated Eddy’s for decades before it closed last year. Eddy retired and Steve moved over to Jamil’s.
“Uncle Steve comes in every morning to make the tabouli, cabbage rolls and hummus,” Alcott said. “He insists on doing it himself. Then he comes in and waits tables five nights a week. Having him has been a godsend.”
Tyrone today is in semi-retirement. Alcott and her husband, John, who also run Perfect Touch Catering, handle day-to-day operations, and John does much of the cooking for the restaurant. The Alcotts’ son Jack, 18, waits tables, and daughter Jenna, 16, works as hostess and helps keep the books. Four more younger Alcott children are often seen around the restaurant.
“Jack is interested in the history of the restaurant, and he loves interacting with the customers,” Alcott said. “I can picture him being around here a long time.”
What makes a Lebanese steakhouse different than any other steakhouse are the hors d’oeuvres that come standard with every dinner. At Jamil’s, that means a relish tray with carrots, green onions, celery sticks and radishes; hummus, tabouli, salad with Italian dressing, cabbage roll, pita bread and a couple of short, meaty ribs with barbecue sauce. A baked potato with butter and sour cream is automatic with the steaks and seafood.
So not only are the steaks generally less expensive than those at the newer steakhouses, all of the above comes with them. There’s none of that $6 for a bowl of green beans prevalent today.
For our main dishes, we ordered the large filet ($28.95) and a chalkboard special — a Delmonico steak ($33.95). Ounces weren’t listed for either, but both were monsters.
The tender, juicy Delmonico was so large it left little space for the baked potato on my plate. The steak was made famous by the New York restaurant of the same name more than 100 years ago. It may refer to different cuts in different parts of the country; at Jamil’s, it’s a bone-in rib-eye.
The filet was a good two inches thick and ran from a crusty exterior to pink to red in the center. It was fork-tender and had a more delicate flavor than the rib-eye.
If all of that wouldn’t be enough, diners also may order a shrimp cocktail with a dozen nice-sized shrimp ($7.50) as a starter. Other entrees, in addition to a variety of steaks, include smoked chicken, prime rib, fried shrimp, lobster tail, ribs and grilled salmon. Cheesecake is available for dessert.
Full bar service now includes a few craft beers, something new for Jamil’s.
Longtime employees include Carol Hartnauer, who has been there 30 years, and Leah Shouse, 10 years.
Many of the old photos from the former location decorate the walls. Some are aviation-themed and many are autographed photos of athletes and celebrities who have dined there, some going back to the days of Mickey Mantle, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Muhammad Ali.
A banquet room seats up to 45 for private functions, and a big-screen television in the dining room is often turned to local sports events these days.
“That’s something kind of new for us,” Alcott said. “We turned up the volume during a recent OU football game, and everyone was up and cheering. It was fun.”