As he awaits final inspections for the new home of the Tulsa Rib Company, Steve Parker finds time to answer our questions. "We've had 32 years to get prepared," he says of the decision to move after so many years in the same Orange strip mall, "so we should be all right on it."
Your earliest food memory:
Extended family Thanksgivings. All of my uncles, aunts and cousins would have an entire day of play followed by the meal–we still organize this every other year; it is very special to me.
Favorite meal growing up:
My mom's homemade beef stroganoff. It's probably the connection to my mother that makes it my favorite. She was a really good cook and made a really nice, homemade beef gravy that went with it.
Your best recent food find:
Beef barley stew at a San Francisco bar where my son lives–complete surprise. It's the Tee Off Bar in Lower Richmond [district].
What makes Tulsa potatoes different from your fries and potato skins?
The product, preparation and seasoning. It isn't something you find anywhere else. They're by far the most popular side.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Cajun spices. We specifically started using them for a Cajun chicken sandwich. At the time, they were more utilized as seasoning for a blackened red fish. It went on really heavy, really coated. I particularly like the taste, but maybe for the general population, [it's] a little overseasoned. We took that and really toned it down. Instead of the one Cajun flavor, you get the flavor of the chicken and the spices.
What do you recommend for first-timers?
Baby-back rib dinner–or lunch–with Tulsa potatoes.
What is your beverage of choice?
Red Trolley Ale from Karl Strauss Brewery, served at our restaurant.
Tell us about your future location. Bigger kitchen? Still have a private room for large groups?
It has been designed and remodeled to better meet the customers' needs, with a to-go window as soon as they walk in and a greater number of booths. We will be able to take reservations, which are very limited right now, and have the ability to hold a private party in a room that will seat up to 40 guests. Yes, of course, there's a larger kitchen and much larger walk-in refrigeration cooler. We make all of our ingredients fresh, so this was a critical addition for us.
One food you can't live without:
Barbecue, in all forms–so I get to keep my restaurant.
Where was your most recent meal?
Rotisserie boneless turkey breast cooked on my own backyard barbecue, with custom spices from the restaurant.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Buy the best and freshest ingredients you can afford, both in time and money.
What was the largest gourmet barbecue event you've catered? How much food was involved?
In August this past summer, 10,000 guests–and let's just say we had "truckloads" of food for the quantity.
Any good pie giveaways coming up? You know, like Pi Day?
We will have some special dessert giveaways during the grand opening of our new restaurant.
Hans Prager of the famous Ritz. I worked with him starting at the age of 17. I learned his high standards, which I implemented when I opened the restaurant. I practice these priceless lessons each day.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Cuy [Guinea pig] when we hiked in the Andes of Peru at a barbecue with locals.
Favorite places to eat (besides your own):
Soprano's and Memphis in Costa Mesa. Cucina Alessa in Newport Beach. I enjoy eating at small, family-run restaurants like ours.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Steel-cut oatmeal with fresh blueberries from a local farmers' market.
We noticed the tabooli and pita bread on your menu; what is the influence for these items?
My partner, David George, decided to include his mom's great "salad" recipe on the menu, and that turned out to be tabooli with pita bread–they are Syrian. It was so popular, it has been on our menu ever since.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
Fresh-baked cookies on a barbecue grill for a catering event. We were doing them on sheet pans on the grill, so the bottom part got cooked, but the top part was sort of chewy. Maybe if you're the type of person who eats the cookie dough raw, this would've worked out well. That's the excitement of catering: You never know what you're going to get into.
What makes your ribs Tulsa-style?
We buy the best meats, all slow-cooked to perfection, so the ribs are tender and fall off the bone. No need for knives with our style.
What's the difference between a shake and a malt?
A malt starts out as a shake, then malted milk is added in.
[Special thanks to Liz Parker for helping to make this possible.]