Food Dude: Focusing on Flavor for Black History Month
Black History Month begins Saturday, giving me a great opportunity to share dishes from some of the city's top culinary talent and take a look back at some of culinary industry's black pioneers.
If you’re going to honestly wax nostalgic about all the good work black chefs, pitmasters and restaurateurs have done in Oklahoma City, it would be disingenuous to ignore the reality that a history teacher named Clara Luper and a lot of other brave individuals put their safety on the line at local lunch counters where they were unwelcome because of the color of their skin to expose the racism poisoning our culture.
On Aug. 19, 1958, Luper and three adult chaperones led 13 members of a youth council to take seats at the counter of Katz Drug Store and ask for Coca-Colas. Denied service, they refused to leave until closing. Their sit-ins continued for weeks and drew enough local coverage to force a change in the company's policy stretching 38 stores wide — from Oklahoma to Iowa with Missouri and Kansas in between.
Luper's sit-ins led to the desegregation of almost every restaurant in town. That got her arrested 26 times at civil rights protests, but it's also the reason Clara Luper is a name you find on street signs and scholarships or written in history books.
Six years before Luper took a seat at the counter of the Katz Drug Store, 22-year-old Florence Jones Kemp opened Florence's Restaurant "on a hot dog and a prayer." Here we are 68 years later, and Kemp doesn't serve hot dogs anymore but still fries the chicken herself.
Kemp certainly doesn't see what all the fuss is. She'll tell you she was just doing what she could to put food on the table for her family. But her daughter Victoria, who will tell you being raised by a local icon has its share of challenges, recognizes her mother's place in local history.
If you want to know the secret to Kemp's success, just drop by and order fried chicken, meatloaf or chicken and dumplings, choose three sides (make sure two of them are candied yams) and save room for pear pie. Florence's, 1437 NE 23 St., is open 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Black history through the culinary lens might begin with Luper and Kemp, but its future depends on some of the folks I'll introduce you to in the weeks to come.
For the first time ever, OKC Black Eats has organized a month's worth of restaurant weeks at a number of black-owned local restaurants. Among them are Brielle's Bistro and Magnolia Bistro, each owned by chef DeWayne Johnson and Caylee Owen.
I've written about both Brielle's and Magnolia in the past, but I would like to direct your attention to the very happy crab queso and shrimp po boy at Brielle's. I had each a few weeks ago, and would happily do so again — as long as I save room for blueberry beignets. Gumbo, etoufee, fried-green tomatoes and shrimp done right are Johnson's wheelhouse.
Magnolia is open 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and Brielle's, which is named after DeWayne and Caylee's daughter, is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. It's open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday and closed Mondays.
The other participating restaurants include The Hive Eatery, Ice Event Center & Grill, Tez Wingz, Freezing Cow Rolling Ice Cream, Carican Flavors, Wing Supreme, Off The Hook Seafood & More, Cornish Smokehouse, George’s Happy Hawg, Texlahoma BBQ, Good Times Great Vibes Daiquiri Lounge, Clean Juice Classen Curve, Black Walnut, Okla Soul Café, and Taste Of Soul.
For more information, go online to www.okcblackeats.com.