By Rachel Carter
The Sooner State offers many must-see food destinations that serve up must-taste treats. From visiting the oldest bar in the state to stopping at a famous Route 66 roadside diner or watching workers make fried pies and Oklahoma-shaped chocolates, your group can find plenty of ways to sample the flavors of Oklahoma.
The red neon glow of the Rock Cafe sign has beckoned Route 66 travelers since it went up in the 1940s, although the diner has been dishing up food since it opened in 1939.
When a fire destroyed the restaurant in May 2008, all that survived the flames were four walls, the concrete floor and Betsy, the cafe’s original grill. Rock Cafe owner Dawn Welch, who bought the restaurant in 1993, used photos and memories — because there were no blueprints — to rebuild and re-create the restaurant as close to the original as possible.
Welch and her employees like to say their favorite dish is anything that comes off Betsy — and they do mean anything.
“We do anything on the grill; we heat up chili for chili burgers flat on top of it,” said manager Beverly Thomas, who has worked at the diner for 11 years. “We use her for absolutely everything.”
Thomas’ husband and son helped pull all 200-plus pounds of Betsy from the ashes, and the grill was fired up again a year later when Rock Cafe reopened in May 2009.
Diners’ favorites are any of the burgers, Thomas said. The restaurant is taking its famous alligator burger off the permanent menu because the meat can be hard to come by, but it will make “special” appearances, she said. The cafe also uses organic, locally raised bison meat for its buffalo burgers.
“It’s from a ranch 30 miles away,” Thompson said. “We literally meet him in front of Walmart and pick it up from him in an ice chest.”
Quick trivia: The character of Sally Carrera, the Porsche in Disney’s 2006 movie “Cars,” was primarily based on Rock Cafe owner Welch.
Original Fried Pie Shop
At the Original Fried Pie Shop in Davis, Oklahoma, don’t expect to get a piece of pie that’s been tossed into a fryer. Rather, the pies are fruit-filled fried fold-overs, sort of like a sweet empanada.
Nancy Fulton’s grandmother began making the flaky, fried, handheld pies in the 1890s for ranchers working in the fields of the Arbuckle Mountains. Fulton learned the recipe from her grandmother, but it wasn’t until 1994 that she opened her first fried pie shop in Davis, just off Interstate 35.
Today, there are about 25 Original Fried Pie Shop franchises in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee. Fulton makes all the fillings and the dough mix in Davis and ships them to the stores.
“All my fillings are the same as if you’d come to my home, and I made it there,” Fulton said.
The stores have six fruit and nut flavors: apple, blackberry, cherry, peach and pecan, and four cream flavors: chocolate, coconut, lemon and vanilla. Made-to-order fruit-and-cream combinations are also available if guests are willing to wait a few extra minutes. The shop also offers nine types of savory fried pies, such as Tex-Mex and pizza style, and a variety of breakfast flavors.
Guests can even watch workers prepare the pies, which are made fresh all day. One of Fulton’s longtime employees can make about 100 pies per hour.
“I don’t want you to just come and have a pie; it is an experience,” the 71-year-old Fulton said. “You can have lunch or breakfast; you can take a dozen with you; you can watch them making the pies.”
The shop is set up to handle groups and does a brisk tour-bus business, Fulton said. Not only is the store just off I-35, it has a large parking lot that can handle buses, a large dining area that can seat 80 people and large restrooms.