Where to go on your diet’s day off
Photos by Scotty O’Daniel
DASH to TLC, Mediterranean to South Beach, Flexitarian to Nutritarian to whatever Ornish is, millions of people are on diets of various descriptions right now. And while January 1 is always a popular option for fresh starts, now’s actually a really good time, as well, with the advent of spring (and end of flu season, fingers crossed). Warmer weather allows more time outside for exercise, and growing fresh fruits and vegetables in the garden. In fact, March is National Nutrition Month.
Whether you’re still holding the line on your New Year’s resolution or just starting a more health-conscious regimen this week, we salute you for your efforts. On the other hand, those efforts maybe should involve a day off every now and again.
There’s very little universal consensus when it comes to weight-loss science, but at least one school of thought holds that the occasional break can actually benefit you overall, by keeping your body from fully adapting to a low-calorie diet. I mean, The Rock will occasionally post Instagram pics of his carb-intense (as in a dozen pancakes and half a pie, or four pizzas) cheat days, and look at that dude.
We’re not advocating this article as a list of things to eat in a week … but there are times when you find yourself craving something specific that’s not particularly diet-friendly. So when it’s time to give yourself a few bites of well-earned indulgence, here’s where to celebrate your day off. Cheers to cheating!
It seems reasonable to presume that a restaurant would have a specialty, something it’s particularly good at providing. But it feels almost unfair to consider just how good Butcher is at everything. Their sausage is delicious, the brisket is even better, even the sides such as mac and cheese and apple-pie baked beans are great – and the sweet, tender ribs that don’t even need sauce are the best of all. If you’re craving barbeque, and as an Oklahoman you probably should be, this outdoor-only space along Route 66 is absolutely worth the drive. And the limited hours, and the line, and the prospect of some meats being sold out. Seriously, it’s that good.
► Chicken-Fried Steak
I had two main surprises in ordering the large chicken fry at this Noble establishment: 1) How large it really is – something along the lines of “supercolossal” would be more accurate – and 2) How much of it we managed to mow through anyway. Oklahoma’s state meal wasn’t high on my personal list of temptations, but then again, I’d never been to Kendall’s before, and the well-pounded beef, crispy breading and old-school white gravy are a deeply satisfying combination. Give this classic a shot next time you feel like going a little bit over the top.
It’s not ketogenic or in The Zone, but if you’re going to get a scolding from your personal trainer, you might as well earn it. A good pizza is the kind of food that you might find yourself literally dreaming about, especially if the pie in question is from The Heat. You’ll be back on the treadmill soon anyway, but if you’ve been to The Heat first, you’ll have the perfect daydream fodder for your reverie.
A foregone inclusion on this list for many in OKC, Nic’s is the ne plus ultra when it comes to treating yourself to a burger and fries. There’s nothing complicated about it – beef and onions grilled on a flattop, American cheese, plain white bun – yet it is a simply magnificent meal. Burgers just don’t come any better, and rarely any bigger. There’s often a line at the small, cash-only original location, so if you fidget while you’re waiting, you can preemptively burn a few calories.
Sorry, Atkins eaters and other carbohydrophobes – sometimes, the best possible thing to do at any particular moment of your life is to cram your face full of fresh, hot, fluffy pancakes slathered in butter and syrup. Plain yogurt or quinoa porridge might be a healthier breakfast, but spurning virtue rarely tasted so good. While pancakes aren’t terribly hard to find around OKC, Sunnyside’s versions are quick, tasty, a perfect consistency and served with ample atmosphere and coffee. Order up.
► Fish and Chips
Technically pescetarian-friendly, it still feels like this entree is a cheater’s refuge due to the culinary alchemy that occurs when a fresh, flaky cod filet is dunked in beer batter and fried to an invitingly crispy finish. It’s one of those “I know this is going to burn my mouth, but I can’t wait another second” dishes, so use plenty of the tangy, zesty mustard tartar sauce and parmesan fries to insulate your tongue.
I can draw the food pyramid, I took notes during a nutrition class back in school, I’ve read paeans to paleo diets and venerations of vegetarianism … but left to my own devices, tthere’s a decent chance I would just eat pasta for every meal until I keeled over. Victoria’s has been a favorite spot since I moved to Norman more than 20 years ago, and the lasagna rolls – stuffed with shrimp, swimming in alfredo and marinara sauces and baked until the cheese around the edge of the dish gets a little crunchy – are a big reason why. Hey, they have spinach in them; that makes them healthy, right?
► Sausages and Beer
I’ve never heard a nutritionist say, “I’d really like to see you try to raise your savory meat intake, and you’re not drinking nearly enough beer.” On the other hand, I can’t prove that they never say that, so to be on the safe side, you should probably go to Fassler and load up on their juicy, perfectly seasoned sausages, especially the Hunter’s blend of venison, buffalo and pork, since more kinds of meat indicates dietary balance, possibly. The duck fat fries, sauerkraut and massive mugs of Warsteiner are definitely indicated, too, but das Wurst ist wunderbar.
A huge pile of crunchy goodness held together with partially melted cheese – yes, please, with gusto. Nachos are a great idea in almost all circumstances and anywhere you can find them, but especially when you’re within grabbing distance of Iron Star’s Smokestack Nachos. In a perfect universe, the ancho chile sauce, pulled pork, fried onions and queso would be part of a well-balanced diet, but even in this drearier world, they’re worth going off the wagon for from time to time.
And Blackbird. I know I mentioned them in the fish and chips section, but their pot roast nachos are pretty much completely incredible.
► Fried Chicken
A true classic indulgence, though one that often prompts arguments about whose mother or grandmother did it best. Our nod goes to the newer Automobile Alley-adjacent Nashbird for its flexibility – you can get a beautiful, crunchy, juicy helping of chicken at whatever spice level you prefer, from “none” to “I immediately regret this decision.” (They might have a different name for it.) Don’t overlook the side options of onion rings or mac and cheese, either – you’re treating yourself, aren’t you?
► The Sweet Life
No shade if you turned straight to this section – a spoonful of sugar can taste like happiness itself, especially if you’ve been faithfully abstaining. Here are some of our favorite places in OKC for the dessert hookup.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
► Cheat Club
Some of our friends from around town share their go-to indulgences of choice
“I am all about eating healthy and losing weight this year, but when I really want to indulge and fully enjoy every bite of my food, I’m heading to Stella Italian Cuisine for Chef Missy’s mind-blowing crab cakes! As she says, ‘It’s all real and no fill,’ meaning that it’s all real crab meat and not some sort of crazy fluff in there. And of course, no meal is complete without a glass of champagne.” – Rachael Gruntmeir, Black Scintilla
“I love Empire Slice House for pizza, Alfredo’s for Tex-Mex and Big Sky Bakery for their cookies – oh man, they are good.” – Aaron O’Neil, CrossFit 405
“Thai House buffet. I can eat noodles like a champion. If I am going to cheat, I want savory, not sweet. Give me fried green beans and a girlie martini or a big cheese plate – or better still, a platter of gooey nachos – and I am as happy as a pig in mud. I can also eat my weight in pizza, ideally the Gardenia from Sauced on the Paseo.” – Christine Eddington, Eddington Communications
“I don’t have many guilty pleasures except great wine, [but] I do have this cracker that I can’t keep in my loft. It is a white cheddar potato cracker that I could work into an addiction if I kept it within arm’s length.” – Judy Hatfield, Equity Commercial Realty
“A cheese pizza on a gluten-free crust – I have a wheat allergy, not just making the ‘healthy choice’ – from Hideaway. I’ll eat the entire pizza. Also Braum’s German chocolate. Also, all the candy in the world. (I have an awful sweet tooth.)” – Tracey Zeeck, Bumbershoot PR
“Double meat Whataburger with large fries, three chicken strips with gravy, large Diet Coke, four chocolate chip cookies and two milks. All from Whataburger.” –Travis Garza, Garza’s Fat Loss Camps
“I can’t think of a restaurant in Oklahoma City right now that doesn’t have something that would tempt me. There are some amazing chefs in this city. Unfortunately, I don’t have to leave the house to be confronted with temptation. My wife, Terri, is an excellent cook and she makes an incredible chicken pot pie – and a delicious angel food cake. I have a hard time walking away from either.” – Mick Cornett, OKC mayor