There’s a new restaurant in the Plaza District, and you should give it a try. That sounds like déjà vu, considering the impressive growth that the stretch of NW 16th has experienced over the past several months – stalwarts such as The Mule, Oak & Ore and Saints have been joined by Goro Ramen, The Pritchard Wine Bar and Easy-E, a second takeout-specific location for pizza star Empire Slice House, with yet more development on the horizon. The district seems to be getting more crowded every day … but there’s still room for extra goodness, especially if it helps start those days off more deliciously. The addition of Aurora Breakfast, Bar & Backyard is cause for celebration.
This is a well-chosen space, and perfectly appointed for its purpose – exposed brick, high ceilings and a clean, warm color scheme emphasizing wood and copper around the bar give it a feeling of calm comfort. More ornamentation would feel superfluous, but the simple white plates and seating, yellow cushions on the long benches, cinnabar napkins and cheerful blue mugs work in beautiful concert. Plus, those mugs are filled, or should be, with Hoboken coffee – it’s potent, and spectacular.
Beginning at 11 a.m., the lunch menu offers a selection of fresh, bountiful salads and balanced entrees; health-conscious diners can sample the mushroom-and-oat veggie burger or a smooth white bean hummus wrap with onions, peppers and avocado, while those willing to take on a few more calories may veer toward the savory BBQ chicken sandwich or Aurora burger, crowned with a runny egg and spectacular bacon jam. On the other hand, while I don’t mean to sound underwhelmed by the lunch offerings (the burger especially is excellent), breakfast is where it’s at, and Aurora serves it anytime they’re open.
With the observation that everything we tried was tasty, a few special recommendations: its vibrant arugula pesto makes the One-Eyed Jack (you might know the dish as egg in the basket) sing; both namesake elements of the biscuits and gravy are outstandingly done without reinventing the culinary wheel; the texture, consistency and flavor of the banana pancakes is just about perfect (and kudos on the tiramisu pancakes, which are, against all expectations, enjoyably sweet without being so caked in sugar that patrons across the restaurant find their teeth cringing in sympathy); and the simple-sounding yogurt bowl is so nicely balanced with fresh fruit and house-made granola that it’s among the most popular items on the menu.
When you’re ordering any of these dishes, you’re also getting the quality benefits of local ingredients: A section of the menu is devoted to identifying the sausage from Schwab, milk from Braum’s, beef from Destiny Ranch, cheese from Lovera’s and additional prime purveyors.
“It comes down to ingredients,” says Chef Henry Boudreaux, although his skill, craft and personality are factors, as well. While he was bringing us a lentil bowl to photograph, with other dishes in the works, he paused to get into an impromptu conversation with diners at a nearby table about the merits of proper tomato selection and how he, while working at a restaurant in Italy, used to plant San Marzanos and basil in alternating patches, so when it came time to make sauce he could go along the row and take whatever was most fresh.
People with genuine enthusiasm for what they do can be spotted easily, and they’re often the ones who are among the best at those endeavors.
The food would be delicious anywhere; the experience is better due to this specific location. The combination is just about ideal, plus the notoriously sparse parking is in less demand first thing in the morning.
Aurora is genuinely worth a visit, and as we enter the sunniest month of the year (the solstice is June 20), this is a perfect time to make your mornings a little more luminous. Dawn appetit.
Advance to the Rear
Nowhere is the hidden treasure vibe stronger than in Aurora’s backyard, a secluded little enclave where a brick terrace, a handful of tables shaded by a bright yellow triangle of fabric and a verdant patch of synthetic lawn are ornamented with a wooden tepee, small mural and a couple of real (and lovely) trees. Sitting out here on a sunny morning amid the chatter of birds is good for the spirit; it genuinely feels like a place separate from the city, despite being scant yards from the bustle of 16th Street, which is more bustling all the time.
► Aurora Breakfast, Bar & Backyard
1704 NW 16th, OKC | 405.609.8854 | shinewithaurora.com