There’s A Slight Creak As I Settle More Comfortably Into The Swivel Chair, Its Tufted Leather Twin To The Material Covering The Nearby Booths And Padding The Curve Of The Bar.
It’s comfortably dim, with cones of illumination from the overhead lights soaking into the red carpet and striated wallpaper and glinting off highlights in the server’s hair as she passes by with a plate of heaven-scented beef stroganoff. In the background, the soundtrack quietly slides from the Beatles to Steely Dan. It’s about 1:30 on a Wednesday afternoon, but I’m suddenly less certain about the year.
That’s not an accident. The menu and décor of the R&J Lounge are conscious, carefully chosen homages to the mid-century supper club vibe, and to family-tested favorite dishes, for a restaurant that makes no bones about being a sentimental dining experience. It’s a comfortable space in an intangible way as well as a physical one. It simply feels welcoming and familiar, even if you just stepped inside for the first time. They did a fantastic job of creating an environment where people want to hang around a while, and since “they” in this case means the nominal R and J – exceptional chefs Russ Johnson and Jonathon Stranger – the food is eminently worth lingering over.
Considering the kitchen capos’ sterling reputations, the food is noteworthy for its restraint. The special salad is more than lettuce – in fact, with greens, a slab of brie, curls of prosciutto, a poached egg in a ramekin, a croissant and jam, it’s practically a full do-it-yourself meal on one plate. But it isn’t overly complex. The excellent Cheesy Crab Toast isn’t a complicated dish. And though haute cuisine it surely isn’t, there’s something simply, cheerfully appealing about being served a miniature skillet of cocktail wieners in a tangy mustard sauce. The menu doesn’t get in its own way to make the dishes more elaborate than they have to be.
Likewise, you couldn’t ask for a more perfect exemplar of the expertly executed comfort food idea than R&J’s Chicken and Dumplings. The chicken is fall-off-the-bone tender, the spherical herb-speckled dumplings are a perfect balance of toothsome and firm and the gravy surrounding and smothering it all is phenomenally rich and savory.
I’m pretty sure I even ate a mushroom, and I never do that. It’s a seriously superb dish – not quite as good as I remember my own grandmother’s being when I was a kid, but closer to that lofty plateau than any other varieties I’ve had since. And I don’t think she’ll read this, but one never knows, so I hope you won’t mind if I refrain from admitting exactly how close.
The lamb burger is something of a special case; the odds are probably fairly high that you didn’t grow up eating its like, but try it anyway. While I don’t think I would miss the carrot-and-cabbage chow chow if it were left off, with its well-spiced and juicy patty, melted cheese and thick swipe of truffle aioli, this might be the tastiest thing on the menu.
If you’re driving, consider the banana pudding for dessert (vanilla wafers and all). If not, the classic crème de menthe-fueled Grasshopper is listed as a house specialty. And speaking of classics, the drinks menu overall is thoroughly praiseworthy: Gimlets and Sidecars to Rusty Nails and Rob Roys, you won’t find a more extensive compendium of old-school cocktails anywhere in OKC, and that’s without even mentioning (until now) the suite of tiki concoctions served in grinning ceramic mugs, or the champagne on tap. Yes, really.
I haven’t lingered long enough yet to sample all the beverages, nor to experience the full range of the soundtrack curated by maestro of the radio waves Ferris O’Brien, but if it were to include the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime,” it would be thoroughly appropriate. After all, time isn’t holding us. Time isn’t after us. And spending some of it in forming – or reliving – memories with loved ones over good food is a great investment. Whenever you are.
► Try to be flexible. The interior only has room to seat about 30 people tops, and since they don’t take reservations you might be in for a bit of a wait. Try not to be at starvation’s door when you arrive and be ready to possess your souls in patience if need be – it’s worth it.
► Don’t overlook the outdoors. True, we’re currently in the pit of winter, but the patio at R&J is covered for the season, and never goes dead since it features (surprisingly comfortable) artificial turf from Always Greener OKC. Even now, it’s a viable option to step outside.
The R&J Lounge and Supper Club
320 NW 10th Street, OKC
just south of 10th in the alley east of Hudson
Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-2 a.m.
Brunch – Saturday 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.