Friday, May 11, 2007

Felini's, Teri's and Tulsa's Farmers' Markets: A Day in the Life Downtown

Blogger: Natasha
(Photo credit: Sarah Nicodemus)


9:06 a.m.
When life is going 90-to-nothing and you work in downtown Tulsa, at least there are places around to go for some quick but sincere human contact.
I strolled into work yesterday morning at about 9 a.m. After I ground some beans from Tulsa’s own DoubleShot Coffee Company and set them to brew (sorry, Brian, but only one other person in my office enjoys French press coffee – they don’t know what’s good for ‘em), I headed to my favorite downtown breakfast spot: Felini’s Cookies at 9 E. Fifth (I would link to some press praising Felini's cookies, but the Tulsa World likes its cease-and-desist-linking-to-us-in-any-way-even-if-its-for-a-good-reason letters way too much).
Since by 9 a.m. what I think are the best jalapeno sausage rolls in town were long gone, I decided to give their cinnamon rolls and blueberry cake muffins a try. Though I was pretty sad my usual choice with two mustard packets wasn’t available, the cinnamon rolls and muffins were…fabulous. Can I say that again? Fabulous. I’m going to use cinnamon rolls and blueberry cake muffins to break up my downtown breakfast routine now, for sure.

Felini’s is locally known for the quality and variety of its cookies. But, as TDT photo guy Chris Bouldin has said, “I would be happy if I could just sit here in my chair [at the office] and have the ladies at Felini’s come over and shove a continuous stream of sausage rolls into my mouth.” So, if you like Felini’s for lunch and a cookie, try the breakfast. It’s so good, you’ll say strange things about it.

So the morning grub at Felini’s is, like I said, fabulous. But, you wanna know why I, along with the rest of the folks in my office, go to Felini’s nearly every single morning for our wake-up food? Because the ladies there are so personable.
Almost every time I step in their little shop I hear one of the two ladies I’ve seen working there greet a customer by name. Small paper sacks with names scrawled on them line the top of the warmer where they keep those out-of-this-world sausage rolls, waiting for the customers who order the same breakfast every day to pick them up. When I come in really early, one of the ladies there asks me when the other people in my office will head over and if she needs to pack sacks for them. I always assure her they’ll be around, but even if I told her to go ahead, she wouldn’t have to ask what names to put on the bags – she already knows.
I love to deal with people like that in the morning, and they make me proud to share the name “Tulsan” with them. The way they treat me and their other customers makes me feel special in a downtown of 35,000 people. Dare I say Felini’s is “comfortably cosmopolitan?”
Sitting down at my desk with a Felini’s sausage roll – or, in the case of today, a half a cinnamon roll and half a blueberry cake muffin – and some freshly brewed DoubleShot Coffee was definitely what I would call doing Tulsa, downtown-breakfast-on-a-weekday style.

12:01 p.m.
Anyone else notice how lunch time comes suddenly when you’re hard at work? At around 11:00 a.m., even though I don’t have windows in my office, I can feel downtown start to move. Since we had a deadline yesterday at work, several of us wanted to stick close to the office for that mid-day shot in the arm. On days like that, there is nothing more soothing to the nerves than the artery-hardening cuisine of Teri’s Coney Island, 3 E. 5th St.
I swear the Teri’s people put some addictive chemical in the chili, because our staff can’t stay out there for less than two days per week. My office pals’ favorite items include the three coney special, the Frito chili pie and the brisket sandwich. Though I normally opt for the three coney special, today I decided to give the brisket sandwich a go.
So good. So. Freaking. Good. If I had been at home, I would have needed a cigarette and a nap afterward.
The ladies who work at Teri’s (I wonder why I see more women than men working at restaurants downtown, but that’s a topic for some other blog) always let us joke around with them. They’re great. My favorite part about going to Teri’s for lunch, besides the food, is the brightly-colored picture frame behind the counter that says, Weenie Queen. Makes me laugh every time. My second favorite part about going to Teri’s is the fake wooden coney that sits on the ordering counter. Someone in line is always putting it on a friend’s tray and saying stuff like, “Order up,” or, “Are you sure that's what you ordered?” Then everyone in line gets to laugh off a little bit of stress from the morning at work.
I love laughing with people who are standing in line together. It’s a lovely sort of community, even when you’ve all come to the conclusion you’ve been waiting much longer than necessary for whatever it was you thought you needed. It’s easy to build camaraderie with people in lines. You’re forced to stand closer together than any other situation might dictate, and you’ve got to stay close together for an indeterminable period of time. Might as well be friends and make fun of stuff as you edge toward freedom.
Sincere human contact is available at downtown Tulsa restaurants like Felini’s and Teri’s. Even when you get the hankering for a mushroom charburger from Billy’s on the Square, popcorn chicken from Arby’s, or a teriyaki chicken sandwich from Subway, going to those places won’t fulfill your need to get around some people other than the ones you’re in the office with all day long.
When the day demands it be mushroom burger day, though, I’d better realize it either before 11 a.m. or after 1 p.m. Billy’s gets crazy-busy - and rightly so, since the food is fantastic. I don’t mind standing in the line that sometimes stretches along the north side of the dining room and out into the entrance vestibule to get the fantastic Billy’s mushroom burger.
What I don’t get from Billy’s, though, is the camaraderie of the line, or the conversation and looks of warm recognition from the person at the register. In fact, the ladies (again!) at the registers at Billy’s are almost always snippy and unsmiling. They just bark whatever you ordered into the microphone, swipe your card, and give you a piece of paper with your order number. Most times, especially when I have to dig in my wallet for a second to find my debit card, the register ladies have already moved on to taking the order of the next customer in line.
I’m not a person who critiques the attitudes of restaurant workers without ever having worked at a restaurant. I worked for Mazzio’s at the call center for nearly three years after school, and I worked at the Panera on Cherry Street for a couple of years during high school and college. Maybe the Mazzio’s experience doesn’t apply directly to what the ladies at Billy’s have to do everyday, but what was expected of me at Panera during the downtown lunch hour certainly does.
Wanna know what I learned during my time at the very busy corner of 15th and Utica? Nothing puts out a customer more than attempting to take the order as fast as possible without looking up from the cash register to smile. Makes people wonder why they didn’t just go to McDonald’s, because that’s where people when they don’t care how they’re treated. They just want some food, not to mention a meal at McDonald’s would be at least $5 cheaper than one at Panera.
I guess Billy’s has been around for quite awhile now, so I can’t say the way the cash register ladies treat the customers affects their bottom line. I love how Billy’s is involved with Mayfest and probably a lot of other cool local things, but all I know is that I’d eat there a lot more often if I could have a laugh with the person who takes my order every once in a while. Shoot, we could even talk about the weather. Anything. Just do something to remind me I’m in the Midwest – Tulsa, specifically - and not in some giant city where I’m nothing but an order number.

6:10 p.m.
Anyone else been enjoying the grand openings of the local farmers’ markets during the past couple of weeks? There were several in the area last year, and this year there are at least 2 more – the one downtown on Williams Green, and the one at The Pearl District at 6th and Peoria. Both are pretty small gigs, but both represent really great ideas. I love the idea of being able to step out of my office building and walk to a farmers’ market to pick up lunch (the Downtown Farmers’ Market opens at 10:30 and stays open until something like 1 p.m.) or something to cook for dinner (The Pearl opens at 4 and stays open until the early evening).
After work Thursday evening I went to The Pearl Farmers’ Market. Parking is no problem, and since the market is set up in Centennial Park, shoppers get to walk on nice, soft grass rather than hot, stinky blacktop. The contrast of what looks sort of like a gypsy market with the downtown high-rises peeking through the haze from just about one mile away was pretty encouraging. Finally, a place I can go to un-wind after work and not have to sit on a barstool.
Yes, I got to go to the farmers’ market after work on a Thursday. I got to browse local veggies and baked goods at 6:30 p.m. rather than a.m., and the trip didn’t mess with my weekend plans. I picked up the most wonderful hummus (made by The Palace Café on Cherry Street), and I’m going to start stalking a lady there who makes her own soap. I couldn’t buy any yesterday, but I’m hot on her trail for some lavender scented soap.
In fact, I really liked talking to the soap lady. She answered my questions and didn’t seem irritated that I gave her the third degree on how to make soap. She didn’t even seem mad that I asked all those questions and couldn’t buy anything (side note: farmers’ market vendors don’t usually take debit cards. D’oh!). She was ready to tell me anything I wanted to know about how to make soap, which made me feel really welcome. She exuded pride in her craft.

“I picked this for you,” said the little blonde girl hanging out with the soap lady as she handed me a clover flower.
“Thank you!” I slid the flower behind my ear.
“How does it look?” I asked her.
“Really pretty. Wanna know which soaps are my favorites? This one smells almost good enough to eat.”
I hope that little girl returns my heart to me someday, because I’m gonna miss it.

There was this guy Foster (heard the Palace Café guys call him that) who had scones, muffins and cheesecake. He was nice to talk to also, even though he wasn’t as nice about my not being able to buy anything. He gave me a tour of his booth full of yummy-smelling baked goodies, and his brand of flirtatiousness made me want to buy one of each he had rather than run for cover – a rare quality in a salesman. Props to Foster.
The Palace Café guys were really nice, too. They had the thing closest to what I was after to put with dinner that night, so I spent the sole $5 bill I had in my pocket on their amazing hummus. They also gave me a tour - this one complete with which products were their most popular, which were organic, and which came with their take-home, fully prepared dinners – and argued with me about the weather. Since one of the guys had the nerve to battle me on whether or not it was too humid outside, I will buy more stuff from on my next trip to that farmers’ market. I enjoy a friendly battle, and that guy made a happy memory for me that I will associate with the delicious hummus at The Palace Café. Double bonus.
The Pearl Farmers’ Market is a small-time show right now with what I would guess is 10-12 vendors, but the market manager told me musical acts are scheduled to play at the market later this summer. The market will feature not only foodstuffs and bath/beauty products, but also booths of information on sustainability and buying local.
The Pearl Farmers’ Market is open every Thursday evening from now until October from 4 to 8 p.m. Support it. It’s a great way to end a day working and eating downtown.

1 comment:

Natalie said...

I would just like to say that I, too, might be addicted to Teri's Coney Island. Thankfully it's further away than where I used to work, or my arteries would be begging for air.

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