Ponca City, Oklahoma
The Rusty Barrel. A hidden gem in a remote Oklahoma oil town with a secret entrance buried behind a strip mall. At first glance the glamour of its exterior isn’t what you’d conjure up when you imagine an All-American steakhouse.
The interior of the Rusty Barrel leaves some comfort to be desired. The open flame barbeque pit is perched in the middle of the downstairs dining area. Steep stairs ascend to the top floor where two rooms are available. Table space isn’t ample. The chairs are similar to what your great-aunt had around her table: old and wood. It has the feel that it was once a wild west saloon, then was quickly converted to hold a salad bar when the wild west went tame. Needless to say it is clean, enough. But you’d venture to guess the decorator has been on sabbatical.
The menu is just as plain, devoid of embellishment or frivolities or expensive cardstock. You eat steak. Sure he has pork and fish and chicken on the menu, but why bother? This is not an establishment to go vegan. Why? There is not vegan option. This is a simple carnivore menu: meat, what size or shape is up to you. I felt masculine as I ordered my dinner. There is no ladies steak, no opportunity to appear demure with a delicate order. I squeaked out a request for a ribeye, all 12oz. It is my long held belief that anything smaller than a 12oz ribeye or strip steak is a waste of a beef animals life. Be considerate. Frugality has its limits, and with meat you get what you pay for.
With dinner you get a salad bar, a baked potato and a homemade loaf of white bread fresh from the oven. In the same ‘wild west’ fashion, there are no substitutions. Whiners will probably go hungry. I was afraid to ask.
The salad bar is nothing fancy, but it is satisfying in the only way a middle American salad bar can be: low nutrient density, high palatability. Ranch is plentiful and there is a couple of containers filled with various carbs mixed with mayonnaise, in case a green salad isn’t what you had in mind. I will mention the eggs are real, the cheese is hand shredded and the pickles are upgraded–which is an inspired touch; but this isn’t a salad bar you go to find nutrition. This is a salad bar you drag your belly up against to forget the menu doesn’t offer appetizers.
As the self appointed Queen of Meat, I had low expectations for my 12oz ribeye. After all it was a Thursday night at 6pm. Not exactly the time of day you are most likely to find a superior chef manning the helm. That was until it was delivered to my seat. What sat before me was a chuck end ribeye, with plentiful spinalus, and cooked to a perfect medium rare. The flavor is unique to the grill with a mild acidic saltiness mixed with the seasoned smoke of the fire pit below, it gives an eating experience that is exemplary when measured against it’s menu cost of $28.
In a world where steaks are cut thin and cooked poorly, I was equally impressed with the execution around the table where four steaks of different sizes and muscles were ordered at different degrees of doneness. The execution of the steak cook was flawless on all accounts.
This is an establishment that when I find myself in the improbable vicinity of Ponca City, Oklahoma I will visit again. As a foodie, I could give a shit less if the interior is posh; but the consistent execution of a satisfying all American meal at a price point that won’t make me flinch makes this an easy decision to repeat.