Prairie Thunder: midtown’s own artisan bakery (and cafe)
When reviewing a restaurant, I always try to go either really early for lunch or rather late in the hopes of being able to have a conversation with the owner when things aren’t quite as busy. When Mom and I walked into Prairie Thunder, the owner John McBryde walked right out from the kitchen and asked what he could do for us. What luck, I thought, as I began my interrogation.
First things first, of course. I must eat lunch and sample food before really getting down to business. John’s friendly employees made some suggestions from the mostly soup, salad and sandwich menu. After standing over the bakery display for longer than needed, I finally went with the tomato-based chicken tortilla soup and veggie sandwich lunch combo ($8.25) which consisted of greens, red onions, ricotta cheese, roasted peppers, capers and homemade balsamic vinaigrette, served on their fabulous homemade bread. Mom went with the special lunch quiche of the day ($5.75) which included a side salad. The main thing she said made it so good was the ultra-thin, homemade crust, obviously not something frozen from a restaurant supply. Each of our entrees also included a homemade roll. John said they pride themselves in everything being homemade, from the salad dressing on up. The bakery case was full of beautiful and delicious looking pastries and treats, many of them decorated and packaged for a quick gift for Valentine’s Day.
As soon as we were finished with our lunch, John said he would love to take us on a tour of the bakery behind the scenes. We took him up on the offer and ended up spending over two hours learning the fascinating art of making and baking artisan bread. The kitchen is divided into two large areas, one for bakery items and the other for bread. Much of his equipment comes from Europe. The standing oven is so big, he can roll entire racks of bakery items into it. After spending almost 30 years in the oil and gas business, John spent a year researching equipment and methods for bread baking. According to him, if he was going to do this, he was going to do it right, and that drive is evident in the equipment he has in place.
Prairie Thunder has been open two years now, and business is great. They do much of the bread baking and delivery to lots of locally-owned restaurants in the metro area. There were several huge bread racks in the middle of the kitchen, and each shelf was labeled with the name of the restaurant they service.
It was quite warm in back, and soon I discovered why. In the middle of the kitchen stands the Frigand bread oven, which hails from France. There are only 150 of them in the U.S., and, of course, only one in Oklahoma. It weighs 18,000 lbs, and is stacked with three decks and nine doors. There is 150 square feet of baking space. It arrived in a 53 foot semi truck and took three weeks of 12-hour days to assemble, with the help of a man from Austria. It’s quite a site to behold, and even though it had been turned off for several hours, the heat still radiating from it made it feel like a summer day. John said they recently celebrated the oven’s birthday by serving free mini-baguettes and cream puffs to customers.
The other side of the kitchen is where the bread is made, and it was stacked with huge sacks of King Arthur flour and crowded with enormous mixers from Germany. Some of the breads take anywhere from 24-48 hours to make, so there are two overnight bakers who arrive at 10pm before John comes in at 5am. Several other fancy machines that control temperature and humidity line the walls. John’s tour was a fascinating education for me and certainly gave me a new appreciation for each delicious bite of bread I sampled that day. It also said a lot for the cleanliness and neatness of the kitchen, as John had no idea I was coming when he invited me back for the tour.
John also designed the front part of the restaurant and did all of the woodwork himself. He thought the name Prairie Thunder was quite appropriate for a restaurant with Oklahoma roots, and his dining room centers around a sign that reads, “Man, for all his progresses, posturings, and high-minded opinions of himself, owes his existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.” He said the flour he uses comes from both Oklahoma and Montana. I just can’t say enough how delicious the bread is.
I think this a great little place for breakfast, lunch, or just for bread. It’s in a wonderful, historical building in the mid-town area. I hope Prairie Thunder sticks around the OKC landscape for a long time. It’s a great addition to our town and definitely unique.
What do you think about Prairie Thunder? Let us know in the comments.