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Trapped at the Capitol

So you’ve decided to go see democracy at work. Or, since it’s Oklahoma, you’ve gone to see “democracy” at “work.” 

Either way, you’re waiting around the Oklahoma State Capitol for your legislator to show up so you can give him/her a piece of your mind about how screwed up everything is.

It’s your one day off from work, so you can’t go too far from the area. But you’ve bribed a custodian to call you when he/she shows up.

It looks like you’re...Trapped at the Capitol.

The Terrain

As my friend Kasey loves to remind me, the Capitol is not a district, per se. It is surrounded by districts, however, which means there’s a wealth of options for diners and tourists alike. For this edition of Trapped, we’ll be taking you north, south, east and west to help you pass the time.

Why you want to go here, I do not know.

WAKE UP!

Starting off, let’s go south for a cup of coffee at Leaf + Bean, where owner Paul Zimmerman and staff serve up craft coffee from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. daily. Have a sit and enjoy the free wifi and people watching or grab it to go and wander on down to Wheeze the Juice or Belle Kitchen for something a little more substantial.

The whimsical Wheeze has a variety of smoothies and cold-pressed juices from which to choose, but if you’re trying to fill that gaping hole in your life where love should be, a bowl might be a better choice.

Bowls include fruit, nuts, grains, and other things commercials area always telling us are healthy. Since I have a weird allergy to bananas, I tend to order Lambda³ — it’s a big bowl of maple oats and vanilla yogurt with strawberries, blueberries, almond milk, chia seeds and toasted coconut. This thing will fill you up until there’s no more room. (Note: learn where the bathrooms in the Capitol are.)

‍Lambda³

Seriously, it’s like a delicious bowl of healthy breakfast ice cream. If that sounds insane, well, it is. But if you’re visiting in winter, you definitely need to get a coffee for a warm up.

Belle Kitchen is slightly less health focused, which means you can find things like doughnuts and macarons. It might be smart to get a bowl at Wheeze first and a macaron or three to save as a treat when you’re sitting around listening to legislators drone on and on about how the Bible has a lot of bearing on gross production taxes for new oil wells.

The wheels of justice move slowly, but so do the wheels of whatever happens in the Oklahoma State Capitol, which means you will need something to keep you awake if you’re planning to survive the day.

If you’re coming from the north, you might pop into The Last Drop (5425 N. Lincoln Blvd) after 8 a.m. This Christian coffee spot has a suggested price sheet, but what you pay is technically a donation, so it’s up to you.

Check In

You’re here to see your legislator, Sen. Repp Budgetfail (R-U, SERIOUS, BRO?), but he’s busy doing anything but talking to you. He’s got meetings and a massage scheduled and, most importantly, he’s got to be on the floor to vote for the SB-9998. Also called the State Taxes Are Bad bill (or STAB), it will ensure that teachers are personally driven from their homes to the state’s borders, where they will be pushed into higher-paying jobs. All children in the state will cease being educated and forced to work as unpaid interns at nursing homes.

After stopping by his office and hearing him whisper to his secretary from behind the door to get rid of you, you’ve got some time to kill. Perhaps you should stop by the Oklahoma State Art Collection in the Betty Price Gallery on the ground floor of the Capitol building.

This luxuriously secluded spot is chock full of gorgeous paintings and sculptures. Why is it here? Ostensibly to showcase all of Oklahoma’s talented artists. Why is it really here? Because after working so hard to make the state livable, government staffers need someplace to go to meditate.

Or if you’d like to get your steps in, descend to the bowels of the Capitol and find the mural tunnel — a 650-foot long damp, leaky tunnel that leads from Oklahoma’s seat of power to a parking lot east of the building. On the walls are murals depicting different areas of the state as painted by 30-plus Oklahoma high school students in the late ’90s.

If you’ve found your way back to your car, let’s take that as a sign from a higher power to get some lunch.

Eat Your Frustrations

The government is a nightmare made of inane rules and regulations with the goal of making sure no one is happy.

But Florence’s Restaurant is the exact opposite. Started in 1952 by Boley, Oklahoma-native Florence Jones, Florence’s is one of Oklahoma City’s premiere soul food destinations. I’ve yet to have a bad meal there.

Smothered fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy

Breakfast is great, but budget time for a nap afterward. Seriously. No one can take down a pork Big Boley Breakfast (two slices of bacon, two sausage patties, country ham, two eggs, rice and potatoes, three pancakes) without falling into a happy little coma.

But lunch is my preferred meal at Florence’s because of the restaurant’s top seller: smothered fried chicken. Diners get a choice of three vegetables along with two lovely pieces of fried chicken drenched in succulent chicken gravy.

Corn muffins with candied yams hiding in back, acting all nonchalant

Get ready for something different. When the gravy soaks into the fried chicken skin, it softens it — not usually what you might expect from a dish that prides itself on crispiness — but the formerly crunchy skin now absorbs the gravy. What you get is a luscious texture with a concentrated chicken flavor. It. Is. Glorious.

Which sides should you get? Mashed potatoes are an obvious choice and well worth eating. But the candied yams are the real star here. The texture turns creamy on the tongue and they’re so sweet it can double as dessert.

Just across the street is A Family Affair, which is another delightful soul food restaurant. Though it’s set up like a buffet, it’s not an all-you-can-eat one, unless you’re equipped for an all-you-can-pay bill.

The spicy fried chicken is a great choice, but I’d also recommend the meatloaf and catfish. The menu changes daily, but there’s always something wonderful waiting for you.

On the other side of the highway is Basil Mediterranean Cafe. One thing I adore about Basil is that the owner clearly has faith in the business. Over the last few years the interior has improved immensely, which matches the quality of the food.

If you’re in a hurry to get back to the Capitol, haha, right?, then I recommend the gyro with fries. It’s a very good gyro and some very good fries and it’s fast. But if you’ve got time to spare, check out some of the other entrees.

Gyro. Fully dressed.

At $13.95, the Persian saffron lamb shank is a heck of a deal and definitely best for a sit-down meal. You get a big leg of lamb that has been slowly braised so the meat is just waiting for an excuse to disengage from the bone. It’s a delight.

Be sure not to let the rice go to waste. The basmati is perfectly engineered to soak up all of that braising liquid, which makes for a flavorful, succulent side.

Back Into The Abyss

One thing you can do in the Capitol is watch lawmakers make speeches. Lots of speeches. Some of them are good. Most of them...well...you have Twitter. Live-tweeting a debate among Senators is comedy gold. Just look at the funny tweets from Journal Record reporter Catherine Sweeney. She’s not even trying to be funny, it’s just how hilarious it is listening to our lawmakers argue.

Head aaaaaaaaall the way up to the fifth floor on the Grand Staircase (or use the elevator) for gallery seating to both the House (west side) and Senate (east side). Neither room is particularly lovely, but given all the headaches our elected officials have given us over the last several decades, maybe it’s meant as a punishment.

Watching the Senate doesn't get better with people there.

When that gets old, and it will, wander down to the second floor and find the Hall of Governors on the south end of the building. It’s a lot like rooms with all the heads in jars in “Futurama” but with metal busts that don’t talk and you don’t know who most of them were.

The Hall of Governors

Escape!

When watching history not get made becomes too frustrating to endure, go to the Oklahoma History Center to soak up some actual culture.

Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon-Sat, the History Center is part of the Oklahoma Historical Society and it’s legitimately an awesome place to go. One reason I love it: they don’t try to paint a rosy picture on Oklahoma’s horrifying past.

Current exhibits include some happy topics (classic railroad photos, the history of free enterprise in the state) and some more somber collections, like the history of Oklahomans in the Vietnam War.

It’s not free, but a family of six can get in for $18 and adults are just $7 apiece. And after having your brain drained, it’s a good price for a refill.

Oh, Hell

That custodian just called to say Budgetfail got in his pickup and drove off before he could be indicted, so it looks like the rest of your day is free. Get a taxi and make tracks to the Deep Deuce Grill for a couple of beers or maybe a swanky cocktail at Rockford Cocktail Den. You’re not guaranteed to run into refugees from the Capitol, but lord knows all of them could use a drink or several, too.

If you tied one on and need something to soak up all the happiness, try Wing Supreme. This little Lincoln Blvd. shop has the finest hot wings in Oklahoma City. They aren’t enormous mutant wings, just good, honest pieces of chicken in a variety of delicious sauces.

Another late-night stop is Taco Rico, but you can actually go there anytime of day. It looks like an old Taco Bueno because it absolutely used to be a Taco Bueno. The menu is a holdover, too, with items like the "Chamaco" in place of the "Muchaco."

But it's good. It's a favorite for the poorly paid Capitol staff and anybody else who loves good fast food Mexican.

Blow off some steam at the newly reopened Tower Theatre, which hosts a ton of live music and recently began showing some classic films on the big screen. Here’s a picture of me with my date at a showing of “The Fifth Element.”

Ah, love.

And that’s as good a way as any to end a day at the Oklahoma State Capitol — watching a dystopian future where Bruce Willis drives a cab and a giant ball of evil tries to destroy the Earth. It’s getting more realistic every day!

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About the Author

Founder and Eater-in-Chief of I Ate Oklahoma, Greg Elwell has been reviewing restaurants and writing about Oklahoma’s food culture for more than a decade. Where a normal person orders one meal, this guy gets three. He is almost certainly going to die young and those who love him most are fairly ambivalent about it. You can email Greg at greg@iateoklahoma.com.

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The Details

Oklahoma State Capitol

2300 N. Lincoln Blvd.

Leaf & Bean

321 N. Oklahoma Ave.

Wheeze the Juice/Belle Kitchen

30 NE Second St.

The Last Drop

5425 N. Lincoln Blvd.

Florence's Restaurant

1437 NE 23rd St.

A Family Affair

1742 NE 23rd St.

Basil Mediterranean Restaurant

211 NW 23rd St.

Oklahoma History Center

800 Nazih Zuhdi Dr.

Deep Deuce Grill

323 NE Second St.

Rockford Cocktail Den

317 NW 23rd St.

Wing Supreme

3925 N. Lincoln Blvd.

Taco Rico

3838 N. Lincoln Blvd.

Tower Theatre

425 NW 23rd St.

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