When the owners of Nomad BBQ Deli were scouting potential locations for their restaurant, they looked at locations in different areas of Tulsa.
“We really liked this spot, in part because it didn’t take much to get it into the shape we needed,” said Jeff Kuykendall. “But the real reason is that we are all natives of Tulsans and realized that almost every restaurant that used to be along this stretch of Harvard before the pandemic was still in business.
“Most of them are locally owned venues, drawing most of their clientele from the neighborhoods around here,” he said. “It seemed to us a good sign. Harvard Avenue is a successful place.
Kuykendall, along with Drew Laden and Kathryn Holsten, opened Nomad BBQ Deli in late January at the western end of the Ranch Plaza Mall, just north of the intersection of 31st Street and Harvard Avenue.
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The site was once home to Ella’s Good Food, whose fried chicken we remember fondly, and more recently a paleo-diet takeout joint.
“We didn’t have to do much to get him into shape,” Laden said. “The ventilation hood was in place, the deli display case was already there.”
The interior has a utilitarian feel. It has about a dozen tables for four in the dining room, which is decorated with bags of Hasty Bake charcoal and a Hasty Bake Continental grill that looked so familiar, I had to check my backyard to be sure mine was still there.
“We smoke it all on Hasty Bakes, with post oak,” Kuykendall said. “After they’ve been on the smoker, we’ll wrap the meats and finish cooking them in a conventional oven.”
The interior also has shelves displaying the Burnt Fingers brand barbecue sauces and rubs that Nomad uses, as well as some of the hot sauces from the Pain is Good line.
Burnt Fingers is the name of the Kansas City-based barbecue company founded by Jason and Megan Day, who as a team and individually have won several top awards at prestigious events such as Memphis in May and the American Royal in Kansas City.
“Megan has been on shows like ‘Chopped’ and ‘Beat Bobby Flay,’ and Southern Living has named her the ‘Most Influential Woman in Southern Barbecue,'” said Kuykendall. “We like that it’s a family business and the taste profiles fit well with what we want to do.”
The idea of fusing barbecue with a gastronomy might seem a little unusual, but for the owners of Nomad it is a logical combination of their culinary backgrounds.
Kuykendall and Laden previously worked at Burn Co. Barbecue; Kuykendall and his wife took over his family’s Bill & Ruth shop when it opened a new location on 15th Street in 2019. Laden said, not entirely in jest, that in his career, “he’s worked at nearly every sandwich shop of the planet. “
Kuykendall said the concept of a barbecue deli was a way to get the most out of the barbecue they wanted to make.
“It’s really a way of finding ways to use barbecue and smoked meats in different ways while still maintaining the quality we want,” she said. “You smoke a ham or turkey, for example, which might be served on its own, in a bun over a salad.”
Laden added that the Nomad setup “allows us to create different things on a daily basis, to try a variety of things. We’re not really tied down to a menu that only offers one type of food.
“That’s one of the reasons we call it Nomad,” said Kuykendall. “Nomads go where there is water and food. We will go where the food and ideas we have take us”.
For example, Kuykendall pulled out something he’d been “playing” with earlier in the day: burnt ends of pork belly.
“Our suppliers have been really generous,” said Kuykendall. “They offered us these pork bellies, and that’s something we came up with.”
Burnt ends are traditionally taken from the crispier edges of a smoked beef brisket and became something of a barbecue staple when some barbecue emporiums started offering them on the menu.
The sample we tried had a perfect balance of fat and meat, a subtle smoky flavor and intense flavor and subtle sweetness from the sauce they were seasoned in.
I can’t tell if these tidbits will appear in the Nomad menu. But what we tasted from the regular menu was just as tasty.
We arrived a little late to our visit when most of the items we wanted to try were already sold out. We got a smoked pastrami sandwich ($14) and a substantial link of smoked Polish sausage ($5). We added the homemade fries as a side ($1).
Pastrami is, basically, another variation on the barbecue base of smoked brisket, although it involves pickling, aging and smoking. Nomad’s pastrami was incredibly tender, the smoky flavor was distinct without being overpowering, with just enough fat to keep everything juicy. It was one of the best pastrami sandwiches we’ve had in Tulsa.
The smoked Polish sausage, which was cut into inch-long sections, had a firm texture and a pleasant smoky flavor; the additions of regular and hot Burnt Fingers sauces complemented it well.
We got there early enough the next time to score an order of prime rib ($10 for three, $15 for six) with a side of macaroni and cheese ($3), along with a smoked roast beef French roll and cheese Swiss, served with a cup of tarragon au jus ($14).
The spare ribs, which arrived without a sauce, were dynamite: tender, smoky with a big bark. The sauce was unnecessary. The rigatoni in the mac and cheese was al dente and thickly covered in a rich, thick cheese sauce with just a hint of smoke.
The tarragon au jus elevated the sandwich, which could have used a spread or sauce to combat the dryness of the roast beef.
You might have noticed that “Kansas City” has been mentioned several times so far, and there’s a reason for that. Laden is an ardent fan of the Kansas City Chiefs, and a pennant celebrating the team’s recent Super Bowl win hangs in a prominent place.
“Yeah, our first full week opener, after dealing with some electrical issues, ends with the Chiefs winning the Super Bowl,” Laden said with a laugh. “That told me we’re doing something right here.”
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