NORMAN — New restaurants opening on Main Street are turning downtown Norman into an eclectic food and entertainment destination.
The Garage opened in April just in time for the Norman Music Festival and is rapidly becoming known for producing great hamburgers. Located just a few doors down from The Pink Elephant and across the street from Full Moon Sushi, The Garage’s menu offerings includes buffalo burgers and beer brewed in Oklahoma.
Now, at least two more eateries are poised to open their doors in the near future.
Tres bills itself as a “Taqueria y Cantina” (taco stall and tavern) with a menu featuring the three Hispanic cuisines of Spain, New Mexico and South America.
Across Crawford Street to the west of Pink Elephant, Das Boot Camp will serve beer in boots and German food. That proposed reatuarant traces its heritage to Royal Bavaria located on Sooner Road in Moore.
The trio of new restaurants should make a nice package for patrons of all ages who want unique dining experiences in the historic, pedestrian-friendly downtown atmosphere, say owners and operators. And while the student population is always an important demographic for Norman, these restaurants provide food and entertainment for folks of all ages.
“We get a wide variety of people in here,” said Dustin Wall, General Manager of The Garage. “We’re not focused on college students or on middle-aged people. We get everything from 10-year-olds to 90-year-olds.”
In contrast to the more exotic offerings expected from Tres and Das Boot Camp, The Garage is pure Americana offering burgers made from beef, turkey, or buffalo. For the vegetarian, there’s the garden vegetable burger. So far, Wall says the best-seller has been the Spicy Sriaracha.
“I’m not a blue cheese guy, but I love the blue cheese on that burger,” Wall said.
The Garage has already invested in community, working with Veteran’s Day parade organizers and local schools.
Wall is excited about the other new restaurants coming to Main Street as the downtown area continues to develop as a destination.Right now, The Garage benefits from the overflow on busy evenings at McNelly’s located to the west.
“The more people who come down to Main Street, the better off we’ll all be,” Wall said.
During the daytime hours, shoppers visit quaint boutiques, art and record stores nearby then drop into local restaurants for refreshement. When evening rolls around, it’s time for fellowship with friends, and that can mean checking out Norman’s historic downtown district’s growing array of restaurants and pubs.
The Garage has a distinctly Americana feel with vintage signs, neon lights and signs, and a chalkboard menu printed in colored chalk. The nostalgia of the decor appeals to all ages, Wall said, as does the fresh ingredients used in the food.
“Our main focus when we opened was we opened a bar,” Wall said. “We added a menu and we wanted it to be unique.”
The menu is small, so Wall said the focus is on quality and flavor.
“The buffalo is one of the most flavorful meats we have,” he said.
Fresh ingredients is the key.
“We order our beef and it comes in freshly ground,” Wall said. “We order three times a week, so it never hits a freezer.”
French fries are fresh cut.
“We wanted to be the best and to be original,” Wall said. “We get our produce in every day fresh.”
Freshly squeezed juices for mixed drinks and an eclectic but broad mix of available beers continues the theme. Oklahoma brewed beers are widely represented along with the favorite beers of owners and staff.
“We have a great beer inventory now,” he said.
Next door, Tres will offer Tapas — appetizers served sampler style on a platter which feature smoked meats, cheeses, olives, fruits, veggies and homemade arepas. Arepas are “cornbread pitas” filled with meat, cheese, veggies and dressings. Popular in Venezuela and other Spanish-speaking countries, arepas are growing in popularity in the states.
“We’re extremely excited about opening,” said Tres owner Debbie Richardson. “We cannot wait. This is going to be a fun place with good, good food.”
Tres will feature cooks, bartenders and staff from a wide variety of places to bring new ideas and flavors to Norman. Two of the cooks are from California and one is from New Mexico. Additional staff is from Venezuela.
“I’m always interested in trying new things, and I love food,” Richardson said.
She grew up on “yellow rice and chicken” and loves Hispanic cuisine.
“We felt there was a real need for a Hispanic Mexican restaurant,” she said.
In addition to offering food and beverage for those seeking fun and fellowship, the new restaurants hope to provide a lunch stop for those who work in the revived downtown district. The Vista Building recently opened new office space and that contributes to a lunch crowd.
Mike Sherrod, who’s wife Shannon owns and operates The Pink Elephant, has been working with Richardson and her crew on the Tres menu.
“We’ve been trying to revive Main Street for awhile, that’s why the Pink Elephant came in here,” Sherrod said.
He would like to see the city support downtown businesses by building a parking garage on a nearby municipal lot. That parking garage could serve city employees, employees at the Vista offices, and employees that work in the downtown shops and restaurants, saving the parking spots closest to business for patrons.