By Preston Jones
Photos by Joey Rubin
How far would you drive for dinner?
Such a question might seem quaint in an age of on-demand dining dropped right at your doorstep, but there are plenty of people for whom food is reason enough to ditch the take-out apps and fire up the GPS.
As The New York Times noted in a May article about the food-dining tourism phenomenon, nearly a third of 2,000 surveyed adults recently had taken a vacation where the impetus was culinary, not necessarily escapist.
Case in point: My wife, Carla, and I made a 440-mile round trip to Oklahoma City earlier this year to have dinner at Nonesuch, one of the buzzier restaurants in the country. We made reservations in December for March.
No less a gustatory oracle than Bon Appetit magazine christened Nonesuch its best new restaurant in 2018, with editor Andrew Knowlton openly admitting he was full of questions: “How could something that seemed so compelling have so little buzz? Should I really book an out-of-the-way plane trip to Oklahoma based off a few well-lit Instagram photos?”
At a glance, it’s easy to understand both Knowlton’s confusion and his hesitation. As a native Oklahoman who lived in Oklahoma City for about five years more than a decade ago, my own view of Nonesuch was also one of mild fascination. Had the city really progressed beyond the strip malls, fast-food joints and midlevel steakhouses I remembered dotting
The answer, as it turned out, was an emphatic yes.
The seeming quantum leap forward was evident the moment we stepped inside the compact 22-seat restaurant. Everything happens in a single room, as the U-shaped bar gives way to an impossibly efficient kitchen, where the friendly, enthusiastic staff’s movements begin to resemble a thoroughly rehearsed bit of modern dance before the evening is through.
Nonesuch is situated less than two blocks from the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum (arguably the only thing anyone beyond Oklahoma might be familiar with, apart from the state’s NBA team and the Heisman Trophy-magnet Oklahoma Sooners). Inside the dimly lit restaurant, the kitchen turns out a tasting menu ($95 for 10 courses; wine pairings up the tab) more than worth the drive.
Chefs Jeremy Wolfe, Paul Wang and Colin Stringer fashion food finely attuned to its surroundings, with much of what’s on the deftly composed small plates sourced from within the state’s borders.
During our meal, that included components of the oyster mushroom custard, barbecued aged quail with grilled greens and dan dan noodles that continue to make my stomach rumble pleasurably every single time I think about them.
It’s a striking way to return to a place you thought you knew, which is, in itself, as solid a reason as any to embark upon a road trip.
Returning to a place you’ve lived, for however long, can allow you to see the world, and by extension, yourself, in unexpected ways. That a critically acclaimed restaurant of Nonesuch’s caliber can exist — and beyond that, thrive — in a part of the U.S. often shrugged off as flyover country suggests there are hidden benefits to gassing up the car, buckling up and seeing where the road takes you.
Sometimes, the journey can be at least as delicious as the destination.