Local Dining by BLAKE AUSTYN
A SEAT WITH A VIEW: A western view of Rusty Crane’s outdoor patio. The restaurant opened in October 2012 as a long-time dream of Tulsan Lee Brennan. The menu is focused on eclectic and fresh dishes, with items ranging from quesadillas and tacos, vegetarian dishes, fish, chicken, pork to asian dishes, wraps, and wings.
BLAKE AUSTYN for GTR Newspapers
When Lee Brennan opened his restaurant Rusty Crane, 109 N. Detroit Ave., in the Brady Arts District in October 2012, it could be said that, at that moment, two of his dreams were being accomplished.
Not only did he open his own restaurant, something his family had been encouraging him to do for years, but, in addition to that, his restaurant opened in a refurbished factory.
“When I was in high school,” says Brennan, who grew up in Tulsa, “I would drive and walk around downtown. I loved downtown, but it was pretty quiet after the work day.
“I had always wanted to open a restaurant in one of these old buildings.”
The name of the restaurant came about as an homage to the physical crane that remains on the north end of the building and hangs above the restaurant’s patio and displays the restaurant’s signage.
Over the years since opening Rusty Crane, Brennan has transformed the outdoor patio area, which sits on the north and east sides of the building and sits high enough off the ground that the parking lot to the east is hardly noticeable. Instead, patrons tend to focus on the view of ONEOK Field a block away.
The menu can be described as eclectic and fresh, with items ranging from quesadillas and tacos, vegetarian dishes, fish, chicken, pork to asian dishes, wraps, and wings. You name it, and there’s a good chance you’ll find something close to it on the menu.
My party visited on a warm Friday afternoon, and we chose to sit where many Tulsans choose in the springtime: the patio.
We began with two appetizers: the Pork Nacho Libre (pork nachos) and East Meets West Lettuce Wraps.
The nachos were topped abundantly with very tender, slow-roasted pork, black beans, cheese, bacon and tomatoes. I have been yearning to return for a second round of those ever since.
The lettuce wraps aren’t the traditional Asian style that many people might be expecting; instead, they come with a mixture of chicken, water chestnuts and carrots. The flavor was good, just different from our expectations.
For entrees, we chose the Mother Clucker, a traditional chicken sandwich, and the Trojan Horse Tacos.
The Mother Clucker is a nice, basic option for a chicken sandwich, although it could use a sauce to liven up the flavor.
The Trojan Horse Tacos, like the Pork Nacho Libre, will make me a loyal customer. The vegetarian soft tacos came filled with vegetables and a generous amount of fresh spinach, topped with black bean hummus, a flavorful cucumber sauce, and feta cheese, with a side of rice and black beans and a handful of chips and salsa.
We couldn’t resist splitting the Three Layer Chocolate Cake for dessert, which was sinfully moist and richly chocolate, with a dark chocolate icing and chocolate ganache.
While the restaurant’s full menu is diverse and large, oftentimes, the restaurant will offer a special event menu due to events taking place nearby, notably Tulsa Drillers and Roughnecks games at ONEOK Field and the First Friday Art Crawl. In order to quicken ticket times in the kitchen during these busy times, the menu is condensed into about 25 items of appetizers and entrees.
After speaking with Brennan about the menu, I have a few items in mind to try when I return, including the wings, which he says are one of the restaurant’s “biggest brags and a definite best seller” and the Signature Yumlada, a dish that Brennan had been making for years before he opened the restaurant.
The Yumlada served as the benchmark to which Brennan measured all other dishes created for Rusty Crane.
“We incorporate the same kind of quality ingredients, creativity and flavor into everything we serve,” he says.
Also a popularly requested dish is the Mango Fish Tacos, Brennan says, which consist of tilapia, mango salsa, lettuce, lemon garlic aioli and cilantro on a flour tortilla.
In addition to the food, Brennan has given close attention to creating a unique signature drink list with drinks ranging from $7-10. My favorite is the Tin Man, a twist on a gin and tonic with cucumber.
A Monday-Friday Happy Hour, 3-6 p.m., offers all appetizers at half price and $2 domestic beers. Rusty Crane also serves a Saturday and Sunday brunch, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Restaurant hours are Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-2 a.m.