For two years, Patrono has been the quintessential neighborhood Southern Italian restaurant.
Located in the bottom floor of the Avana Arts District apartments, 305 N. Walker Ave, the classy but small restaurant has been a dinner lifeline for apartment residents and recent additions to the burgeoning downtown and Midtown neighborhoods.
Founded by chef Robert DeCoste in 2015, who followed his wife Amanda Yaun, a pediatric neurosurgeon, to Oklahoma City from Washington D.C. DeCoste put the restaurant up for sale as his wife’s career took them to New York City. The move led to an expansion at Patrono.
Veteran restaurant operator Robert Painter (Iguana Lounge) enlisted Gary and Melinda Billings to purchase Patrono and lured chef Jonathan Krell (Stella Modern Italian Cuisine, Park House) to streamline and elevate DeCoste’s original concept.
Krell has been on the job for about a year, but his effect on the menu has taken full form — first with the unveiling of a scrumptious fall / winter dinner menu and then the debut of its 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. lunch service last month.
Pasta only makes up a third of the new menu, which includes such inspired appetizer additions as pan-seared diver scallops ($19), grilled octopus and suppli al telefono ($8), which is panko-crusted fried risotto with a mozzarella center. (Just inject it straight into my veins, already!)
The braised lamb shank ($36) and grilled bone-in pork chop ($26), a brined 12 ounce porterhouse served with cheese polenta, pancetta greens beans and smoked mushrooms are dinner entrée crowd-pleasers. The winter months call for slow-braised meat to warm the soul. I’m pretty sure I read that in a Scientific American at some point.
I was intrigued by the addition of the lunch menu at Patrono because let’s face it; the restaurant’s dinner menu is a high price point. It’s the type of restaurant I’d eat at for a special occasion where you spend a few hours with a bottle of wine or two from its great selection.
The pared-down lunch menu featuring sandwiches and smaller portions of pasta is much more prudent decision for hungry eaters, especially those in nearby downtown. The most expensive thing on the lunch menu is the luxurious gnocchi with duck ragout ($18), and the larger portion of ricotta gnocchi with wild mushrooms and tomato sauce goes for $27 on the dinner menu.
On my recent visit, I was able to find free street parking on N. Dewey Avenue and walked around the corner to the restaurant to find a couple of other guests enjoying their lunch.
I opted for the meatball sandwich ($13) and the oreccehiette with salsa verde and seasonal vegetables ($11), another new menu addition.
There were more opulent pasta dishes available for lunch, like the bucatini (a thick but hollow spaghetti) carbonara, which is a sauce thickened with egg yolk, but I opted for the orecchiette because the ear-shaped pasta native to southern Italy makes for optimum sauce coverage with its nooks.
The orecchiette is topped with Italian salsa verde, which might look similar to pesto, but it’s a more savory sauce compared to its floral cousin, traditionally using capers and anchovy fillets to pack a salty punch. The sauce is nicely complemented with roasted seasonal vegetables including broccoli, mushrooms and pleasantly surprising Peruvian teardrop peppers.
As first, I thought the tiny red peppers were a pimento or a small sweet tomato, but they are a revelation. Hailing from the highlands of Peru, they are filled with flavor that exponentially outclasses their size. They were a highlight of a very tasty meal.
There are a few dishes I use as a baseline because they’re a personal favorite; it’s usually carnitas or al pastor at a Latin restaurant, biscuits and gravy at a diner and meatballs at an Italian restaurant. It should be forbidden to serve a meatball that is all-beef or all-pork. The nirvana of a perfect meatball comes with the confluence of different fats and meats melding with dairy and breadcrumbs into a succulent treat.
Patrono’s meatballs certainly pass the test; they’re moist and flavorful without being heavy on garlic. The soft Italian roll is topped with arugula, basil aioli (a fancy word for mayonnaise) and mozzarella shipped from Krebs, the Little Italy of Oklahoma. I found the addition of the arugula a nice touch. Far too often is a meatball sandwich served without a texture contrast. The arugula adds its peppery taste and a nice crunch, while I thought the basil aioli wasn’t needed. The cheese already provides creaminess, and the house tomato basil sauce served on the side is the superior sandwich lubricant.
The sandwiches are served with house-made pickles, and there is an option to add sausage, meatballs, shrimp or scallops to pasta dishes. Bread service with balsamic whipped butter and salsa verde is an additional $3.
Perhaps I could’ve used some of those additions. I ordered two entrees with the intention of eating half of each and saving the rest for later, but I easily finished both portions and was still hungry afterward. While the meal was flavorful and a great execution of southern Italian food, I couldn’t help but be disappointed in the size of the portions.
The restaurant operators have scaled down the menu to make its prices a little more palatable, which is nice, but I shouldn’t leave hungry. I’ll definitely return, but maybe I’ll ask for a side of polenta with a sandwich next time.
Patrono Italian Restaurant
305 N. Walker Ave.
What works: The meatballs are succulent, and the Peruvian sweet peppers are a revelation.
What needs work: Lunch portions are small.
Tip: Look for free lunchtime parking on Dewey Avenue.
Print headline: Pranzo italiano; Patrono has delighted residents with authentic Southern Italian food, but its flavorful lunch menu leaves you wanting more.