Even though NE 23rd Street is one of the most historical streets in Oklahoma City, many locals tend to forget that it’s also home to some of the most grassroots and homegrown eateries in town, the best having a specific focus on soul food, barbecue and old-fashioned Southern cooking. NE 23rd Street restaurants are OKC’s culinary history all in a few blocks and really should be revered as such.
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1700 Lexington Ave., Norman
Owners: Mart and Debi Van Nostrand
Food style: American/Diner
Average check: $6 breakfast and lunch; $8 dinner
above Waitress Linda Hendrix delivers all-you-can-eat breakfasts to Tony Sampson right and T. Valencia at Ozzie’s Diner at Norman’s Max Westheimer Airport terminal.
Going to the airport is always a hectic experience, from check-in to takeoff. It’s a rush of security checks, flight delays and claiming baggage all while carting around carry-ons, IDs and boarding passes.
At the tiny Max Westheimer Airport in Norman, there are fewer passengers awaiting flights. The airport is reserved primarily for private fliers and University of Oklahoma aviation students, and the only significant air traffic comes around game days.
But there is one bustling spot on the compound. With all-you-can-eat breakfast, you can understand why.
Eating at Ozzie’s Diner has been a rite of passage of sorts for true Normanites, but few others were aware of the hidden gem. The secret has gotten out; more and more people from the surrounding area are making their way to the unassuming, but splendid restaurant. It takes a little bit of weaving and exploring to find the tiny terminal that houses the diner, but once you find it, you probably won’t forget.
It’s located right beside the airstrip, with a wall of windows to ensure a clear view. Half of the joy of a trip to Ozzie’s is seeing the younger patrons’ faces light up as a plane lands or takes off. The other half is unlimited breakfast selections from 6 to 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday and 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.
Long had I dreaded the decision between pancakes and biscuits and gravy, but no more. Apparently, many others struggle with that decision. The place is packed out every Saturday and Sunday morning, filled with people from every walk of life.
“We have everyone here: college students, retired people, the working class, people flying in and out of here, pilots and anyone else you can think of,” said manager Evelyn Watkins. “People love it, and we enjoy our guests as much as anyone possibly can, even on those busy weekends.”
Nearly everyone orders the allyou-can-eat breakfast ($5.49), and it’s no surprise. What is surprising is how good all the items are. It’s simple, standard fare, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste great. The pancakes are nice, airy and perfectly golden, while the biscuit and gravy is straightforward and satisfying. The typical meat selections — ham, bacon and sausage — are all here, and the bacon isn’t overly crisp or salty. There are also eggs, toast, grits and excellent hash browns to be had, along with a personal favorite: the hearty, peppery skillet home fries and onions.
For those who don’t feel the need to indulge in unlimited pancakes, bacon and eggs, there’s a full slate of breakfast combos, like Ozzie’s pancake sandwich ($4.19) or the roadhouse eggs ($3.89), which is a gooey, salty concoction of two eggs grilled in a hole cut in the center of two slices of Texas toast.
For all the praise Ozzie’s receives for its breakfast, what gets lost is an equally impressive lunch and dinner menu that offers some of the best authentic diner food in the metro.
The tried-and-true patty melt ($4.29) is one of the best I’ve had. The onions are surprisingly sweet, but thoughtfully balanced with the strong Swiss cheese and a hearty beef patty. Add a little mustard, and it’s heaven.
Most impressive, however, is the monstrous roadhouse chicken fry ($7.59), a 16-ounce chickenfried steak with the same stellar gravy that blesses the breakfast menu. The breading was just right, and the steak had more flavor than your everyday chicken fry. It’s expectedly heavy, and more than enough for one setting, but who’s complaining?
Actually, there’s very little — if anything — to complain about. The waitstaff is friendly, experienced and keeps its cool during the busier hours, the quality of the food is higher than your everyday diner, and the prices are low across the board.
“In this economy, people can’t afford to pay a whole lot to go out to eat, so we price things as low as possible,” Watkins said. “The only reason we don’t take credit cards is so we don’t have to pass that cost onto the customers. It doesn’t come at the cost of the quality of the food, either. It’s good, homecooked food, all hand-breaded, and nothing comes in frozen.”
It would be worth a check-in at Delta and a body scan, but a good meal at Ozzie’s requires little more than a bit of money and a big appetite.
Ozzie’s Diner is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.