TLO Restaurant Review: Thirty Nine at the First Americans Museum
10:30 AM EDT on September 21, 2021
Originally, I had planned on including a small review of Thirty Nine, the premier restaurant located in the First Americans Museum, 659 First Americans Blvd., in my piece about the opening yesterday. However, despite expecting the standard stereotypical Native fare, I was completely floored by the amount of true Indigenous thought that was captured and served here.
Walking into Thirty Nine—named after the thirty-nine tribes that call Oklahoma home—it had the appearances of an upscale restaurant, but I guess that’s what having an eatery in a museum will do to really any place. As beautiful as it looked, I’ve been fooled by appearances far too many times when it comes to my order and, truthfully, was afraid it was going to happen again.
I mean, have you actually had museum food?
It being the grand opening of the FAM, the restaurant, as you’d expect, was exceedingly busy. Being solo, however, I was easily seated at the bar and, as I sat down, the bartender poured me a tall glass of ice-cold water, a welcomed bit of good medicine to my dry throat. Even though she was very busy, there was a menu and, after a short viewing of their special opening day servings, I quickly made my selections.
After a group of women next to me asked what I had ordered, I walked about the restaurant, taking a few snapshots; much like the museum, it was great to be in a fully Indigenous eatery, filled with my people. Usually, it’s the other way around and you’re typically made to feel it. (Now that I think about it, I haven’t felt this comfortable in a place since that frybread joint in Shawnee…)
But there was no frybread here.
Instead, my appetizer of Skillet Corn Bread ($7.00) and a cup of Hominy Stew ($8.00) were thankfully waiting for me at the bar. A longtime fan of the jalapeno cornbread my father made during our rather impoverished childhood, I’ll admit that Thirty Nine’s was a close second, made with sweet corn, red peppers, and jalapenos, baked in a cast-iron skillet and served with a pat of hibiscus butter.
Even though I could have eaten this yellow wonder by itself, thankfully the Hominy Stew, another favorite of my father’s, was absolutely brilliant in its mixture of heralded ingredients, with the much-loved hominy, braised pork and guajillo chili stirred around with scallions, cilantro, shaved radish and crème fraîche for full effect.
As I scooped full spoons of stew into my gullet after downing large chunks of cornbread, there was a part of me that wished my late father, my family, my ancestors, could be there with me at this moment to share a bowl with me and have a piece of this sweet bread, even if they would have probably put too much salt on it. Maybe someday, when I'm long gone.
Before my main dish came out, however, Loretta Oden, the chef that was back there working on many of these plates of food, came out to see how I was doing; I guess someone must’ve told her who I was. As awkward as it was to speak to her—I’m pretty sure a mouthful of stew spilling down my chin wasn’t all that attractive—she told me about the Native ingredients and that, in a few weeks, the full menu will finally be made available.
I told her that I’d be back and, when I said it, I truly meant it.
And, if something can make me come back, it is traditional dishes that have honest originality about them, especially in my serving of the glorious Three Sisters Sauté ($14.00). A famed Indigenous dish that I have never truly had, it featured the tantalizing three sisters—heirloom beans, corn and squash—as well as Indigenous grains, wild rice, sage-pinon pesto, chickweed, and red amaranth, served on a reasonably good-looking plate to a reasonably hungry man.
Respectfully enjoying each and every bite that I took of the sauté, I was in a pure paradise of Native flavors, one that has been so denied to me living in this modern-day America. Each and every vegetable and grain played their role perfectly, creating a new obsession of mine that I hope to get again and very soon. I just can’t say enough about it.
I know it’s very rare, but if their grand opening menu is this good, I can’t wait to see what new Indigenous favorites they’re going to carry in the future and well into the future. Chi pisa la chike!