Canebrake is Destination for Rest, Relaxation & Local Fare

By Catherine Wagner / Photography By Brooke Allen & John Amatucci | January 01, 2015
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Past the small houses, acres of farmland and miles of pastures in Wagoner County pops up an enticing entrance that could belong to any farm or cattle ranch. Once you cross that threshold you see a wide expanse of land that is anything from ordinary.

Tall, beautiful native grasses surround a road that is curved just enough to keep you guessing where exactly you are going. Big trees offer shadows on the ground that make you question whether it was a deer in the distance, which judging by your location is a possibility, or just your imagination. As you make the final curve towards the top of the hill, there stands a life-size buffalo statue looking out onto a pond, bookended by a pair of perfectly placed Adirondack chairs.

Welcome to Canebrake.

Canebrake

For over eight years, Sam and Lisa Bracken have been serving those in need of rest, relaxation and food that goes above and beyond what you would expect, considering you are 45 minutes from a major city.

“Canebrake is a destination, it’s a place where customers and guests can come and have an experience,” says Sam Bracken.

As the executive chef and genius behind the Canebrake kitchen, he describes their food philosophy as “Fresh, Fresh, Fresh.” He wants everything to be as local and seasonal as possible. “The point of this food is what’s available, from our gardens, local farmers, local ranchers and producers,” he says.

The intimate restaurant features an open design that gives diners a glimpse into the face-paced kitchen and a look at the artists behind the food. Because of Bracken’s food philosophy, their menu changes seasonally based on what is the most fresh.

One thing is constant: He is cooking innovative food that people are eagerly making the drive to eat. And why wouldn’t they be, with menu items like buffalo strudel that feature Oklahoma-grown bison and wild mushrooms or roasted quail with pistachios.

Canebrake's Executive Chef Sam Bracken with kitchen crew
Dessert at Canebrake
Fresh and local fare at Canebrake
Kitchen ready for event guests

As Bracken sees it, because of their location their customers’ expectations are higher than they would be if they were going to a restaurant in downtown Tulsa. “We know where we are, and we appreciate that. It is a challenge says Bracken. So he and his staff are continually working to not only meet but also exceed those expectations.

With two gardens on the premises they grow about 30% of their produce including, to name just a few, melons, lettuces, kales, tomatoes, chilies and herbs. The rest of their produce is from local farmers and farmers’ markets. They even grow the flowers that adorn their tables.

Just because Canebrake’s main focus is on local food, that does not mean seafood lovers have to “suffer through” a delicious, savory cider pork chop. Bracken’s food standards are just as important in his seafood selections and are evident in his personal relationships with his four seafood mongers from Florida, Hawaii, Oregon and Alaska. During our interview the salmon were still running so Bracken had that on his menu, but he says as soon as the salmon were no longer in season, that would be the end of it.

“If I call my fishmonger at noon Pacific time, by noon the next day that fish has been line caught and is processed, packaged and shipped to my restaurant,” says Bracken. “I don’t buy salmon in January, it’s farm raised and that’s not what we do. Salmon should not have an ingredient list.”

When it comes to his seafood Chef Bracken does understand that not everyone sees the necessity of bringing seafood all the way to Oklahoma. “But we can,” he says. “You can get on a plane and go to Hawaii or you can come here and have mahi mahi with fresh seaweed.”

But ingredients alone don’t make a restaurant as successful as Canebrake.

Bracken believes that as a chef it is important to constantly be learning, participating, consuming, staying up on trends and thus keeping your food innovative and he reasons that the crew he works with should get the opportunity to learn and explore the food as well.

“I bring things through the door every week that are new,” says Bracken. “I turn my crew loose on it and I say look it up. Figure it out.”

He might have an idea of what direction he would take with those ingredients but it is up to them to come up with something. He can guide them if needed, but staying sharp and figuring out how to work with the ingredient and turn it into something great is essential.

“Don’t be stale or static. I don’t think it’s good for your culinary head,” says Bracken.

This attitude does not only apply to the kitchen. Bracken gives the bartenders ample room to experiment and they even take full advantage of the herb garden. They pickle or sugar different things and see what works and what doesn’t.

“Within reason, I want them to try a bunch of stuff and fail,” says Bracken. “I want that experimentation.”

But innovation and experimentation does not mean it has to be too complicated.

“I don’t have any tweezers in my kitchen,” says Bracken. He understands that there is a time and a place for that, but not at Canebrake.

But people are not flocking to Canebrake just for the food and the libations.

In addition to the 65-seat restaurant, this 160-acre resort features 16 rooms and suites, a 1,400-square-foot yoga facility, four miles of hiking and biking trails and a top-of-the-line spa. But they don’t stop there. After a successful eight years, Canebrake’s facilities have just been nearly doubled with over 9,000 square feet of added amenities.

A repurposed horse barn serves as the main structure of the new addition, but don’t let that rough image fool you; there is very little left of that old barn. The spa has been expanded to include four additional spa rooms bringing their total to seven rooms and a relaxation room, men’s and women’s locker rooms with a eucalyptus steam rooms and saunas have also been added. A top-of-theline conference room with an entire wall of wine storage and even a multi-purpose room for barre and dance classes were even included in the addition.

Something else that makes Canebrake unique is the lack of children. In fact it’s their policy.

“Oklahoma has plenty of family gathering, dude ranch places but Canebrake is about the adults,” says Bracken. “This is a place to disappear and relax and enjoy yourself. To turn it off.” Kids are welcome in the dining room but all guests who stay the night at Canebrake have to be at least 16 years old.

When Bracken and his wife, Lisa, first conceptualized Canebrake, their goal was to bring to Eastern Oklahoma the destination hotel spa for this part of the country. With the success of their restaurant and spa combined with the recent expansion, it seems they have more than exceeded their goal.

For more information about Canebrake visit TheCanebrake.com or call 918.485.1810. Dining reservations recommended, especially for brunch and holidays.

Article from Edible Tulsa at http://edibletulsa.ediblecommunities.com/eat/canebrake-destination-rest-relaxation-local-fare
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