Red Thistle Settles Down
Still catering, farm-to-table specialist shifts to on-site dining
Hope Egan, the owner and chef of Red Thistle Market Café, previously of Tallgrass Prairie Table and The Bramble, is as close as any contender could get to being the face of Tulsa’s farm-to-table movement. From a little gray brick building at the corner of 14th Street and Harvard Avenue—no, that’s the one, you didn’t pass it—she’s been serving up locally sourced, vegetable-driven fare to audiences both private and public since 2015. It’s the latest endeavor in a culinary career that now spans more than a decade.
Formerly named Red Thistle Catering Company, the restaurant’s name was changed in September as part of a pivot toward more onsite service, though the company isn’t turning away from the catering business. Instead, it has opened its doors for lunches, operating from 11am to 2:30pm most Tuesdays through Fridays—and that’s an intentional emphasis on “most.”
Due to the miniscule size of the operation, with only one part-time staffer aside from Egan herself, it’s simply not economical to have the storefront open when there’s more business to be had at a private party or off-premises event—and with the company’s catering service still in full swing, Egan has a tendency to go where the hungry mouths are.
The restaurant is also now serving chalkboard dinners one or two nights a week, with the dates announced ahead of time on its website and social media, and seating available for up to 14 people. In Egan’s words, these dinners are more approachable affairs than the restaurant’s established monthly chef ’s dinners.
“They’re more casual than our chef ’s dinner,” Egan said. “You can order off of our lunch menu, or order our dinner specials, and we always have a market prix-fixe menu that’s three courses for $35.”
The monthly chef’s dinners, by contrast, are more elaborate and lengthy dining experiences, featuring five or six courses and centered on a theme. Past dinners have focused on specific items, such as root vegetables, or have been an exploration of different preservation methods, with the price of admission usually coming in at around $75 a head.
But what a menu you get for your money: Red Thistle’s signature dishes include a Spanish-inspired caldo verde, made with braised pork, white beans, roasted poblano chiles, a variety of vegetables and salsa verde, plated lovingly with herbs and small pickled bites; or wheat berry risotto with organic, Oklahoma-grown wheat berries from John’s Farm outside of Fairview. For small plates, you can get a five-spiced roasted carrot with smoked chile aioli, panang curried farm eggs flavored with basil and mint, or carrot-top pesto served over fresh pasta—but these are just a few examples. The menu is constantly being refreshed, revised and added to, depending on the season, the abundance of a crop or Egan’s own curiosity.
Being a customer at Red Thistle isn’t difficult—its doors are open to all—but it does take a little planning ahead. It’s worth consulting the company’s social media when planning a visit, as this is a business that very much operates at the whims of its owner. Which should not be taken as a handicap—instead, it’s a feature of the restaurant, allowing for a remarkable amount of care and attention to be put into every meal.
“I’m very hands-on, and I want to be here—I want to make all the food myself,” Egan said. She’s apologetic when describing the things she can’t do, like accept walk-ins or be open for dinners every night, but those easily surmountable restrictions on the customer’s side make for a dining experience that blurs the line between going out to a restaurant and visiting a friend’s home for an elegant dinner.
Egan proudly calls Red Thistle Tulsa’s only farm-to-table catering company, and her relationship with the farmers of Oklahoma is her favorite part of the restaurant business. She delights in the unpredictability of a menu that changes according to her whims and what’s in stock.
“I like to feel like I’m trying to effect some type of positive change in our consciousness about food and the way that we eat, and our respect for and gratitude for our food and where it comes from—so I really like working with the farmers.”
Because of the small scale each service operates on, almost every ingredient in a given lunch or dinner can be traced back, practically by name, to the person that provided it. The vast majority of Red Thistle’s stock comes directly from local farmers—all of the protein, all of the goat dairy, half of the cow dairy and 80 to 90% of its produce all comes from a spot of the Earth that’s within driving distance. The local aspect is maintained year-round through the restaurant’s efforts to pickle and preserve harvested produce through the winter, meaning they don’t have rely on squash and pumpkin dishes from the autumn to the thaw.
And you don’t have to make a reservation for everything. In addition to serving lunches four days out of the week, Red Thistle also has a deli case full of grab-and-go items, like ready-made sandwiches, for anyone passing by who doesn’t have the time to sit down.
Red Thistle is located at 1345 S. Harvard Ave., and usually open for lunch Tuesday–Friday 11am–2:30pm. To book a dinner or check availability, check out the restaurant’s schedule at RedThistleCateringTulsa.com, or call ahead at 918.728.0168.