I promise I’ll get back to my trip report real soon. Life and work happened the last couple of weeks. In the meantime, enjoy a quick peek into what we do for fun on long weekends.
Long-time readers know I do crazy things like drive 3 hours for food on weekends. My big quest over the last couple of years is completing the Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ challenge. On Labor Day weekend, I planned to head out to Jefferson (East Texas) to knock one more off the list. But Saturday morning brought a nasty storm to East Texas, nixing that idea. Of course I had a back up plan, though. A co-worker told me about a place to get fantastic Italian food in the most random of locations. That’s the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Krebs, Oklahoma. And so off we headed in search of a big, late lunch.
Getting to Krebs
Krebs is a town of about 2,000 people, a couple miles east of the larger city of McAlester. It’s about 3 hours north of Dallas, 90 minutes south of Tulsa, and 2 hours east of Oklahoma City.
In other words, a bit of a haul from pretty much anywhere. To be precise, it clocks in at 151 miles from our house north of Dallas. All in a day’s work for this road trip fanatic, though.
How on Earth Did Krebs Become a Hotbed of Italian Food?
The history of Krebs actually predates Oklahoma statehood. During the state’s days as Indian Territory, Krebs began as a small coal mining camp in 1875. The coal mines became big business, and Krebs peaked in population in 1907 with 2,884 residents. More than half, it turns out, were Italian immigrants who came to work at the mines. That earned Krebs the nickname “Oklahoma’s Little Italy“, a moniker that the town wears proudly even today.
The mines largely shut down years ago, but some vestiges of Krebs’ Italian history still remain. Specifically, the food, as no fewer than four Italian restaurants and markets still exist in the town of 2,000. My co-worker recommended Pete’s Place, opened in 1925 and the town’s longest-running Italian restaurant. And so, that’s where we headed.
Old School, Family-Style Italian Eats
Pete’s slogan is “you’re invited to our house for dinner”. They mean this literally and figuratively. Restaurant founder Pietro Piegari (later changed to Pete Prichard) opened it in his home in 1925; it’s still located there today. The space has expanded, though, and there’s now a statue of Pete out front.
The restaurant space itself is pretty unique. Rather than a traditional dining room, all guests receive their own private room. I found the extra space to run around very welcome with a toddler antsy after a 150-mile drive.
The restaurant itself is huge, with a large maze of hallways leading to additional dining rooms. In total, the restaurant seats 300 guests. And from what I hear, it’s often a full house on Friday and Saturday nights.
There’s also some interesting exhibits, including some antique kitchenware.
So what about the food? Pete’s offers a simple menu, with just enough to fit on one single page. Most of what you say is “comfort food”-type Italian specialties.
At first glance, the prices look steep, especially for rural Oklahoma. But the entree choice only tells half the story. Before you even see your entree, Pete’s brings out bottomless salad, bread, antipasti, spaghetti, meatballs, and ravioli. And when I say bottomless, I mean it. It’s unlimited – as much as you possibly care to eat, and yes, you can take home the leftovers.
Normally, I stay away from restaurant spaghetti. Nothing ever comes even close to my mother’s homemade marinara sauce. But this one’s really good. It’s a thick, hearty spaghetti sauce that keeps its richness even three days later. (Yes, we ended up with a serious amount of leftovers.) Also props to Pete’s for including real Muenster cheese on the antipasti plate. Meanwhile, I found the bread interesting. It’s not really Italian bread, but had a really nice, crunchy crust.
Moving on to the main course, Pete’s specialty are the lamb fries. Like my friend Matthew, I’m really trying to expand my horizons, but I just don’t like the taste of lamb. So I ordered the toasted ravioli instead (I was actually surprised to find it anywhere outside St. Louis.) My wife ordered the seafood Alfredo.
The toasted ravioli was alright. It had a nice crunch, and I enjoyed all the cheese, but was a bit overcooked. Overall I’d say I enjoyed the spaghetti and meatballs the most out of my meal. My wife thoroughly enjoyed her seafood Alfredo, though. And as mentioned earlier, we ended up with three days’ worth of food out of this little trip. I’d call that a win.
What originally made Pete’s Place famous, though, wasn’t the food, but beer. In 1919, Pete began a home brew operation, serving up Choc Beer to the miners. Choc, a shortened form of “Choctaw”, is an unfiltered wheat beer supposedly based on an old Choctaw Indian recipe. Technically, Pete’s home brew remained illegal in Oklahoma until 1995, though that didn’t stop many from coming by to try it. I didn’t try it, but Pete’s offers four varieties of Choc, along with many other Oklahoma microbrews.
Working Off the Food at the Lake
Before heading home, we decided to find a park to let Ashok eat his afternoon snack and burn off some energy. A few miles east of Krebs on State Highway 31 is a small park, Highway 31 Landing Recreation Area, on the south end of Eufala Lake. This park is mostly meant for launching a boat, but we found a small cove with a picnic table along the lakeshore. Ashok enjoyed looking at the rocks and watching daddy chunk them in the water. And I enjoyed a nice walk to ward off the food coma.
That was enough to trigger a nice long nap on the ride home…
Anyway, my son loves road trips, so this was a fun way to kick off a long holiday weekend. Now I’ve just got to get back on track with my barbeque obsession…