From his first visit to the restaurant that now bears his name, Tim Shadlow knew it was a special place.
“It was maybe 12 years ago when I first came here,” Shadlow said. “I’m a people watcher, and as I looked around and listened, the whole vibe of the place reminded me of a place in Hominy, where I grew up. It has that same kind of of small town feel, even though it is located right in the middle of a big city.
“And I thought there that I wanted to be part of it,” he said.
This particular space at 3310 E. 32nd St. has been home to a neighborhood restaurant for more than four decades, starting in 1976 when it opened as Callahan’s. Phill Hughes bought the restaurant in 1992 and renamed it Phill’s Diner, as it was called until August last year when Shadlow officially took over as owner and changed the name to Tim’s Midtown Having dinner.
The name and sign above the entrance are about the only changes Shadlow has made to the restaurant.
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“I used to joke with Phill that if he ever decided to sell this place, I’d be interested in buying it,” Shadlow said. “And then when Phill decided it was time to retire, he reached out to me and said, ‘Let’s do it.’
“One of the things I insisted on was Phill selling me the recipes and I wanted to keep as many of the current staff as I wanted to stay,” he said. “I have great cooks here and the people who work at the front of the house are great. They are the reason this place has been a hit.
“And also because I was new to the restaurant business, I knew I was going to need all the expertise from these people,” said Shadlow, an Osage Nation member who works for Indian Health Care. Resource Center for many years. “It’s great to have someone like Debbie doing just about everything here. She has been here for 30 years and I know I would have really struggled without her.
“I’ve been here 31 years,” Debbie Fair said. “Or as I call it, ‘forever’.”
This kind of good-natured banter between waitresses and guests happens a lot at Tim’s, which adds to that “hometown” feel that Shadlow wants to preserve. On several recent visits, it seemed like more than half of the people who walked through the door were greeted by name.
“Sometimes they’ll recognize a car pulling up in the parking lot and they’ll send an order back to the kitchen because they know what those people are going to order,” Shadlow said.
We didn’t develop that level of familiarity with the staff, but that wasn’t an issue on our recent visits to the restaurant. Service was quick and efficient whether your waitress knew you by name or not.
On the “Lunch” side of Tim’s large menu, we opted for the boneless pork chops with two sides ($11; a third side dish adds another $1 to the price), choosing green beans and fries home, and opting for cornbread. The chops can be breaded and fried, if you prefer, but we opted for the grilled option.
The results were two thin chops, each the size of an adult hand, that had been seared on a flat-topped griddle. The chops had a little grease that kept them from being too dry, and any seasoning was applied with the lightest touch. The same was true for beans and potatoes; a pinch of salt and pepper was enough.
On the way back, we went to the “breakfast” side of the menu, with the two-egg fried chicken steak ($10.50). Again, we chose the home fries over the hash browns, and the biscuit and gravy over the toast.
The steak was a fine example of that Oklahoma staple, tender, well seasoned, with a crust that clings to the steak. The eggs, which we ordered scrambled, must have come from impressively sized chickens, as the bright yellow curd mound looked more like at least three eggs had been used for this order. Not that I’m complaining.
The skin-on potato chunks used for the home fries looked like they had been fried to death, but that dark, crispy exterior hid a tender interior.
One of the things we fondly remember from past visits to this place were the biscuits, and the one that came with our breakfast order was more than true to our memories – soft and flavorful, whether covered in gravy with cream or covered with butter and jam.
Tim’s menu is extensive, with a dozen omelet preparations from a baker, as well as pancakes, waffles, and other breakfast combos. One of the Phill’s Diner-era breakfast main dishes, the Malibu French Toast ($9), is a permanent fixture on the Specials board.
Breakfast is served all day, while lunch entrees are available from 10:30 a.m. Daily specials ($8-$9, depending on sides) include meatloaf, pot roast, goulash, Salisbury steak, turkey and dressing, as well as one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, the hand-breaded boneless chicken, which puts most poultry nuggets to shame.
A monthly special is Indian Tacos, which are served on the last Thursday of every month.
The restaurant also sells coffee mugs and other merchandise emblazoned with “Tim’s Midtown Diner” branding. But Shadlow acknowledges that there are those who still refer to the place by its old name.
“That includes my kids,” Shadlow said with a laugh. “They’re always like, ‘Hey, let’s go to Phill’s.'”