Ann’s Chicken Fry House & Gift Shop: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Located on Route 66 in Oklahoma city, Ann’s Chicken Fry House & Gift Shop is touted on all of the “what to do on route 66” sites as one of the MUST-sees if you want to have that classic 66 experience, and the best Chicken Fried Steak in town. In retrospect, I was really annoyed to discover that the place only opened up in 1971 (i.e, barely a historic 66 restaurant, if at all), and I didn’t really enjoy my meal… NOT worth the calories.

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First, Let’s keep in mind, that I-44 was bypassing Route 66 in Oklahoma city as early as 1958, when it was first built to link it to Saint Lewis. In fact the interstate STARTED there, and then worked itself out sideways… That said, HISTORICALLY even though 66 hit its cultural hey-day in the early 1960’s, and wasn’t officially disbanded till 1985, by the late 1960’s/early 1970’s it had essentially been made irrelevant. By the late 1980’s, when I tried driving parts of it, it was sort of an impossible struggle  — and it’s revival as a scenic byway (the program officially began in 1991) really didn’t start till 1990. As such, I’m sorry, but for Ann’s place falls right into the years of 66 irrelevance as anything other than highways that people don’t even think of AS highways because of just how many paved roads there now were, and their function eclipse by the expressways. As such, for Ann’s to promote itself as an authentic route 66 business is kind of false advertising. I’m sorry but it is. That, and, to add insult to injury, it isn’t even considered one of Oklahoma city’s better restaurants by any of the locals (seriously, read Yelp, or any of those other sites) … i.e., it’s essentially a MAJOR tourist trap and nothing more.

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That said… Be warned, they are a CASH ONLY business… they do NOT accept credit cards. (The mind boggles)…. and they are closed on Sundays and Mondays… Their specialty is supposed to be the chicken fried steak… so that is what I ordered… but I didn’t take any photos of it (it looked like chicken fried steak, and there was nothing impressive about the plating)….

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that it was much better than the previous order of the stuff I’d had along the route — And I ate so much chicken fried steak over the few weeks I was doing 66 that when I got back to Chicago my liver numbers had once again spiked.

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Chicken Fried Steak is one of my very favorite dishes, so I HAD to try ever one of the places that was advertised as offering the best example of the stuff.

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One day someone should count up the number of Route 66 restaurants that tout their Chicken Fried Steak as the best in the city or the best in the state, or the best along the route …. the number of restaurants is probably very high…

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but, all said and done, 9 times out of 10 when I’ve eaten it at these places I’ve been seriously let down to discover it is still just a hamburger fried in chicken batter … and RARELY, is it the much tastier and more expensive pounded filet-of-steak — and personally I’m spoiled; I MUCH prefer it when it’s a piece of steak that’s been pounded —- I love how in republican states they will insist that somehow its NOT a hamburger, and will call it ground steak as though somehow that isn’t just hamburger without a bun. And I’m sorry but hamburgers, no matter how good, don’t taste like steak. So NO, I do not really suggest their Chicken Fried Steak.

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That said, I DO suggest finding an excuse to go inside the place as the interior is very kitschy and fun. Its one of those place where not only will they allow you to write on the walls…. they’ll even hand you the pen

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That and, according to the owner, her husband (R.I.P.) had been kind a huge Star Wars fan, hence all the high-priced paraphernalia of the sort I’ve always lusted over but would never purchase because … “where would I put it?” UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2023.jpg … well I guess if you own a kitschy tourist trap restaurant… you can legally deduct it as a business expense.

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A Story of Two Big Milk Bottles: The Milk Bottle Grocery on old Route 66 in Oklahoma City, in the USA vs. The Guaranteed Milk Company Bottle in Montreal Canada

Note: This post did not end as it started
Located at 2426 N. Classen, in Oklahoma City, on a street that USED to be part of the Route 66 network, but that is now no longer listed as such [No route 66 on Google maps, and no 66 signs on the building ???] is a tiny, one story, nondescript triangular-shaped brick building that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered one of the iconic Route 66 buildings… albeit one with NO 66 signage … what’s that about?

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Wedged onto a bit triangular island (the result of three streets coming together at odd angles), it was built in the 1930’s initially as a street car stop (which sort of makes sense if you look at it) — [and Wikipedia did NOT know about this!! I found in on the National Park service’s page!!] …  but within a short time the street cars were no more, and it was then known to locals as “The Triangle Grocery” (from 1940 until 1948) — for fairly obvious reasons. In 1948, when the then owner, as a way of getting route 66 traffic to notice that his store was even there, got the brilliant idea to put a large metal milk bottle on his roof, so that the local community renamed it, appropriately enough… the Milk Bottle Grocery… a name which has stuck to this day.

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Interestingly, according to the National Park Services’s web page, the Milk Bottle Grocery’s the bottle was never directly connected to the business upon which it sat, and has always been rented out like a normal billboard (but always to various dairy companies) as location to advertise their brands, and has been painted and repainted accordingly. (Kind of brilliant actually, as it supplemented the building’s income)

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Currently… the bottle advertises the 52 year old Bruam’s brand (i.e., didn’t exist when the building first went up), which is a well-known brand in this part of the country (I’d never heard of it till coming here). Braum’s headquarters is based in nearby Tuttle, Oklahoma (just at the edge of the expanding Oklahoma City region), and while they do sell their product in groceries, they are possibly better known for their about 300 drive through or dine-in outlets that are combination grocery stores and burger/ice-cream joints (with a few healthy options). These are scattered throughout the states of Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Missouri, and Arkansas (kind of an overlap of lower midwestern states and western/southern states). I actually visited one while in town, but didn’t think to take any photos of it. That said, they are all very shiny and clean, and seem to be very popular with locals — it was STRONGLY suggested to me if I had not tried one I really should. That they are all GOOD.

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Returning to the building: the neighborhood it is located in is currently Oklahoma city’s China town area, so I was unsurprised to learn (via Wikipedia) that for 25 years (until 2014) the building had housed a Vietnamese bánh mì shop (the Vietnamese take on the submarine sandwich). When that business left the building’s owner, Elise Kilpatrick, who had inherited it from her father decided to take advantage of historic preservation tax credits in order return it to its original appearance — in keeping with the move towards revitalizing route 66’s historic attribute. At which point a boutique called Prairie Gothic had moved in, but only managed to stay in business for about a year.

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The Milk bottle building is now the offices of an architectural firm (??).

Post Script:

That said, I’ve seen what I’m pretty sure is a MUCH bigger milk bottle which seems to double as a water tank sitting on top of a very dilapidated building on the Island of Montreal, ⁨while I was up in ⁨Canada in July of 2017. This one is called the Guaranteed Pure Milk bottle, and also has its own Wikipedia page.

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According to the page, the bottle itself was ALSO (like the bottle above) built in the 1930’s but this one was renovated in 2009 by volunteers using privately raised funds, to the cost of $100K Canadian (WOW! Power to you guys!) … and that sum was for JUST fixing up the bottle. It stands 33 Feet tall (I have not been able to discover how tall the Oklahoma City bottle is, but I’m guessing it’s not more than 10 feet high) … ⁩BUT, that said…. considering the state of the building it is upon, and the fact that the area it is in seems to be in a mad rush of replacing all of its old buildings with shiny new ones, I’m not sure how long it’ll still be there…

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HOPEFULLY — and I hope someone out there is listening — the city of Montreal will have the good sense to either fund the renovation of the building rather than just knocking it down, at least …in this case… if that’s not feasible, PLEASE at least save the Milk bottle!!

Golden Driller Statue, Tulsa, OK

Originally built as a symbol for the International Petroleum Exposition held in Tulsa Oklahoma (ever four years) in 1952 (and then temporarily again in 1959) the Golden Driller, is a statue of a Paul Bunyanesqe Oil worker. At 75 feet tall (23 meters), he stands majestically with his right arm resting on the top of an honest to G-d oil derrick (moved here from a depleted oil field in Seminole, OK), and is the 6th tallest statue in the United States — with Lady Liberty still being our tallest at 151 feet (not including her base)

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As a result of how popular he was with Oklahoma natives, the exposition donated him to the Tulsa Fair grounds in 1966, this time as a permanent fixture.

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He is located just a mile south of Route 66, on the Tulsa County Fairgrounds, and was officially declared the states monument in 1979 by the Oklahoma Legislature, and as such, he’s one of the few locations in my “big things” category that can easily be found on T-shirts and mugs, etc.

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The Meadow Gold Sign in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a study in how iconic historic, but mildly ‘silly’ stuff is preserved for posterity

If you drive down Route 66 in downtown Tulsa Oklahoma you can’t but see the Meadow Gold Sign. All of the “what to see” sources had talked about this sign as an iconic Route 66, and when I first saw it I had assumed (never assume) that they had destroyed the original building but they kept the sign — and thought that there was something glorious about that… but I was wrong. While the sign had always been on historic Route 66, its original location had been at about a mile East (but still on the route) at the corner of 11th Street and Lewis Avenue.

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The sign is in fact a set of two signs that once stood back to back (note the back of the 2nd in the picture above), but is now set at a sort of V alignment. This was done to serve its new purpose, as historical art, that has been made easily visible to traffic moving in either direction on route 66.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_aee9.jpgOriginally installed in the 1930’s, on top of a small one story building, the sign’s lights started going dark in the 1970’s. Once the building where it had sat was destroyed (now an “Advanced Auto Parts” store) this iconic to the city neon-sign was saved from the wrecking ball, and began to be restored in 2004 (to the tune of $337K), and moved to this new location on Route 66, which was donated to the city for this purpose. What it stands upon is more of a shelter from the elements, than a building, and has a collection of brass plates explaining bits of the history of the sign.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_aeea.jpgThe restoration and moving of the sign was a project that involved many hands. Initially the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture (TFA) had received a small grant of $15K from the National Park Service‘s (NPS), Route 66 Corridor group to restore the neon sign. This was done through their “National Center for the preservation of Technology” group, among whose stated goals is the preservation of the neon signs along Route 66. This is being undertaken in recognition that neon signs are not JUST advertising, they are a form of functional-art; and that together, these signs help to evoke earlier times along Route 66, but that are just like our historic buildings are currently under threat by neglect or demolition and can only be saved from the shortsightedness of the market place by government intervention. Maintaining these past technological structures is important not only historically, but also because it supports local economies through tourism.

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Once the initial seed funding ($15K) had been secured by the TFA from the NPS, this “primed the pump” so to speak, making it easier to raise matching funds from other sources — to the tune of  $322,273, the actual cost of restoration. Among these were the privately funded National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Oklahoma Route 66 Association. And then more funds were collected from the public at large via the City’s Vision 2025 initiative; this was a new one cent tax increase that would be maintained for 13 years whose proceeds were earmarked towards economic development and capital improvement projects, such as saving the Meadow Gold sign — but that had to be agreed to by the voters of Tulsa County.

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This tax was ultimately instituted, in part as a result of multiple newspaper articles about how the sign was in danger of being destroyed, and that funding was desperately being at first being sought, and this new tax was needed to that end.

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Mural on a wall directly facing the sign’s location, I’m assuming this was in regard to raising the money needed (over $300) to save an Iconic Route 66 sign

Meadow Gold had been a dairy brand that belonged to the Beatrice Foods Company, founded in 1894 initially as the Beatrice Creamery Company, and then incorporated in 1905 as the Beatrice Creamery Company of Iowa. During that time they had begun the Meadow Gold dairy brand — which by World War II was a household name in much of America, and had branched out into the development of other dairy products … so that in 1946 the company changed its name yet again to simply the Beatrice Foods Co., as visible on the sign.

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That said, the in the 1980’s the Beatrice fell on hard times mostly of their own construction. They lost a major lawsuit against them for toxic dumping (which resulted in an award-winning book and a film called A Civil Action),  and they operated in South Africa during apartheid and hence suffered from some boycotting. As the company had taken on many other non-food business over the years, in 1984 they changed their name from Beatrice Foods Co. to Beatrice Companies, Inc., and then sold off their Meadow Gold Brand, along which was now part of their Beatrice Dairy Products, Inc., subsidiary, along with a couple of other brands, to Borden, Inc. in December 1986 for $315,000,000. Borden then went defunct in 2001, so that the Meadow Gold brand (which is still an American household name) is now owned by Dean Foods.

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Interestingly, I did not find a SINGLE source talking about how the Meadow Gold brand or Dean foods chipped in to help save the sign advertising THEIR product. BUT, I could of course be wrong, and maybe they did so anonymously — which from a political standpoint would make sense.

Who owns Oklahoma? The Monument to the Land Run Of 1889 on Route 66, in Luther, Oklahoma… and Native American Sovereignty

In October, while driving Route 66, I came across this marker/monument in Oklahoma. It denotes the eastern boundary of the Oklahoma Land run of 1889. For those who are unfamiliar with this event, it is yet another one of the many moments in American history where white men feel proud of themselves (there’s a HUGE monument to the event in downtown Oklahoma City), for essentially screwing over the indigenous red man who was there first (please note there is NO reference to them on this monument). HOWEVER, it also has something to do with the Case of Carpenter v. Murphy which is currently before the Supreme Court of the United States!

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In fact the Run of ’89 was the first of a series of land rushes organized by the Federal Government. These were “organized (HAH!)” events where vast numbers of WHITE settlers, 50,000 of them in this case… lined up with a flags in their hands, and at the sound of a gun were supposed to surge across the UNASSIGNED countryside on horseback or in wagons, racing to outpace the other contestants, find a nice piece of desirable FREE land, drive their flags into said piece and thereby “stake their claim to it.” In reality, the gullible honest people did that… often to find cheaters (usually rich people who had illegally surveyed the land ahead of time) already there (along with all their employees) trying to make it look like they’d actually done the run along with the others… when they had not… and had somehow managed to grab all the best bits of land first. So this was not only White people screwing over Red people, it was also rich white dishonest people screwing honest hardworking poor white people.

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Of course, all of this screwing was only possible after the government had “legally” screwed the folks who were already there…. the Native Americans…. Initially this was done via the Indian [land] Appropriation Acts where the government gave itself the right to yet again round up the local Native American population, this time to force them into reservations. When I say yet again, you need to keep in mind that the State name, Oklahoma, is derived from what it had been called at that time… i.e., the Oklahoma territory… and that the word Oklahoma is actually a composite of the Choctaw words “okla” and “humma,” which translates quite literally to “red people” … i.e., Red man’s territory.

This was an area that had at first been occupied by the Choctaw Nation (a multi-tribal people that spread from Oklahoma to Florida, and were united by a single language, Choctaw), who were then joined by the Cherokee… who were only there because they had already been moved once. Some came begrudgingly, as a result treaties they had signed, such as that of New Echota — the one made with the leaders of the former capitol of the Cherokee people( which I had visited twice, located about 1.5 hours from my friend home in Dalton, Georgia) with the Federal government; and if individual Cherokee refused to go by choice, they were FORCED to do so, on what later became known as The Trail of Tears. Ultimately, all of the Native Americans living within “Indian Territory” had been members of what the American colonists had referred to as the “Five Civilized Tribes“….Native Americans groups from along the southeast sections of America who had tried to get along with the invaders by going along; groups who had converted to Christianity, adopted centralized forms of government (see my posts about New Echota), were literate (see my post about Sequoyah), participated not just in trade but in the market economies of their areas, AND, to top it all off… OWNED SLAVES (see my post about Chief Vann, who maintained a plantation just north of Echota). All of these tactics of compromise ultimate failed, and now… having already been relocated to Indian Territory — which was supposed to be JUST for them… they were removed yet again, forced into reservations, and what had been their land, was now deemed “unassigned,” was given away to white people… who grabbed it in the mad rush described above.0pX+45bmRsucW8VKKr8e9w_thumb_ae3f.jpg

And the bleeding of the tribal lands in Oklahoma has in fact continued to this day so that only 2% of what had been Cherokee Nation land is still under their own control. Now here’s the good news… AFTER I had already driven past this area, on November 27, 2018 the Supreme court heard a case called Carpenter v. Murphy that calls into question whether the tribes of the Five Civilized Nations STILL have sovereignty over its own people on lands that had sort of bled out of their control within the Indian Territory lands in last 100 years.

See…

Washington Post: Half the land in Oklahoma could be returned to Native Americans. It should be.

New York Times: Is Half of Oklahoma an Indian Reservation? The Supreme Court Sifts the Merits

The Atlantic: Who Owns Oklahoma? The Supreme Court must decide the fate of a murderer—and whether roughly half of Oklahoma is rightfully reservation land.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2018/11/28/half-land-oklahoma-could-be-returned-native-americans-it-should-be/?utm_term=.d17222df80b3

 

Blue Whale, Catoosa, OK

For the life of me I’m not sure WHY the Blue Whale of Catoosa, Oklahoma has become one of Route 66’s must see locations.IMG_1145.jpgIt’s noted on ALL the lists. But, it was built in the early 1970’s, so it’s not even concurrent to the route’s hay-day, and on top of that it’s not even particularly impressive. IMG_1226It started off as a roadside attraction, a sort of very low rent amusement/water park…. (the whale offers multiple ways to slide in to the water) …. but when compared to pretty much ever amusement park or water park out there… I’m talking really really low rent.IMG_1225

AND, considering it’s supposed to be a water slide type thing, you’re not even allowed to swim in the water there anymore…

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It’s fairly close to The Nut House, which also for the life of me doesn’t deserve its acclaim. All I can thing of is that folks traveling the route are sort of desperate for things to see along it at time (there’s really NOT much in the way of mother nature to look at along this stretch of the road) and were grateful for almost anything diverting where they could stop and stretch their legs.

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That said, according to wikipedia it’s actually made it on to TV more than a few times (usually as part of a reality TV show).

The Nut House, Claremore, OK

One of the places that I kept hearing about as MUST see on Route 66 was The Nut House in Claremore Oklahoma and for the life of me I don’t know why.

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It’s a 40 year old store. As such it dates from 1978, when 66 was already being decommissioned, and is not even one located within interesting architecture. Why This is a must see makes about as much sense as saying ANY gift shop along the route is a must see.  It sells nuts, fresh fudge (tasty, but fudge) and has a deli. The goods for sale are a wider variety than one normally sees in these Route 66 places, but most of it was made in China so … a generic gift shop none-the-less.

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The ONLY interesting thing about this place is that it’s located adjacent to a store that sells RV’s which makes good sense as I’m sure more than a few people at this point are wishing they had one.

 

Pryor Creek Bridge Route 66, Chelsea, OK

I was driving down 66 (on the left lane) when I saw an exit off the right line for Old 66 and veered over to get to it (no traffic, it was safe), and came across this Pryor Creek Bridge, which was built in 1926, and I think it’s questionable that it is wide enough for two modern cars. fullsizeoutput_4c16.jpeg

Almost as soon as I got there there another driver pulled in right after me. He first asked if I was all right, he’d seen me veer than stop. I assured him I was, just being a tourist. Then he took this picture for me.

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Turned out he was a fellow Route 66 traveler … in fact this was his third time doing it, and he suggested an app for me should I ever want to do it again. Apparently this guy lives a lifestyle similar to my own and has even had bumper stickers made to that effect that he hands out to people he meets.

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None of the maps I’ve looked at mark this road as having been 66, the blue line NS-426 is what my GPS in my car saw, and see below for what google sees

Clanton’s Cafe, Vinita, OK

Clanton’s cafe on Route 66 in Vinita was one of the places I had marked as MUST try their foods… and I even planned my day to arrive there around dinner time… only to find it was closed!

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Clanton’s was one of the restaurants along the trek I was really looking forward to trying. This place has no shortage of accolades from TV and magazines, not to mention getting almost 5 stars on TripAdvisor and 4 on yelp. AND they’re supposed to have the best Chicken Fried Steak on Route 66, which is one of my favorite dishes

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But MY good luck, between me planning my trip and arriving there, they’d posted NEW hours which include being closed on Sundays. So

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Afton Station’s classic Packards, Afton, OK

Located directly on Route 66, The Afton Station Packard Museum, is yet another historic Gas station and mechanics shop that has been repurposed into a museum. This one is dedicated to the Packard and other classic cars — but I can’t tell you much as it was closed-up by the time I got there (4:30 ish on Sunday).

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That said, the town it is in is DEAD… to the point of scary; I’d say a good 80% of the businesses on this street are closed up and the few people that I saw (were more stumbling than) walking around all looked suspiciously like meth users.

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So between that and the weather, I was pretty motivated to not stay here too long. I did however peer through the windows, and from the look of it,

IMG_1127.JPGA very large gift shop that once again is mostly filled with EXACTLY the same merchandise I’ve seen elsewhere. IMG_1126.JPGAnd a collection that consists of seven cars shoved into the garage, with very little to no explanations. IMG_1129IMG_1128