The Tavern is a classic neighborhood pub with a modern twist. A great spot to grab lunch downtown, their menu features local, seasonal ingredients. Try the Tavern Club sandwich, served on a house-baked honey wheat bread. Or go for broke and get the PBLFGT — pork belly takes the place of bacon and is served with lettuce, fried green tomato and maple peppercorn mayo. They also offer grown-up grilled cheese with tomato bisque to warm you up on cold, windy winter days.
Ben Alexander, executive chef of The Tavern and the Bull in the Alley, aka The Lounge (Tulsa’s modern-day version of a speak-easy), is quietly becoming one of the most admired chefs in Oklahoma. With nearly 20 years of professional cooking under his belt, this passionate, rising star of Tulsa’s burgeoning league of chefs is more than just a world-class maestro of the palate and kitchen. He’s a family man, a military veteran and a humanitarian.
“My number one passion is my family,” Alexander says, “far surpassing cooking and being in the culinary world. I have a beautiful wife and two children. That’s why I cook and create. I love cooking. It’s super fun, but they’ll always be the reason I work as hard as I do as a chef.”
In 2001, Alexander took a break from the kitchen by joining the U.S. Navy. After two war deployments, he came back to the kitchen with a renewed fervor.
“Something drew me back. I don’t know,” he says. “I enjoy the chaos and trying to figure out how to tame the chaos in the kitchen. I don’t run my kitchen the way a military does, but I like structure and execution of a plan. Executing things in the restaurant environment is something I have a knack for, so there are some similarities.”
In the nearly six years that he’s been cooking in the Tulsa area, Alexander has watched the restaurant scene go from being a typical Midwestern town, where all the trends arrive last, to becoming the next Austin or Chicago as a trendy leader in fun food done right. He sees being at The Tavern and Bull in the Alley as being integral to keeping the trend going.
“We have a very talented core group of chefs in Tulsa. With all the development going up in downtown Tulsa, we’re right there and it’s really cool to be a part of that,” Alexander says. “As the chef of The Tavern and The Lounge, I really have the ability to do what I want. It’s every chef ’s dream.
“I can make Italian food one month, then Asian food the next month, then do South American Latin food after that. And the crew I have right now is amazing, eager to learn and puts out amazing food.”
Some of the future dishes that fit into the trend for innovative dishes and unique fusion meals at The Tavern and The Lounge include a smoked duck andouille sausage and a spicy Italian rabbit sausage as well as some other unique, elevated-quality pub food dishes. This makes regular visits to each restaurant pretty much essential if you’re a foodie in the Tulsa area.
But for Alexander, dishing up creative recipes isn’t all about providing fun, trendy and unique food. It’s not just about serving some of the best prime porterhouse steak perfectly crusted in a Southbend Broiler at 1600 degrees. It’s not even about the tasty pub burgers The Tavern is known for all over northeastern Oklahoma. There’s more to this chef than all of that.
In 2013, Alexander’s wife gave birth to their son, Sawyer, who was born with a very rare congenital heart defect. Within eight months they nearly lost him six different times, one of those times involving their son being life-flighted to the nearest specialty unit. Since his birth, Sawyer has had multiple challenges but is doing well.
In those early days, it was a very rough period for his family, but Alexander has used the situation, combined with his influence in Tulsa’s restaurant community, to help other families who have experienced similar hardships.
Hearts of Steel Foundation, a nonprofit organization, was started by Alexander and his wife Natalie, and it now helps families and children all over Oklahoma dealing with congenital heart defects.
An annual charity golf tournament raises money for the cause and organizes many of the chefs and restaurant owners and other volunteers in Green Country to raise awareness of the issue. This past Christmas a couple of families in the Oklahoma City area were showered with love by the foundation with gifts and other important necessities.
“Being a chef in the city,” says Alexander, “has opened up so many outlets to help the community. All the restaurant people have been really cool to come together, not just for our foundation. You see a lot of these chefs come out with a tremendous passion for causes and fundraise for charities. It’s special to see, unbelievable.”
Visit the foundation’s website (heartsofsteelfoundation.org) to find out how you can help. Whether it be donating funds or volunteering for events, Hearts of Steel will put your efforts to good use for a special cause that affects about 1 percent of births in the U.S. every year.
Visit The Tavern and Bull in the Alley soon to taste some of the specialty dishes there and don’t forget to have a great time. Alexander and his team are ready and waiting to serve you.
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