Husband-and-wife duo Corey and Loniesha Harris seem to have the Midas touch by cornering the market on an unlikely concept, making Oklahoma known for seafood.
Born and raised in Oklahoma City, Corey Harris went to culinary school and became a certified chef in 2007, eventually taking a culinary instructor position with Guthrie Job Corps Center in Guthrie.
The idea to start a food truck began during a friendship with an Oklahoma City Thunder player whom the Harrises met through a friend, but when the player got traded, the dream didnt die.
[Loniesha] is the one that said, Why wait for somebody else? Lets do it ourselves, Corey Harris said with a laugh.
Off the Hook Seafood & More food truck was born in 2013 and became such a sensation at public events that its first permanent location opened at 125 W. Britton Road in 2015. The success of the restaurant was put to the test in a location that was built for a Starbucks and later became Vamonos Mexican Grill neither of which lasted longer than a year, according to Harris.
Again, it was my wife. I was content with the short hours of the food truck, Harris said. She said We can do it and convinced me. Everyone says that were the only thing that has survived (at the Britton location). Its a good feeling. Youd think a Starbucks wouldve survived.
- Smothered seafood is Off the Hooks most popular dish. A lobster sauce with a bevy of other seafood is poured over either rice or garlic fries. | Photo Jacob Threadgill
Smothered, coveredOff the Hook has something Starbucks doesnt have: smothered seafood fries. Harris said he got the idea while working a catering event for a wedding, where he would often make a lobster sauce to be served over baked fish. After one event, he decided to dip some fries into leftover lobster sauce, and Off the Hooks most popular dish was born.
Harris kicked up the sauce with shrimp, crawfish, lump crab and baby clams while adding cheese, bacon and onions for an indulgent topper. Its a dish that would not exist if Harris was adhering to traditional Cajun food, and thats what sets Off the Hook apart.
My motto is that were a little bit of Cajun and a whole lot of amazing. Im born and raised in Oklahoma. This is an Oklahoma thing, he said. I dont like people to look at us as being a soul food restaurant. We have some soul-inspired dishes, but I dont like being put in a box. I want people to enjoy it for what it is, which is off the hook.
For my first trip to Off the Hook, I went to its original Britton location to find it packed even at 2 p.m. Its space as a former Starbucks means the building was designed with a drive-thru, and Harris adapted the menu to get to-go orders through the window, but dont expect a traditional fast food expedition.
We had to put up signs [saying] Were not fast food. Were good food fast. People assume that were McDonalds, but were cooking to-order; its not sitting under a lamp.
The staff at the Britton location couldnt have been more friendly or attentive, first asking if I had been there before and later genuinely checking on my meal after it arrived. I went with Off the Hooks star super smothered seafood ($15) but opted for spicy rice rather than fries. The super version of the smothered seafood includes a fried tilapia filet and five shrimp. I was somewhat surprised because I expected the fish and shrimp to be covered in the lobster sauce in addition to the rice, but it arrived separate and freshly fried. The lobster sauce delivers on its mission to provide a hearty seafood-rich sauce that is accented by bacon and cheese. Ive always thought of the combination of seafood and cheese as a faux pas, but it works in this case. I ordered a side of greens with smoked turkey. I like my greens to have some remnants of sweetness, usually from apple cider vinegar, but I realize that I might be in the minority.
- Softshell crab is served whole on a bun with mixed greens, tomato and chipotle aioli. | Photo Jacob Threadgill
Meridian expansionOff the Hook expanded to its second location, 1920 S. Meridian Ave., in the second half of 2017, but it is a different experience from its original location. With a full bar that includes 12 taps, frozen margaritas and wine (and soon liquor), the Meridian location is much more of a sit-down atmosphere. During the Saturday dinner rush, the restaurant was once again busy, and with good reason.
At the new location, Harris has added a few new items to the menu, including chicken wings and a salmon burger and brunch burger (Angus patty topped with smoked sausage, hash brown, cheese, bacon, fried egg and strawberry jam), both of which he said are top sellers.
I opted for the softshell crab sandwich because I consider softshell crab somewhat of a rarity, especially at an affordable $10. If the name doesnt give it away, softshell crabs are removed from the water after a fresh molting to prevent a hardening of the shell. The crab is flash-fried and served whole on a bun with mixed greens, tomatoes and chipotle aioli.
Wait; what did you order? my dinner guest asked as I gleefully munched on my sandwich.
You dont see [softshell crabs on menus] because a lot of people dont understand what it is, Harris said. We have so many people that when they order it, they dont expect the whole crab.
I also tried an order of Caribbean jerk-flavored wings (three for $6) and was more than pleasantly surprised. I wouldve liked a little more heat from a jerk sauce (one that traditionally uses Scotch bonnet peppers), but the wing is served whole, so three wings is actually like six when you dont have to choose between drums and flats. Leaving the wing intact pays dividends in a juicy final product that is among the best wings Ive had in the city.
The Harrises hope that theyve opened two of what will one day be many Off the Hook locations, and I can absolutely see it happening. Theyre offering unique products with good service in a way that will make Oklahomans proud.
Print headline: Southward expansion; Opening its second location, Off the Hook Seafood & More becomes the standard bearer for Oklahoma seafood.