- Alex Springer
Lately, I've been noticing that my takeout choices have been veering closest to those that were the comfort food of my childhood. I suppose our general state of anxiety has made the crushing weight of adulthood just a tad less bearable as of late, and my subconscious is yearning for a simpler time. While I can make most of my childhood favorites without much thought, there are a few things that I haven't been able to get right. Pizza, meatballs and barbecue are the most prominent of these offenders, so they've been occupying a more central role in my takeout decisions. This mixture of cravings—paired with a desire for family-style meals—led me to Oak Wood Fire Kitchen (715 E. 12300 South, Draper, 801-966-8155, oakwoodfirekitchen.com)
Oak opened just over a year ago as one of local restaurateur Michael McHenry's brainchildren. He and Chef Brandon Price set out to create a restaurant that relied on the timber-fueled ovens of our culinary past. It's a restaurant that combines McHenry's knack for creating unique, niche branding—his group also brought us Ginger Street and Dirty Bird—and a type of cooking that appeals to Utah's more rustic sensibility.
Though they're known for their creative takes on pizza like the eloté ($13), which combines the flavors of Mexican street corn and shishito peppers, it's their brisket that put them on my radar. I was looking for a barbecue or barbecue-adjacent family-style meal online, and I spotted Oak's smoked brisket family meal ($36). The bone-deep craving that hit me was less about mere preference, and more about recapturing some of my favorite dining experiences spent over large platters of pulled pork, racks of ribs and sliced brisket. Oak did not disappoint.
The smoked brisket meal ($36) offers three pounds of brisket, barbecue sauce, Oak bread and two sides. I was initially attracted to the price; three pounds of smoked brisket plus some bread and some sides for under $40 isn't a bad deal. My first visit was for pickup—Oak's staff had hand sanitizer at the ready, and were pros at keeping their distance while handing off each customer's order. Despite the social distancing, the staff at Oak remained welcoming and pleasant to the point of including a handwritten thank-you note attached to the order.
While there's not much variety to the sides available with your order—it's a choice of tomato basil soup, green salad or parmesan fries—they're all tasty complements to the main course. The true test of any smoked brisket comes when trying to slice through it with a fork, and the brisket at Oak definitely aced that test. They're beautiful pieces of meat—thickly sliced and smoked to perfection—and three pounds of it kept my family and I fed for the next few days. The unexpected standout of the meal is the Oak bread, a pillowy round of oven-baked bread with just enough charred crispness on the edges to add textural variety. Ripping off a small piece and stuffing it with a few pinches of brisket is an excellent way to finish off the last few bites of this meal.
My family and I were impressed with this first foray into Oak's family-style meals, so we decided to try the bucatini and meatballs ($22) a few nights later. The supporting cast of sides remains the same, but the main course of thick bucatini noodles and gigantic homemade meatballs was about satisfying yet another nostalgic craving.
Spaghetti is relatively easy to make, but a good homemade meatball has eluded me. The meatballs at Oak encompass everything that made me fall in love with good meatballs in the first place. They've got the perfect texture—soft, but just enough heft to push back on your fork when you slice them in half—and the mild flavor lets you really enjoy the tomato sauce. The choice of bucatini pasta seems appropriate, as Oak is apt to do things a little bigger than average, but the larger noodles make this another dish that can provide another day or two of leftovers. Again, the Oak bread is an excellent accompaniment to this meal, ideal for sopping up the last of your plate's tomato sauce.
Though I initially stumbled upon Oak's menu while searching for barbecue options, it's become one of my family's favorite takeout places. Most of their menu is a perfect cure for the nostalgic food feels that have been creeping up on me during these strange times, and I appreciate that one family meal can feed me and mine for a few days at a time. It's also a fair bet that I wouldn't have become such a fan if my family and I weren't taking social isolation seriously, which is one of those weird but welcome results of our current social climate. I'll take tender mercies—and tender brisket—where I can get them.