Best brownies in Tulsa? That’s only the beginning for Lambrusco’z Deli.
Tulsa has long been the nation’s guinea pig when it comes to the restaurant industry. Whether it’s the cheap cost of living or the culture of a healthy Oklahoma appetite, T-Town serves as a de facto testing site for different chains fighting for fly-over-country dominance. But, amidst this battle between the Bells and the Buenos, another group emerges: local entrepreneurs. These small business owners must have a certain edge to hold their own against national competition — one that Nancy Bruce of Lambrusco’z Deli has showcased for over 35 years.
Back in March, our group had the chance to meet Nancy after hours for a special taste testing of her cooking. The moment we walked in, the store owner popped right out of the kitchen to greet us, her infectious smile unhindered by the barrier of a chili-pepper-print mask. We were quick to learn that Nancy has a natural talent for making folks feel at home, a knack for instantly building connections with energy as lively as the tie-dye beneath her tan apron. Nancy’s personable character in all its uniqueness radiates throughout the store, from its decor to the passion of her dishes. As we took a look around, Nancy flitted back and forth between helping her staff finish up in the kitchen and chatting about the origin of the various trinkets that decorate the walls of Lambrusco’z.
Just a few miles from campus, Lambrusco’z is filled to the brim with Tulsa charm. Their Brookside location near 41st and Peoria — the perfect pitstop on the way to an afternoon picnic at The Gathering Place — gives you a grand T-Town greeting right as you walk in. Locally sourced products, from homemade candles to artisan jewelry, line the store’s walls in an exhibit of community creativity. Silver freezers and refrigerators on either side of the dining area provide an eclectic bounty of Oklahoma goodies to explore. Adorable ceramic pots of French-style yogurt from Amélia Creamery lie not far from shelves of brie, goat cheese and Hellim from local farms. Just a few steps away, freezers stacked with Nancy’s own ready-made casseroles neighbor an assorted rainbow of gourmet popsicles from Frios on Greenwood. These goodies, a mix of in-house delicacies and the labor of other Oklahomans, showcase Lambrusco’z dedication to supporting fellow small businesses, especially those in the 918.
We could have spent the entire evening combing through all the gifts and treats around the store, but our appetites had different plans. The shuffle of wheels, coupled with the call of Nancy’s warm voice, replaced the sound of busy pots and pans as she presented us with a cart full of customer favorites. We started with three dips — Jalapeño Pimento Cheese, Corn Dip and Lambrusco’z take on White Queso — all crowd-pleasers that have been a staple at the gatherings of some Tulsa families for years; after tasting for yourself, it’s obvious why. Decades of catering experience have equipped Nancy with the skill to make sure that everyone goes home with a full stomach and a happy heart. Her pimento cheese spirals were paired with samples of a decadent Reuben, a melt-in-the-mouth Italian Tenderloin sandwich and a “Cluckin’ Pita” chicken creation that left it hard to decide which to try first. To complement these hot deli delights, Nancy also has several cold sandwiches and wraps, including a delectable vegetarian option with hummus and fresh veggies combined in a savory spinach wrap.
Though our satisfied stomachs thought it may be time to tap out, Nancy peeled back the cling wrap on yet another tray to reveal our final course: dessert. As we split each cookie and traybake in an effort to try them all, Nancy launched into stories about the origins of each one. Her oatmeal cookies without the raisins, for example, weren’t just the manifestation of her stance on a controversial ingredient — they were a happy accident after forgetting to include raisins in a batch one day that has stuck for years. However, no cookie was as delicious, both in its taste and in its history, as her buffalo chip cookies.
Back in the ‘90s, Nancy was given the opportunity to cater the Tallgrass Prairie’s celebration of the reintroduction of bison to the land. For the occasion, Nancy whipped up a batch of cookies for all those gathered to watch the majestic release of the herd. Expecting the stomping of hooves and loud stampeding, the crowd was met with bewildered bison not exactly sure what to do. Nancy’s cookies stole the show that day, and the buffalo chip cookie, a misnomer as the term “bison” wasn’t as popular as “buffalo,” was born.
Of course, nothing was as exciting to try as Lambrusco’z much-celebrated brownies. Nancy made the bold claim that they could be the “Best Brownies in Tulsa,” and they certainly did not disappoint. Soft and rich chocolatey goodness with a smooth layer of icing, the brownies compete with the best of homemade recipes. Nancy has a knack for giving these delectable treats away throughout the year, such as on National Brownie Day or on her birthday.
Lambrusco’z is extending a similar generosity to students at TU — just show your school ID to get a free cookie with your lunch or dinner order! TU students get to enjoy this special treat through the months of April and May.
At the heart of Lambrusco’z is the home-style cooking that encompasses each dish. From the savory tenderness of an Italian sandwich to the fudgy goodness of Nancy’s brownies, every item at Lambrusco’z feels like a home recipe that could never be replicated. Nancy told us that this was much in her design of the restaurant — that Lambrusco’z provides good, family-inspired meals to those that are unable to enjoy them regularly. From individuals on the road to university students away from home, a hearty meal awaits one and all. Even beyond the cooking — to the atmosphere, space and staff — Lambrusco’z is a home away from home.