“I’m a third generation restaurateur,” says Sheamus Feeley. “And my family’s been farming even longer, so my whole life has been based on food. I’m a total country kid, and my earliest childhood memory is me and my cousin on my grandma’s porch in northwest Arkansas, topping and tailing green beans from her farm. For us, Tulsa was the big city; we’d go ice skating at Williams Center and shopping at Utica Square.”
At fifteen, Feeley had a chance to visit a much larger space, Mexico City, but the buildings or crowds aren’t what he remembers best.
“On my very first day, I went out exploring, and I saw two women – street vendors – selling what I later found out were tlayudas from Oaxaca,” he says. “It was a crowded, noisy street, but when I bit into one, space and time stood still. It was so vibrant, so good! That was the first time I tasted authentic Mexican food, and it’s my most vivid food memory ever.”
These childhood memories set Feeley on the path to opening a grand and vibrant Mexican restaurant in Tulsa. A journalism student at the University of Arkansas, he took time off in his junior year to visit Peru. He found himself living in Huancayo, a small city nestled in the Andes with an elevation of over 10,000 feet. He went to market every day and helped his landlord’s mother with the cooking.
There, he realized he was destined to be a chef, not an academic. He got a job working for Wolfgang Puck in Denver, started an acclaimed restaurant in Napa Valley – “chef Sheamus Feeley is a genius!” wrote one food blogger – then worked for a company that owned a string of large, elegant restaurants, ending up as executive chef and vice president. Then started his own restaurant company – Food is Family. He, along with his partner, got the idea of building a place in Denver that would capture the rich, vibrant restaurant culture of Mexico City. It would have seriously good food. Then, on a visit to Tulsa, an old friend took him to see the Vast Bank building just west of the Drillers’ Stadium. He remembered how Tulsa had mesmerized him since childhood and he thought, ‘Why not build it here?’ So he did, and he named it Noche. As of now, the restaurant is slated to open at the end of May.
And what a glorious place he’s building! Brian Green’s the chef; you may remember his great work at La Tertulia, where he served up Santa Fe-inspired cuisine.
Alfredo Aguilera, who has worked as a beverage director in some of Mexico’s top hotels, is here to design a drink roster based on liquors you’ve probably never heard of, as well as some you surely have. Think tequila, but also think sotol, distilled from rare plants found in the Chihuahuan desert, and raicilla, a liquor invented 300 years ago in Jalisco.
“We want to give people things they’re familiar with,” says Feeley, “and slowly introduce them to things they’re not. It’s Oklahoma, so we’ll do fajitas with pecan-smoked short ribs, and even queso. It’s my mom’s recipe, you’ll love it!”
But there’ll also be whole fish with guajillo-arbol salsa; aguachiles; roasted mushroom tamales flavored with requeson, marjoram and epazote; and cochinita pibil. This famous dish from the Yucatan features pork shoulder wrapped in banana leaves, cooked overnight with sour orange and annatto. Large groups (10 to 14 hungry guests) can order a whole pork shoulder made that way.
“It comes to the table with lots of salsas, pickles, limes, a whole kaleidoscope of color, and then we peel back the banana leaf wrapping and it perfumes the entire table. And it’s fun,” says Feeley. “Great food doesn’t have to be overly serious, it can be fun.”