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Sweet strains

Exploring the flavors of Levain Kitchen & Bakery

Levain’s PBLT

Greg Bollinger

Under the right conditions, yeast expands and multiplies and changes the makeup of the medium in which it’s placed. It can be found in the air around us and can be harnessed to turn ordinary ingredients into extraordinary culinary delicacies.

The spirit of natural fermentation is honored at 101st Street and Yale Avenue, where the pace is slower, the air is cleaner, and things are quieter than in the more densely populated parts of Tulsa. Here, in the Shops of Seville, Tulsa restaurant scene newcomer Levain Kitchen & Bakery has started to rise.

Owners Trey and Christina Winkle explain that to them the word levain (pronounced le-VAN) is both a French term for sourdough and, more importantly, a symbol for the unpredictable richness imparted to a food or beverage as a result of fermentation. The food served at Levain reflects this character of flavor and spontaneity.

The Winkles admire the techniques and philosophies behind French cooking, which Christina admits is part of the inspiration behind their painstakingly considered menu and pastry case. The French are careful and methodical in the kitchen, considering all aspects of taste and presentation.

Levain focuses on making food that is fresh, local, and seasonal. Locally-sourced produce, meat from Oklahoma farms, and strains of yeast native to Tulsa are highlighted in the casual neighborhood eatery’s menu. The coffee they serve is from DoubleShot in the SoBo district.

On a Saturday afternoon in the bright, friendly storefront, a customer from the neighborhood walks in, orders a bite, and sits down to eat and chat with Trey about the menu and what he loves about it, including one of the popular items on the “A Little Bit More” list, the PBLT—pork belly, arugula, and sundried tomato jam on sourdough. Levain, which is roughly two months old, offers original cuisine in a simple, transparent, and unpretentious atmosphere.

At first glance, Levain’s short paper menu—essentially a folded-over 8.5 x 11” pamphlet—is deceptively brief.  But upon further inspection, the menu reveals itself to be dense and considered. It’s easy to skim and overlook the details. Ponder the names Burger, Grilled Cheese, and Brussels Sprouts. Without paying attention to the fine print next to these innocuous titles, one could miss the more exciting ingredients: gruyère, sourdough, brie, Mornay sauce, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pickled cabbage. Beneath the surface at Levain lies inventive, made-from-scratch food and painstaking techniques.

The Warm Salad on the menu’s coyly titled “Maybe a Bit Less” list is nourishing and punchy, both visually and on the palate. Served in a bowl, the dish is brimming with crisp sprigs of peppery arugula that cling to golden chunks of roasted butternut squash, salty bursts of thick-cut Oklahoma bacon, quinoa, thin-sliced red onions, and umami pockets of sautéed mushroom. The thin coat of steeped herb vinaigrette pulls the flavors together and makes the rich colors glisten. It rolls round on the tongue less like a salad and more like a meal. With plenty of bacon goodness to satisfy a mean appetite but enough fresh veggies to soothe the soul, the Warm Salad could conceivably be accompanied with … a salad.

Christina, a seasoned pastry chef, is the maestro behind baked treats like the apple galettes, syrup-soaked yeast-risen donuts, and sorghum ginger cookies. Unlike in most bakeries, the croissants are not rolled in a machine—Christina rolls them herself. The breads used for the restaurant’s entrees are handmade in Levain's bakery.

Christina also is the brains behind such playful surprises  as the homemade pop tarts. The lemon pop tart is a chewy, doughy, semi-sweet affair. It folds in flashes of bright citrus with thick, flaky homemade pie crust and, here and there, a judiciously placed sugar crystal crunch. Imagine the familiar grocery-store variety spent a few years living abroad and returned home wiser, more chill, and better-looking. This is a top-shelf pop tart that deserves to be warmed in an oven instead of a toaster.

Levain Kitchen & Bakery, like its menu, is small and simple but full of surprises. The restaurant is an interesting addition to its South Tulsa neighborhood, an auspicious location for the Levain philosophy to grow and gain momentum.

Levain Kitchen & Bakery
10021 S. Yale Ave. #108
Tues.–Sat., 7:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m.

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