I’ve been blessed to travel many places, but it’s only in the last few years I’ve gotten more of an opportunity to explore my own backyard – Oklahoma beyond the OKC metro. I had no idea there were so many cool places nearby! If you have a free day, you should definitely take an excursion to some of Oklahoma’s gems.
When I travel, I like to combine good food with fun exercise, whether that’s pounding the city sidewalks or traversing the great outdoors. With that in mind, once I decided to visit the “Little Italy” of Oklahoma, I wanted to also explore the nearby Robbers Cave.
Distance from OKC: just over 2 hours
Location: Southeast Oklahoma (in Pittsburg County)
Handcrafted Italian cheese and sausage, beautiful scenery, and a peek into Oklahoma’s past are all part of this fantastic day trip experience in Oklahoma! This area would definitely be a great long weekend location, as well!
Krebs, Oklahoma: “Little Italy”
Krebs started as a coal-mining town, with its first mine opening in 1875. I only learned recently at the Oklahoma History Museum that Oklahoma even had coal, so I found this fact about Krebs quite interesting! Immigrants from all over came to work the mines, but in particular they came from Italy.
By the time Oklahoma became a state, almost half of Pittsburg County’s population was from Italy! And so Oklahoma’s “Little Italy” was born.
It takes roughly 2 hours to get to Krebs and you can take highway all the way. My friend and I decided to make a day trip of it and arrived in time for lunch. Our first destination? Lovera’s Handcrafted Foods.
Lovera’s Handcrafted Foods
Get Special Groceries…
The Loveras brought their love of Italian food from their home country to Oklahoma in 1907 and they started their family-run store in 1946. Today, adorned with hanging pots of fresh flowers, the small market is very inviting and packed with treasures.
Their specialty is their cheeses they produce, especially Caciocavera. The traditional form of this cheese was inspired by the Italian cheese Caciocavallo and has a mild flavor similar to provolone and mozzarella. It is so good that it actually won first place in the World Cheese Awards in 2013 and has continued to win national prizes! Lovera’s sells all kinds of varieties of its Caciocavera, including the spicy Diavolo made with ghost peppers and a hickory-smoked classic.
Did I mention you can sample the cheese at the back of the store? I adore cheese, so doing that was definitely one of the highlights of my day! You should check out the hanging Caciocavera, strung up from the ceiling, or try the cow milk cheese infused with the local beer BOMB! from Prairie Artisan Ales. I really liked the punch of their gorgonzola, though I ended up buying the traditional Caciocavera for its versatility.
Lovera’s sells its cheese in at least 10 states, including at Central Market in Texas.
In addition to cheese, people drive long distances to Lovera’s to get their handcrafted sausages. The store also sells their own jarred pasta sauces, olive oils, and prepackaged pasta dishes, among about 100 different products!
While these local items are special, you can also buy a wide variety of imported items: olive oils, chocolates, wine, you name it. We even found 22 inch long spaghetti for sale!
And Have Lunch!
Get lunch at the sandwich counter in the back of the store (yes, next to the cheese sampling area!). It was difficult for us to decide between the different tasty combinations that are all created with their fresh items made in-house. Hickory-smoked pulled pork or brisket? Caprese with fresh mozzarella?
We finally got a muffuletta sandwich stuffed with genoa salami, ham, mortadella, Swiss cheese, and Lovera’s olive salad. It was definitely big enough to share and so delicious!
If you go outside, you can enjoy sitting and eating in a little patio with vines overgrown over the terrace and roses in the corner. It’s a fantastic experience that I definitely recommend!
A tip: bring a cooler, because you will likely want to bring some of that homemade sausage and cheese home! Lovera’s will sell ice for you to put with it.
Coal Mining Monument
Within a few blocks of Lovera’s, you will find a monument dedicated to the nearly 100 coal miners who died in one of the worst accidents in coal mines in America – right here in Krebs. The bottom of the monument is inscribed with the haunting Coal Miner’s Prayer, which starts with these words:
Take a look at these hands, Lord.Brenda Grahm
They’re worn and rough.
My face scarred with coal marks. My language is tough.
But you know in the heart lies the soul of a man
Who toils at a living that few men can stand.
On the Way…
Some of the joys of traveling are the unexpected pleasures. On a beautiful spring day, we especially enjoyed the road between Kreb’s and Robber’s Cave. It’s only a 30 minute jaunt, but there’s no highway, so you’ll be taking a smaller country road by farms.
The wildflowers were bursting in vibrant colors on both sides of the road: deep wines, brilliant yellows, and bright oranges. In this part of the state, the trees are much taller, so the contrast between fields and forest was quite idyllic.
Exploring the Cave
Once we drove our way up through winding roads to Robber’s Cave Park, we found the park office to get some trail maps. And then, of course, we went to see the cave.
Robber’s Cave got its name because legend says that it was a hideout spot for infamous bandits such as Jesse James and Belle Star. Whether the legends are true or not, it’s easy to imagine them hiding in all the nooks and crannies of the rock structures.
Stone steps lead up to the cave and you can choose from different paths of varying difficulty to make your way up. (None of them are handicap-accessible, just FYI; they are more challenging than that.)
There’s not much to see in the actual caves; they are fairly small shelters. But I think if you enjoy bouldering, then you will like the area. And the view from the top of the Robber’s Cave is quite beautiful!
After checking out the Cave, we had a great time hiking the trails in the area. We spent 3+ hours on well-marked paths through the forest and didn’t make much of a dent in the trails we could have explored in the 8,246 acre park! Definitely plan to wear good shoes, because the paths can be rocky.
I’ve read many reviews that the trails are hard to follow. It’s true that you need to watch for tree markers and not necessarily a cleared path. Each trail has its own color, helpful to know from the park office info.
I actually was impressed by how clear the signs usually were, even announcing the trail names when you got to intersections. I don’t know if the park has improved the signage due to complaints or we didn’t explore the less-marked ares. (We hiked portions of the Rough Canyon Trail, Cattail Trail, and Mountain Trail.)
Even though we were there on a Saturday, we didn’t see very many people. It was a nice peaceful day!
The park includes two lakes, Lake Wayne Wallace and Lake Carlton. For a photo op, go up in the bluffs for great views over Lake Carlton. Unfortunately I didn’t figure this out until after our trip, so I thought I’d at least pass on the info!
Robber’s Cave is easily a place you can spend the weekend at, because there so much to do! Go horseback riding, fishing, swimming, or kayaking/paddle boating at quite reasonable prices.
Best of all, park entry is free!
Dinner in Little Italy
Krebs has 3 well-known Italian restaurants (Pete’s, Roseanna’s, and Isle of Capri) and you may want to try one for dinner on your way back toward OKC.
Pete’s is probably the most famous of the three and provides its patrons with a unique experience. Visiting diners are seated in a private eating area and have multiple courses, served family-style.
We went to one of the other restaurants, based on local recommendations. I have to admit that I’ve had better Italian food elsewhere, but I enjoyed the history and experience.
We definitely want to go back to this corner of Oklahoma and I’d say you should make the trek yourself! It’s worth it! If you have been or live in the area, what’s your favorite part?