Finding the Food: Bellevue, Nebraska
When driving through Bellevue, whether up on Cornhusker or heading down Galvin Road to Offutt AFB, one will see a mind-numbing array of fast food chains, followed by national sit down chains, followed by more fast food chains and so on. I really think the area has more bland chain restaurants and fast food joints per capita than any other area in the metro. That being said, when I think of my own personal need for comfort food I tend to head to Bellevue for some emotional balancing by way of my stomach. There are three restaurants, all within a short distance of each other, that satisfy all of my basic food needs. Call them the three Bs. Those needs are burgers, BBQ, and breakfast buffet and Bellevue has the best of all three.
Amarillo BBQ is the best BBQ I have ever had. Bold statement? Not so much, as I am hardly alone in that opinion. A BBQ debate can be more heated than any political argument or a Beatles vs. The Stones tirade. There are many styles, regions and restaurants that people will claim to be the best, and like any other subject worth conversation, no one is going to change their mind.
Nothing will sway me from my love of Amarillo. I have done Memphis, I have done Kansas City, I have done the back road smoke pits of Oklahoma and Texas and nothing has compared. Amarillo is located at 303 Fort Crook Road North, and upon entering the establishment, that Texas road house vibe immediately takes hold through the sights, sounds, and smell of the small restaurant. Its décor could be considered kitschy if the restaurant were brand new and in a strip mall. Amarillo opened in 1988 and the old tin beer, gas station, and road signs, along with junk-antique-shop-nick knackery feel like they belong in this joint. Country and rock n’ roll music from its original hey day don’t provide background music, but instead loudly become a part of the experience.
It’s the perfectly smoked meats, and especially the sauce, that make this a place to go back to often. From their free range chicken to their much talked about brisket, owner Gordon Campbell knows how to smoke some BBQ. I have a hard time deviating from the baby back ribs when I make my trek to Bellevue. This is comfort food for me after all, and not a time to be experimenting. I have never had their raved over homemade sausage or any of their fish features.
The key to Amarillo’s amazing sauce is that they use raw local honey rather than corn syrup and this has ruined pretty much every other BBQ sauce for me for life. I have never left that place without an extra mason jar for use at home. It goes good with pretty much everything you should or shouldn’t put sauce on, and I have tried it with pretty much everything. Some say that Amarillo’s corn bread is bland and the corn is watery, and it is, but due to that comfort factor I always double up on the cobs and drench that cornbread in the sauce and enjoy anyway.
Like BBQ, the fight over the best burger in town is one that very few will change their mind over. Louie M’s Burger Lust, Dinkers, that hole in the wall in your neighborhood – they all claim the best burger and many people will back them up. For me and many others Stella’s at 106 South Galvin Road is that burger. I have been going there for over twenty years, and was really happy with the remodel of the burger spot and tavern a few years back. It has a much more comfortable feel to it and there is energy in the place brought on by the staff and the often packed house of enthused customers.
I am a person that likes things to remain original and old school and keep the charm that made them what they were. The previous incarnation of Stella’s was successful because of the food and not really the atmosphere. This remodel is a rare exception where upgrading was for the best, and mainly because the thing that made them famous did not change. The burgers and fries are still the best and most decadent around and still made on the original cast iron griddle.
The burgers are thick, messy and greasy. They are not topped with chintzy fixings and reside in the middle of two large, fresh, soft and chewy buns. Someone who does not eat meat would enjoy and be filled by a meatless version of this “burger”. Then there are the fries. Fresh cut and full of grease the way fries were supposed to be before everyone got their “healthy” oils and seasonings all over them. Despite the fancy new digs, Stella’s still serves their burgers on a napkin and the fries come in one of those wax paper lined bowls. They do offer a wider selection of beers than in their previous incarnation, but I am sure you can still find a Schlitz. Open for over 70 years, Stella’s is one of the Omaha area’s precious pieces of Americana, and one that has only improved in its current run.
Lums Diner at 511 Fort Crook Road North was one of over 400 restaurants at that chains peak. The chain started in 1956 in Miami and eventually went bankrupt in 1983. Many of the franchised restaurants kept going, and the one in Bellevue is the last one standing to still carry that name. The Lums in Bellevue is an independent restaurant doing its own thing and has been for some time. It is not under any corporate mandates, budgets, or rationings. It just carries that classic name and the decade’s gone style of family restaurant.
Lums is comfort food pure and simple. This is not where you go when on a diet or looking for heart friendly fare. This is where you go for a massive selection of everything good, not good for you. If you need steak, chicken, liver, burgers, fried shrimp, chicken fried steak and any common type of sandwich in big portions with sides that are hardly skimpy, this is the place to get it. I personally go there for the breakfast.
On Saturday and Sunday’s Lums runs an all you can eat breakfast bar and buffet. There is nothing fancy about this affair. It’s a medium sized buffet with foods in heated wells right there for the picking. You won’t get any fancy crepes, strawberry filled cakes, or spinach pesto scrambled Benedict. You will get everything you need to create the biggest heartiest breakfast you can imagine. Huge thick strips of bacon, fluffy and fresh scrambled eggs, sausage links and patties, hash browns invaded by bacon bits, French toast, pancakes, biscuits, gravy, muffins, massive cinnamon rolls, and much more. I think there might be some fruit in there as well. This is not some stale hotel breakfast bar, but a small slice of quality comfort to start your weekend. The only thing I don’t like about the Lums breakfast bar is the biscuits which seem stiff and crumble at the touch, but I think they were meant to be drenched in the delicious sausage gravy and my goal is always to instead slather butter all over them. Otherwise this is the best and least pretentious weekend belly buster around, if you choose to take it that far.
So, if comfort food is your deal, make your way South and go get you some Bellevue.
MarQ Manner is a fan of Americana. He is interested in small town cafe's, roadside BBQ, getting a hotdog from a stand made in the likeness of George Washington, and the grittier eating atmospheres found in out of the way places. MarQ has been writing about the local music scene for The Omaha City Weekly for the past five years and has also written music features for many other rags and blogs.
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