Issue 27

The Publisher’s Pick: Market Basket

The Publisher’s Pick: Market Basket

Every day, in the course of putting the magazine together, I get the opportunity to go in and out of so many of the wonderful restaurants Omaha has to offer. Along the way I see many things I wish I had time to try, and restaurants I wish I could make it into. I try things when I can but, given that I keep pretty busy with my work and my family, I don’t have a chance to try nearly all of them. I’m working on it but, with so many places and only this one stomach, it will take years.

I frequent my favorite places but often, when I do get a chance to actually sit down and enjoy a meal, I try to pick a place that has come across my radar in some way or another and that I haven’t tried yet. It could be that I’ve been recommended to go, an interesting looking menu or just a great feel and atmosphere that makes me want to walk in. Whatever the reason, I often try to go places I haven’t been based on just the general buzz that makes its way to me.

And that’s the purpose of this column – every issue I’ll pick my latest, most favorite, fantastic discovery and share what I’ve found. I consider myself an average eater and, to me, that means my tastes run all over the map and like most eaters, I know what I like and I know I don’t feel comfortable dropping a bunch of cash on a meal that was less than good. So these will be the great meals, the ones that were standout, to me, in the midst of days and nights spent in and out of restaurants.

Although  Market Basket (911 S 87th Ave) has been an Omaha mainstay for over 20 years, it was one I wasn’t at all familiar with until I happened to meet the chef, Justin Beller, at my local watering hole (Jake’s) in Benson. Right away I thought Justin seemed like the type of person that would be great at whatever he did and I put it on my list of places to go check out when I had a chance. However, how my life works is that my list of places to go easily numbers in the 100s and I get to go to about two or so throughout the course of a month. So, I didn’t really start treating Market Basket like a ‘must go’ until I heard the buzz.

It seems Justin makes these fantastic soups that everyone, but me, in my neighborhood was well aware of and raved about. Episodes of Seinfeld and the Soup Nazi flashed through my head with all the crazy talk about how good they were, how delicious, how mouth watering, how they could make your gastronomic life complete (in a soup sort of way). I made the decision that I would go at the next opportunity and so, on a gorgeous Saturday night, my wife (who was also gorgeous) and I went to see what the hype was all about.

I had heard that Market Basket was a neighborhood favorite so, since it was ‘date night’, I welcomed the intimate atmosphere and low noise level that we noticed right away upon walking in (we also noticed the truffles but we’ll get to that later). As well, the other tables around us, seated with young and old patrons alike, were very conversational and seemed to be settled into their regular seats.

Our server, Laurie, started us out with some fresh French bread, subtly flavored with Asaigo, and cheeses crisps which come from Market Basket’s bakery. They were wonderful and an effort had to be made, by both my wife and I, to hold off on them so we could make it through dinner. As good as they both were, it was worth the effort to save room.

Of course, after all we’d heard, we had to try the soups. The two soups available were a white cucumber gazpacho along with a leek, port and Stilton cheese mixture that was incredibly savory and delightful. I expected to like the port and Stilton cheese soup (which was my wife’s favorite), but for me, the surprise was the white gazpacho. I’m not a huge fan of cold soups in general so the fresh, summer-like, delicious cucumbery combination, with just the right amount of texture, of the white gazpacho made me reconsider things I thought, after 34 years, that I knew about myself. It was sooooo good – I’m back on the cold soup band wagon.

For an appetizer we ordered the Asian noodle seared scallop salad with a honey and soy hoisen vinaigrette, in addition to some pommes frites with three sauces. Although I wouldn’t know, not being big on the scallops, my wife assured me they were wonderfully cooked and the best she had ever had. Although my experience with scallops is limited, I also agree that they were easily the best I have had, anywhere. As well, the Asian noodle salad with snap peas, cucumbers, carrots and red pepper was a delightful spring and summer accompaniment.

Fries, on the other hand, are my deal and so I was looking forward to the pommes frites. They were as good as they looked and some of the best in town. As well, the freshly made sauces (pesto aioli, garlic aioli, and hot sweet mustard) were an ideal accompaniment.

At this point, in the beginning stages of feeling full, we debated just ordering one main entrée but instead opted for indulgence and ordered two. I had the beef fillet special which was a tenderloin crusted with peppercorns and sesame finished with a veal demi glace and smoked tomato Gorgonzola butter. It came with freshly mashed potatoes, honey and soy grilled asparagus, and grilled zucchini. I have a bit of OCD when it comes to how my steak is cooked and this one was spot on. The pepper crust went wonderfully with the demi glace and it was an excellent cut of meat. The vegetables were also expertly cooked (and cooking grilled asparagus that doesn’t come out tough as hell can be difficult). Steph ordered the mussel pot which was a full kilo of mussels steamed with a Mediterranean white wine sauce. The mussels tasted like they were straight from the sea and the wine sauce was fantastic enough to eat on it’s own as a soup.

Although it was the last thing we needed, after seeing the truffles as we walked in the door earlier, we knew we had to get some dessert. Of course, we got the truffles but tried only five flavors out of the nearly 30 or so available. We tried the banana, pistachio cherry, raspberry, peanut butter and jelly and strawberry. The truffles are done by Norman Love Confections, based in Florida and they were the perfect end to a great meal.

In total and it’s not something I say very often, this was a meal that there truly was hard to find anything wrong with. The service was great, the food wonderful, the portions ample enough to send us out with three take-out boxes, the atmosphere intimate and congenial at the same time. Having not known a lot about it before I went, Market Basket and especially Chef Justin are apparently somewhat of a secret to the great Omaha culinary scene. They both are great and yet you certainly don’t hear nearly enough about either of them. However, I’ll be talking them up and adding them to my list of favorites.

Price

One appetizer, two entrees, dessert and wine – $80 (with tip)

Rating

4.5 out of 5 Forks

Chef Justin Beller

Justin Beller, evening chef at the Market Basket and Omaha native, has always had a passion for “sexy” food.  He started his culinary journey at Jams Bar and Grill working under owner and head chef Mark Hoch.  Eager to learn more, Justin decided to move to the Pacific Northwest to work under Chef Kathleen Longrin at Seattle’s trendy Coastal Kitchen.  Here they changed the menu every three months to compliment a different coastal cuisine, which allowed him to open his eyes to seafood inspired dishes from the Yucatan Peninsula to the Mediterranean.

To become even more well rounded, Justin decided to venture to the Big Apple where he assisted with the opening at the hot spot Fressen, located in the fashionable Meat Packing District.  Here he was able to gain the knowledge and speed of an upscale New York French Bistro, preparing a lot of freshly made French delicacies. Now ready for his own endeavors, Beller became a private chef to many New York elites, complementing special diets including a raw food only diet.

Wanting to get back to his roots, he decided to head back to the Midwest where he became the sous chef at Blue Sushi, and added Asian Infusion to his list of global cuisines.  After two years, Beller couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be a chef traveling all over the South Pacific on a private yacht.  He took fresh ingredients from local islands to create what he called, “the freshest and most mouth-watering meals”.

Erik Totten

Erik Totten

Erik Totten is the founder and publisher of Food & Spirits Magazine in Omaha, Nebraska. He's worked in publications for the last 21 years at all levels. As well as serving as a writer, designer, photographer and editor, he's also founded two publications which have allowed him to grow into being a publisher, which he would describe as his 'true calling'.


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