Omaha Standard: Orsi’s Breadcrumbs
Orsi’s Italian Bakery on 6th and Pacific is a cult icon-slightly unknown and perhaps a bit over-appreciated by its true believers. Nonetheless, Orsi’s is an institution. It is a rustic bakery on the rumbly side of Omaha’s just-now-being defined-as-classic Little Italy district. I spent many (really more like several) childhood days in the shadow of the Orsi Bakery. Not one of those childhood days was spent walking into the bakery. They were spent looking for parking in the family’s Chevy Caprice Station Wagon under what I remember as a swinging street lamp so that we could tumble into the old, “Canig’s on 6th…no 7th…whatever it’s on Pacific…no it’s on Pierce, dad’s drugstore was on Pacific.” Wherever we were actually going, the smell of fresh baked bread was marvelous when we got there. It made me hungry.
I remember the bread being served on the tables at Gorat’s. I remember my Grandma and my dad in little debates/squabbles over whether they liked Orsi’s or Rotella’s better. I remember seeing the delivery driver for Orsi’s trying to stock the shelf at my neighborhood Hy-Vee store and getting molested by the otherwise friendly shoppers as they clambered for his wares. Finally, I remember wandering over to the shelf after this frenzy and noticing just one lonely bag remaining. It was a bag of breadcrumbs. I had never seen such a thing. I was probably 11 or 12 years old, and I had yet to develop any sense of the economy of food. I thought only that crumbs were things that wound up in the bottom of the toaster after making lots of toast for BLT’s and were to be discarded. Gee willikers was I mistaken.
Breadcrumbs are an essential component of an effective and economical kitchen. They are made from staled bread, so at their core they are a recycled product. The real joy however comes from their use as a meatloaf stretcher, fried chicken coater, casserole topper, and trail marker. The use for breadcrumbs is boundless. And Orsi’s are a special bread. They are made from their dense Italian loaves that begin to stale. [Note: stale≠moldy or bad. Stale=losing moisture and therefore icky to make sandwiches with.] This use of high quality bread is an affirmation of rule #7 which states “use only great ingredients”. If the product you are trying to make is a great hamburger, that should start with great ground beef which comes from a well raised and well handled animal right? So if you are trying to make great meatloaf the same argument for beef applies, but then so does the argument for the binding and filling agents. Great breadcrumbs come from great bread which comes from a great bakery which uses great ingredients. If all bakeries, pizza shops, and food purveyors hummed this mantra as consistently and effectively as Orsi’s, if that was Omaha’s Standard for food, we would live in an entirely different world. It would be marvelous. It would be called Italy.
Brian O'Malley is a chef instructor at Metropolitan Community College's Institute for the Culinary Arts. A graduate from New England Culinary Institute and a member of the American Culinary Federation, O'Malley worked as the chef/owner of Spread. He was a manager/instructor at the New England Culinary Institute, head chef at Vanilia in Santorini, Greece, and BackNine Grille, assistant food and beverage manager at the Champion's Club and opening chef at BOJO. Brian O'Malley can usually be found in MCC's kitchens, teaching, creating works of culinary genius or debating the perils of out of season tomatoes.
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