by Kent Cisar | October 18, 2017 7:31 am
A journey around Omaha for those who’ve been away during the duration of our publication
Hello my good friend. Welcome back to Omaha. You’re going to be quite impressed with the flavors, sights, aromas and vibe of the Omaha food scene now. I’ve accepted your challenge of showing you as many of my favorite spots as I can in Omaha this week. I assure you we’ll be responsible with our beverages but not with our calories, so whatever workout regimen you’re on should probably be doubled. By Sunday night, you’ll be re-acclimated to what you’ve missed since you’ve been away from our culinary scene for the last ten years.
Let’s start this week out easy with a morning beverage and a chance to catch up. I’m good with any of the Crane Coffee locations so take your pick. Each place feels comfortable for coffee and conversation. If you’d like a smoothie or a tea they can do that, too. If it’s cold enough I may just grab a hot cocoa.
Our first lunch spot is Foodies just north of Dodge St. on 78th St. Foodies’ menu is diverse for a lunch spot. Their preparation for each day is what sets this place apart. I recommend the paratha wraps. It’s a crunchy, flaky canvas for whatever they choose to fill it with. I’m partial to the dill chicken salad and their homemade side salad. Yes that vinaigrette is homemade, and they toast the almonds to add just that much more depth to an already stellar salad.
If you decide to live in Northwest Omaha one of the benefits you’ll have is being close to our evening dining location at Railcar at 144th and Blondo. I rarely order ribs anywhere but a great barbecue joint, but Railcar’s cherry barbecue ribs are divine. I order the half rack so I can order their truffle fries and save room for dessert. If ribs aren’t your thing then their pork chop, jambalaya paella, and asiago chicken schnitzel are excellent choices.
I’m not sure when you left if you thought Florence was a dining destination, but it is now so we’ll start our Tuesday up at Harold’s Koffee House at 8327 N. 30th St. There’s a lot of excellent fare in a small radius up there and Harold’s has been an anchor for almost 60 years. I didn’t know much about it until recently, but they’ve got an old school diner feel with comfort food and very reasonable prices. Check out their chorizo hash for a spicy start to your day, and good luck passing on one of their homemade cinnamon or pecan rolls.
For Tuesday’s lunch I’m taking you to another spot that I was late to the party with, El Basha on 76th and Pacific. I’m making up for lost time. We’ve gone in at lunch, in the afternoon, or the early/mid evening and it’s always busy. It’s pretty easy to see why. El Basha has affordable food, large portions, and fantastic flavor. I’ve enjoyed many gyros and falafel sandwiches here. Eventually, I’ll need to try one of their salads which turn my head every time I see one come out of the kitchen.
We’re not going too far for dinner on Tuesday at Rivera’s at 120th and Blondo. I know you have a high spice tolerance and that will come in handy here. We’ll need to start with their shrimp alambres. The shrimp are perfectly cooked. The bacon, peppers, cheese and spices add depth and the sauce seals the deal on this perfect table setting starter for their main menu. What impresses me the most about Rivera’s is that they provide heat but also nuanced flavors within each plate. Whether it’s on any one of their incredible selection of enchiladas, their chile rellenos, mole poblano or one of their mahi mahi entrees you’ll taste purpose from the first bite to the last.
Wednesday morning I’m happy to reintroduce you to Dixie Quick’s. It was downtown when you left and I know it feels like more of a drive to get there now, but it’s 100% worth it. Located at 157 Broadway Street in Council Bluffs, it’s eating incredible food in an art gallery atmosphere. I have a hard time ordering anything but the French toast, but I think you’d also enjoy one of their scrambles, omelettes or benedicts. They’ll give you a few things you don’t see often here so if you’re feeling curious the prickly pear cactus scramble is tasty, and if you want dessert for breakfast try their oatmeal and ice cream. Think of it as yogurt and oatmeal, just colder, sweeter, and better.
Wednesday’s lunch spot takes you to another familiar face. Last time I saw you my affinity for Barrett’s Barleycorn on 44th and Leavenworth was just beginning. I play volleyball there but I enjoy it for any occasion. You’ll get friendly staff, a great mix of clientele, and for a small kitchen some of the best pub fare around. I think you’d enjoy their Philly or any of their burgers. Their patty melt within the last year surpassed their Maverick Burger as my favorite menu item.
We can walk to our dinner locale right up Leavenworth to J. Coco on 52nd Street. We should bring a couple friends with us. The starters and sides are diverse and extremely difficult to choose just one so a few more appetites at the table can help us share in the culinary wealth. If you’re not enthusiastic about things like octopus, cauliflower, or Brussels sprouts, J.Coco’s renditions will change your mind. For the main course the Wagyu burger with a bevy of add on choices is a contender for my favorite burger in the city. Their Cubano is also excellent. If you’re feeling a need for an entrée you’ll find seafood, chicken, pork, steaks, and lamb on the menu right now.
Our Thursday will commence in Aksarben. I spend a lot of time there now and for good reason. I love UNO hockey, farmers markets, and live music. You’ll be impressed at what Aksarben has become and we’re excited about where it’s going. Amato’s at 6405 Center St. has been a staple for a while and I hope it will be there for many years to come. Please take a look at everything on their menu, but I’m going to get the ricotta pancakes triple berry style with their homemade sausage. Ricotta cheese nestled into a pancake and infused with a triple berry blast and drizzled with syrup is magnificent by itself. Add the best breakfast sausage I’ve ever had and this plate is worth waking up for.
For lunch we’ll saunter a little way south but when you walk into the doors of Gusto Cuban Café at 7910 Harrison Street it will transport you to a tropical cabana. I always get the #21, a Cuban sandwich adding in chorizo. The bread is perfectly toasted. The meats have subtle yet lasting flavor and the Swiss cheese ties it all together. I’m up for any of their appetizers but especially their sweet plantains. That little bottle of sauce you’ll see on the table is their homemade mojo sauce. Give it a shake and put it on their bread or anything you can find. It’s rich with herbs and packs a citrus punch. Buy a large bottle to take home with you. It will give your cooking a lot of versatility when you don’t have time to marinate.
You’re going to like what you see and taste when you head south on 10th Street. The Blue Barn Theater has moved and Via Farina has become an epicenter for culinary happiness. We should bring a few friends with us too so we can order more of their pastas and pizzas to share. On our last visit, my girlfriend and I ordered the egg yolk raviolo. It appears simple but the sage, brown butter and ricotta are packaged with exquisite homemade pasta. Our server encouraged us to keep the remaining brown butter and dip our pizza crust in it. We did and it gave our second course, the already excellent pizza fritti, another dimension.
Friday morning starts close to home. I know before you left town we didn’t do the bagel scene that much. The Bagel Bin at 1215 S. 119th St. was around for us to start our day back then but we didn’t ever think about it. It’s in the regular rotation for me on both workdays and weekends now. You’ll walk in and find friendly service. The Bin has a fine array of New York style bagels and top notch cream cheese choices. I frequently order an everything bagel to go for an afternoon snack but it rarely makes it that far. Even though the title of their places says bagel, don’t sleep on their pastries. Their cinnamon and pecan rolls are spectacular, and nearly impossible to resist if they are warm. Keep an eye on what is on top of the counter too, you can often find authentic Jewish pastries or cookies that are worth spending an extra dollar to snack on later.
Follow Block 16 on Twitter on Monday and if you ask me to re-arrange the order up here I understand. Their daily specials are as phenomenally tasty as they are innovative and visually appealing. I’ll warn you though we have to get here early for lunch. You can get the daily special. I’ll order a burger, the crab rangoon fries and a couple chicken thighs and we can divide and conquer fresh, farm to table food at a remarkably reasonable price.
The Boiler Room’s arrival in Omaha elevated our thinking about what is possible for our city’s cuisine. The atmosphere may take you to another place, but it will excite you knowing you’re still in Omaha. Boiler Room’s courses harmonize food that is brought fresh from a thousand miles away or more with the best local ingredients. Take a look at the menu and be open to challenging your taste profile. Ask questions if you need to. The staff here is passionate and intelligent. When our food arrives the presentation is inviting, but take your time and savor the precision with which Boiler Room’s cuisine is created.
Saturday mornings and Gerda’s bakery are a routine for me. If I’m coming from a farmers market, a fishing trip, a workout, or sleeping in a bit after a good snow, a stop at Gerda’s always makes me happy. I have my favorites (peanut butter roll and the maple roll) but you can’t go wrong with anything in that bakery counter. If you want your top choices though, we’ll have to get there early. I was there recently and did get my top two, but it was a struggle to pass up the monstrous bear claws staring me down.
When you boarded that plane out of Omaha you couldn’t drive on both sides of the street east of 40th and Farnam. There wasn’t really much to eat there either. My friend, a whole lot has changed in that area since then and I’m stoked to take you here on Saturday night. I’ll leave the exact order and appetite up to you. In a 3 block stretch of Farnam Street you can get fantastic New York style pizza at Noli’s, a top shelf salsa flight at Mula, real crab rangoons and a tater tot selection that you’ll rave about at Nite Owl, along with meatballs in many ways at the Blackstone Meatball. If you want global innovation with local inspiration we’ll have a fine sit down dinner at Stirnella. We can go to any or all of these places if you’d like during the night. The only requirement I have is that we get dessert at Coneflower Creamery. I don’t care how long the line is it’s worth it. Pick a couple flavors and get them in a waffle made onsite.
The Sunday stop for breakfast is Duggar’s at 4950 Dodge St. Duggar’s has become a favorite no matter what time of year we go. Their omelettes are terrific. Breakfast casseroles are also a fine choice. Randy’s lemon pancakes are a difficult dish to pass on, and we’ll need to ask what their seasonal pancake is. Yes they change their pancakes throughout the season and yes they are magnificent. I’ve had the pumpkin and gingerbread. I know there are others out there. Maybe we can share a lemon one and the seasonal one on this visit.
I know you’re thinking that a city that’s about as far away from a coast can’t offer good seafood but Plank Seafood Provisions at 1205 Harney St. will prove you wrong. Grouper is my favorite fish to eat and it’s not offered much here locally. Plank’s interpretation is of prime coastal quality. You’ll also find tuna, salmon, cod, calamari, oysters, and even alligator on the menu. Alligator is not an easy protein to prepare, and it’s our favorite appetizer there.
I also must tell you that we hope to be dining at a couple of my longtime favorites again. M’s Pub in the Old Market and Mouth of the South in Florence are both in their rebuilding stages. I hope you’ll join me at each place when they re-open.
How about that for a week? I know there’s a lot more for you here to rediscover and I’m sure you’ll enjoy what you find. Welcome back home.
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