This article appears in July/August 2015 The Encounter.
Dinker’s. The name: hard to forget. The red sign with huge yellow letters proclaiming it the home of “Omaha’s Best Burger”: hard to miss. The food: hard to resist.
In a world filled with carbon copies, Dinker’s stands out for its longevity, unpretentiousness, and reasonably-priced quality. Perched on a hill at 2368 S. 29th St. and clearly visible from I-480 at the Martha St. exit, Dinker’s still packs ‘em in 50 years after the late Frank “Dinker” Synowiecki opened a small bar two doors up from the present site.
The son of an immigrant, Synowiecki (sin-oh-WICK-ee) spent his whole life in the area, a Polish neighborhood then known as Sheelytown. He used his smarts and vision to tap into the quintessential American fare: beer, a burger, friendly conversation, and sports. Today, two of his grandchildren make sure Dinker’s never deviates far from the original script.
“We don’t take any shortcuts,” says cook John Hutfless, whose mother is a Synowiecki. “We do things exactly the way they’ve always been done.”
John’s cousin, Kerry Synowiecki Mumm, assumed ownership of Dinker’s after her father, Robert, passed it on to her in 2013. She credits fresh ingredients and her grandmother’s recipes.
“We make homemade specials every day. We also make homemade soups, homemade salad dressings, even our pickles are hand-cut,” says Mumm.
Dinker’s gets its freshly-ground beef delivered three to four times a week from Del Gould Meats in Lincoln. As the self-proclaimed King of the Kitchen, Hutfless says he easily goes through 1,100 to 1,200 pounds of beef a week. Workers use a 7-ounce ice cream scoop to gather up the beef—almost half a pound of meat—then hand-pat the burgers every morning. But what makes them so juicy?
“The fat content. Fat equals flavor,” says Hutfless with no apologies. And for those who don’t want to eat anything that can turn a take-out bag translucent? “We have salads,” he assures.
“Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t season our meat,” adds Mumm. “I think a lot of the flavor comes from our griddle.”
The hamburger meat may not be seasoned, but the griddle sure is. Hutfless primes the griddle every morning by cooking 50 pounds of bacon, which he then uses in dishes throughout the day. Dinker’s also goes through at least 35 dozen eggs weekly, delivered fresh from Thomas Farms in Decatur, Neb. They need them for their biggest seller.
“The Haystack is by far our most popular burger,” says Mumm. “That one has grilled ham, American cheese, and a fried egg on it.” The Haystack sits on a grilled Rotella’s kaiser bun—light and fluffy but sturdy enough to hold the hamburger and its toppings together.
Another popular offering, the Bluejay Burger, scores big with the Creighton crowd. It comes with melted Swiss cheese, bacon, and thick, homemade bleu cheese dressing.
“This place is shoulder to shoulder on Creighton basketball game nights,” says John. “Coach (Greg) McDermott and his staff come here. Doug still pops in whenever he’s in town.”
Customers also plow through Dinker’s signature onion rings—hand-battered, slender, tender, and slightly clumped together. Like the meat, Hutfless’ batter lacks seasoning, but the take-out onion ring basket comes with packets of salt for those who want the option. Among the appetizers, Dinker’s chicken wings soar. Crispy on the outside, fresh and meaty inside, they pack just enough heat to satisfy those with a “hot” preference without overpowering the “mild” crowd.
As subjective as the word “best” is, Dinker’s “best” claim comes with hefty backup. In numerous local, regional, and national publications; online blogs, travel sites, and social media, Dinker’s consistently ranks at or near the top of surveys on food, bars, and atmosphere. The latest accolade appears on Thrillist.com, which named Dinker’s the most iconic bar in Nebraska. The ability to “get a stiff drink” to go with “Omaha’s best burger” impressed the writers, as did the simplicity of the place.
If “Dinker” Synowiecki were to come back today, he would probably feel as comfortable as he did when he opened the original establishment in 1965, save for the eight giant TV screens and two Keno screens on the walls.
His old three-door beer cooler still works and sits in the corner of the bar area, its giant compressor whirring in the basement. The tables and chairs resemble some bygone faux wood-and-chrome era. Customers order their food at the kitchen counter, their drinks at the bar, and pay in cash only. Well-heeled lawyers sit beside, and talk with, construction workers with muddy boots.
Neighborhood regulars—retirees—come every day for their coffee, burgers, hot beef sandwiches, or flat iron steak specials. They come for the familiarity and the friendship. To them, Dinker’s has been, and always will be, the “best.”