If you haven’t heard of Dishcrawl yet, you’re in for a treat (here you can use the word “literally” unironically). The San Francisco-based organization leads restaurant scavenger hunts so locals can check out the awesome food in their own cities. Thanks to local food blogger Rachel Grace (Fat in Omaha), Omaha got its own chapter in April.
The premise is simple but effective. Reserve a spot in a Dishcrawl event online, knowing only what neighborhood you’ll be visiting and that you’ll visit four restaurants in the course of about three hours. Other than that, it’s a secret, man. Two days before your Dishcrawl, an e-mail tells you where your evening will begin. Grace organized Omaha’s inaugural ’crawl around the Old Market, so 40 people gathered at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23 at Upstream Brewing Company.
Executive Chef Jeff Everroad of the Old Market anchor restaurant had prepared three small plates, each paired with a complementary Upstream brew. A slice of chorizo rested on a small salad with grated radish and an orange wedge, paired with a Belgian amber. Head Brewmaster Dallas Archer was on hand to explain that the fruity beer was aged on dates. The second taste was a beef short rib slider topped with Red Dragon cheese (soaked in Welsh beer). Guests washed it down with a dark Irish stout, nitrogenated rather than carbonated. The third and final plate that Upstream offered was pork belly, braised for four hours, complete with a single tempura green bean, and paired with Dundee Scotch ale.
In case you hadn’t guessed, it’s best not to pre-game before a Dishcrawl. Alcohol may or may not be included in a restaurant’s taste experience, but it certainly won’t be unavailable throughout your evening. If your Dishcrawl is a walking tour as was the Old Market’s, being able to walk is key. One particular group of diners hadn’t got the memo and opted to begin their evening with shots.
Everroad and Archer each took a moment per table to explain to diners the thought process behind Upstream’s presentation, enthusiastically discussing seasonal changes and complementary flavors. “We asked them if they’d do us a pizza,” Grace says, referring to one of Upstream’s signature dishes, “but they were like, ‘oh, no, no, no.’ They wanted to do something really special.”
Each restaurant seemed to share that passion for the new dining event, continuing at Localmotive Food Truck parked by the New BLK. David Burr, co-owner of Localmotive, explained that the sourdough starter used for their signature rounders is seven years old. The fried balls are filled with any number of seasonal and local delicacies; on this occasion, guests sampled both veggie somosa and pork green chili rounders. Burr mentioned that he and his partners have been known to create special flavors by request. “We made a mac-and-cheese rounder for the Localmotive mayor on Foursquare,” he said.
Guests mingled in the New BLK to escape the unseasonal chill while they ate. Dishcrawl is a night to get to know people: friends, dates, strangers. It’s an opportunity to invite yourself to a new table, to exchange ideas about food with new people. As each new address was revealed, guests turned the short walk into a laugh-filled scavenger hunt as they chased down the next restaurant.
Trini’s, the Mexican restaurant in The Passageway, offered chicken Portobello enchiladas and fish tacos with thin-sliced tilapia and an avocado, topped with chipotle sauce. Two-dollar margaritas added to the convivial spirit, and guests laughed loudly when cook Adam Tremaine stated that Trini’s rice is made from a secret recipe of “salt, pepper, and a lot of love.” The noise of the gathering had increased markedly by that time, and the shots group started to snicker about being a little trashed.
With the presence of alcohol and the lateness of the evening, Grace points out that Dishcrawls aren’t that great for kids. Still, perhaps a mature and food-conscious young teenager would do well with the experience.
The evening wrapped up with a leisurely stroll to Urban Wine Company for dessert. Manager Angela Reding had prepared a Southern-style chocolate cookie, topped with Scotch ice cream (single malt Lagavulin, to be precise) and English toffee. “I broke out the good stuff for you guys,” Reding said.
True to its online claim, the Old Market Dishcrawl began wrapping up at 10 p.m. But the shots group lingered to quietly giggle over a bottle of wine.
Reserve a spot with Dishcrawl at dishcrawl.com/Omaha. Stay up-to-date with future Dishcrawls by following @dishcrawloma on Twitter or facebook.com/DishcrawlOmaha. A vegan crawl is scheduled for July 16.