Tag Archives: Block 16

Local Farm-to-Table

August 3, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nick Strawhecker reaches down and opens the oven. There are two whole, cooked chickens resting on the platter within the large industrial appliance. One chicken looks well proportioned, intact, and almost seems to sit rigid as though something was placed inside it to offer structural integrity. It looks delicious, succulent. The other chicken is striking also, but in a very different way. It is of a similar size, but the breast is massive, unnaturally so. The legs are tiny by comparison. Its skin looks like a popped water balloon. This chicken sits in a thick deposit of cloudy, watery juices. It is splayed on the platter, floppy—its spine is broken. This chicken’s liver, compared to the other, looks as though it spent its short life drinking hard liquor in lieu of water. The heavenly, intact chicken was among the living just days ago. It was raised on a cage-free farm near Pawnee City, Nebraska. Where was the other chicken from? Unknown.

Though the difference in quality is obvious on many levels (for example one is pumped with antibiotics and water to add weight and size, while the other is simply a natural chicken) even industry professionals from the free-range, farm-to-table side will admit both types of chicken have their place in the overall food economy. Dean Dvorak, who operates a family poultry business in southeast Nebraska called Plum Creek Farms, says he has never complained about the existence of large companies when it comes to chicken production. 

“The big companies are certainly necessary,” Dvorak says. “People in our country eat a lot of chicken and small producers can’t produce nearly enough to keep up with the demand.”

The price point of some menus just do not fit what small producers can supply, Dvorak says. This adds to the “niche” culture surrounding local, farm-to-table food production. It takes a specific client base willing to invest in high-quality foods.  

“Our efficiency is much poorer than a larger company’s,” Dvorak says of his higher prices. “We lose more chickens to predators, and our pound of feed per pound of gain [the measure of how much chicken a farmer produces per pound of feed] is much poorer because our birds get a lot of exercise by not being kept in a small space.” 

Serving a lower price point is a major faculty of the industrialized farming sector. The USDA reports organic food made up just 4 percent of U.S. food sales in 2012. This means there is a point for consumers where cost simply overrides the level of quality in a more expensive product. Many are not willing to ante up for the good stuff. Additionally, organic food is not yet available on the same scale as the alternative.

Local restaurateur Nick Strawhecker is an advocate of the farm-to-table supply chain. He owns and operates Dante (in West Omaha) and Dante Pizzeria Napoletana (in Blackstone District).

“The way most of the world works is cooking what is around you,” Strawhecker says. “After big agriculture in the United States in the ’50s, all of the sudden strawberries came available in December, or tomatoes came available in January…I think that kind of food is not at all the same, and it does not taste good.”

Strawhecker prefers to cook with food from within 100 miles of his locations and builds his menus on what he calls “hyper-seasonality.” This means an item like asparagus isn’t offered from his kitchen until it is in season, and he compromises this only on things that are absolutely essential as year-round ingredients.

Locally sourced food is healthy for consumers and for the local economy, says Ben Gotschall of Lone Tree Foods (a local food distribution company). He says when you support local food you are essentially supporting local businesses. 

“It puts money back into the local economy,” Gotschall says. “A locally owned business whose suppliers are also local keeps the money from leaving the area.”

Gotschall raises cattle and sells milk to people like Katie Justman, a cheese producer (at Branched Oak Dairy) who works solely with Gotschall’s grass-fed cows for her product. Gotschall also sells milk, cream, butter, and cheese wholesale through Lone Tree and on the site of Branched Oak Farm (located just north of Lincoln) through his company, Davey Road Ranch.

Justman cares very much about the environmental benefits of working with local, farm-raised product, but she says the environmental benefits are not her leading point when talking about why she focuses on farm-to-table food—instead, much like Gotschall, she talks more about the economic benefits.

“A lot of us go with the economics route when describing our philosophy because it is a lot more relatable to talk to people about it in that way,” Justman says. “It is technically less controversial, even though the sustainability aspects are very important to us and we [Branched Oak Farms] are 100 percent grass-fed and organic certified.”

Not everyone using farm-to-table ingredients does it as part of a movement. Jeanne Ohira is the co-owner of Ted and Wally’s Ice Cream. Ohira says when she and her brother, Joe, bought the company in 2000, using local ingredients was just the natural (no pun intended) thing to do.

“That’s just how we were raised,” Ohira says. “My dad was from a farming family. My mom was part of a co-op and we grew up driving way out to pick up different food. As a business, we didn’t really think about it [in terms of participating in a movement] because at the time it wasn’t much of a trend yet.”

The trend has found a welcome reception among Omaha’s high-end culinary scene, with farm-to-table fare on the menus of Kitchen Table, Au Courant, Baela Rose, Le Bouillon, Block 16, Stirnella, Mark’s Bistro, The Boiler Room, The Grey Plume, Society 1854, J. Coco, and Over Easy (among others).

Strawhecker’s Dante and Dante Pizzeria Napoletana demonstrate the local supply chain in practical application. Gotschall raises cows and sells their milk; Justman purchases the milk for her creamery and produces cheeses—including mozzarella—which Strawhecker uses in his gourmet pizzas. Strawhecker is one of Justman’s biggest customers of cheese. He’s also a major buyer of chickens from Plum Creek Farms and a buyer of other local farmers’ products.

But Dante is only one example of this bullish moo-moo-movement. Omaha’s urban place in the heart of Midwestern farm country has helped raise the city’s profile as one of America’s top destinations for farm-to-table cuisine.


This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. 

The Pick of the Zip

June 29, 2018 by
Photography by William Hess

Omaha has been named one of America’s “Best Cities for Foodies,” yet we often find ourselves in a self-imposed rut by heading to the same diners for breakfast, the same cafes for lunch, and the same restaurants for dinner.

It’s time to break the cycle and explore outside our daily routines. Whether you’re looking to find a new lunch place near your work, or if you’re planning date night logistics around soccer games and play rehearsals, we’ve developed a list of must-try dish picks for every zip code in the Omaha area (one dish per zip).

Along with zip codes in Omaha city limits, we expanded coverage to incorporate outlying areas (with the Platte River as our western and southern boundary). We also included three Iowa zip codes for a more complete presentation of the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro. Zip codes are arranged numerically in order.

We couldn’t do this on our own, so we reached out to some of Omaha’s leading food Instagrammers. These foodies know a thing or two about a beautiful meal. We sent them a list of the Omaha metro’s zip codes, and they replied with their dish picks. I curated excerpts from their contributed lists—supplemented by a few picks of my own—to complete this guide. 

Bon appetit!


Omaha-Council Bluffs Metro Area Zip Codes


Meet Our Instagram Foodie Consultants

@OOOOmaha_Eats (Heba Abdel-Rahim)

I started @OOOOmaha_Eats because when I lived in Austin, Texas, I always kept up-to-date with hip, new food joints through foodies’ Instagram accounts. When I moved to Omaha, I wanted to try new places and explore Omaha. I thought, ‘What better way to do so than through food?’ I already was taking pictures of all the new places I was trying, so I started my own foodie account.

@EatOurWorld (Margaret Davenport and Levi Campbell)

Our Instagram account, @EatOurWorld, is a shared endeavor. It began a few years ago when Levi had to design a website for a class and asked Margaret for help. We knew we wanted to do something food-related, so we decided to focus on local dishes, farmers, and products that make any region that we are visiting really stand out. There’s so much good food in Nebraska that has been made or produced here; some of our local dishes are just as good, if not better, than dishes you may find in the world’s leading food tourism destinations. Although we are primarily focused on Lincoln, we also frequent Omaha for dinner excursions.

@TheWalkingTourists (Tim and Lisa Trudell)

Our goal with @TheWalkingTourists Instagram account is to highlight and showcase the sights, eats, and fascinating activities from explorations of our backyard in Omaha and beyond. We hope to inspire people to get out and find new adventures. Together we wrote the book 100 Things to do in Omaha Before You Die, which is available for sale online and in local bookstores. We are also working on another book, Unique Eats and Eateries of Omaha, scheduled for spring 2019 release.

@OmahaEat (Yuko Dobashi)

I started my Instagram account to practice food photography and share my recipes and restaurant reviews in Omaha. Posting photos and interacting with other foodies gives me motivation to keep learning about my camera and Photoshop. My goal is to have more photos and recipes published.

@Omaha.Feast (Meredith George)

Instagram has been such a fun way to continue exploring Omaha and connect with friends and family—people love to talk about food and what their favorite places are. Running a “foodstagram” has helped me expand my tastes and push me outside my comfort zone. It’s also encouraged me to #eatlocal and continue to prioritize our awesome local restaurants and chefs.

@FoodOmaha402 (Neal Bierman)

I have loved going out to eat at local restaurants in Omaha ever since my parents started taking me out with them in the ’90s. I want to show Omahans, people in town for business, or folks vacationing in the Big O that there are so many amazing restaurants here. I truly admire and respect all the local restaurant owners, the risk and hard work they put in to start a restaurant, and the staff who make the dining experience so enjoyable. People in Omaha love going out to eat for entertainment, and I want to showcase that through Instagram.


Zip: 51501

Specializing in deep-fried catfish, carp, and Alaskan “walleye” (pollock), Council Bluffs’ Mo Fish (2403 Nash Blvd.) dips customers’ taste buds in an array of fried-fish flavors. Throughout the establishment, fish nets, fish replicas, and other fishy decorations hang from the walls and ceiling. Carpe diem with the carp dinner, which comes with toasted bread and two homemade sides: fries, coleslaw, or baked beans.  

  • Dish pick: carp dinner at Mo Fish
  • Price: $11.95
  • Website: mofishcafe.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402

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Zip: 51503

Barley’s (114 W. Broadway in Council Bluffs) offers a broad menu and generous portions of upscale pub food. The Chicken Hawk Sandwich is a big bite: lightly breaded, fried chicken breast topped with ranch dressing, bacon, and Swiss cheese, served with a side of fries. Our foodie consultant declared, “Chick-fil-A had better watch out!”

  • Dish pick: Chicken Hawk Sandwich at Barley’s 
  • Price: $9
  • Website: barleysbar.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402

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Zip: 51510

Tacos at Jonesy’s are a local Tex-Mex classic. They aren’t fancy (with their fried shells and processed American cheese), but they are humongous, tasty, and filling. Fans of Jonesy’s can get their fix at four area locations. Two brothers started the restaurant with locations in Aksarben and Council Bluffs; their children expanded the franchise with additional locations in Carter Lake and Council Bluffs. The Carter Lake location (1116 Locust St.) is an offshoot of the Aksarben branch, and it features more American dishes than available at the parent location.

  • Dish pick: tacos at Jonesy’s Taco House Carter Lake
  • Price: $3 (beef or chicken), $3.25 (fish), $3.75 (steak tacos), $2 (beef and chicken) during weekly Taco Tuesdays
  • Facebook: Jonesys Taco House Carter Lake
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 51526

For more than 25 years, Pink Poodle Steakhouse (633 Old Lincoln Highway in Crescent, Iowa) has served sock-hop nostalgia with delicious fare. It was a throwback even when it first opened. Nowadays, not much has changed at the Pink Poodle (including the onion rings, décor, and friendly service). All dinners are served with soup and salad, and come in hearty servings with a poodle…er…doggie…bag that is almost guaranteed to be going home with you.

  • Dish pick: prime rib at Pink Poodle Steakhouse
  • Price: $25 (12-oz. regular cut), $35 (cut-and-a-half), $48 (Diamond Jim cut)
  • Website: pinkpoodlesteakhouse.com
  • Chosen by: @OmahaEat

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Zip: 68005

In Japanese, “omakase,” translates to “I’ll leave it up to you.” Although pricey, the meal selection is worth considering at any renowned sushi restaurant—especially when the chef is Keen Zheng, who spent roughly 13 years training and working alongside several of the world’s top sushi chefs at Michelin-starred eateries in New York City. Before moving to Bellevue, Zheng worked under Daisuke Nakazawa (head apprentice of Jiro Ono, featured in the Netflix documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi). Make the reservation a day in advance for the dining experience at Zheng’s Umami (1504 Galvin Road S.), sit at the sushi bar to watch the master at work, and enjoy. Presentations and fish selection varies. The meal may consist of several dishes of individually presented delicacies.   

  • Dish pick: omakase at Umami 
  • Price: $75-$100 per person
  • Website: umamiasianne.com
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

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Zip: 68007 

If you’re visiting Bennington, roughly 10 miles outside of Omaha’s city limits, you’ll find there are only six or so options for dining. This includes fast food. So where should you dine in Bennington? The short answer is The Warehouse (15835 Center West Hadan Drive), which is known for their friendly service, late hours (they’re open until 11 p.m. or later), and wing sauces. 

  • Dish pick: wings with mango habanero sauce at The Warehouse
  • Price: $6.95 (six wings), $13.25 (12 wings), $24.75 (24 wings)
  • Website: benningtonwarehouse.com
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

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Zip: 68010

The Visitor’s Center Café at Boys Town (13603 Flanagan Blvd.) offers a basic menu of comfort foods when comfort is just what you’re after. With standard cafeteria-style dining, it’s a taste of home, without the dishes and chaos. Open weekdays and open to the general public, breakfast is served 6:45-9:45 a.m.; lunch is served 11 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.

  • Dish pick: western omelet at Boys Town Visitor’s Center Café
  • Price: $4.19
  • Website: boystown.org 
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

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Zip: 68022 

It’s easy to imagine Omaha is an island surrounded not by water, but by cornfields. An oasis of civilization surrounded by a rustic escape to homestead living. While that used to be an accurate portrayal, the cities and towns outside of Omaha’s limits have been growing, and now boast a burgeoning cultural scene for which you might want to make the drive. A day in Elkhorn isn’t complete without a stop at Bella Vita (2620 N. Main St.) for a hearty plate of tortellini di manzo, cheese tortellini tossed with sautéed onions, mushrooms, and beef tenderloin tips in a black peppercorn brandy cream sauce.

  • Dish pick: tortellini di manzo at Bella Vita Ristorante
  • Price: $19 (served dinner only)
  • Website: bellavitane.com
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke 

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Zip: 68028

Situated in Nebraska Crossing (21351 Nebraska Crossing Drive), Local Beer & Patio’s Gretna location brings variety to an area saturated with fast food. The freshest ingredients and the most artfully crafted beer pairings will be the highlight of a day of outlet-mall shopping. The menu’s sandwich choices are legit gourmet. Try the crispy mushroom sandwich: pretzel-breaded portobello mushroom, mayo, spinach, Swiss cheese, artichoke hearts, and tomato on a brioche bun. 

  • Dish pick: crispy mushroom sandwich at Local Beer & Patio
  • Price: $11.50
  • Website: localbeer.co
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

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Zip: 68046

Papillion has seen a lot of growth in the last several years, attracting families and businesses alike. As the restaurant scene catches up to the traffic, a front-runner has emerged in Ollie & Hobbes Craft Kitchen (310 E. Gold Coast Road). The establishment is known for its family-friendliness, and your child can count on being treated like a patron rather than simply patronized. Adults are treated to a 3-6 p.m. happy hour and a tantalizing menu that ranges from elegant pesto shrimp gnocchi to hearty pork schnitzel. Our expert chose the pan-seared salmon, which is served with garlic mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, hollandaise, and fried leeks. Make it an Oscar (add crab) for just $5 more. 

  • Dish pick: pan-seared salmon at Ollie & Hobbes Craft Kitchen
  • Price: $19 ($24 with crab)
  • Website: ollieandhobbes.com
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 68059

The crispy Buffalo chicken sandwich at Trojan Tavern (167 Main St. in Springfield) is worth the drive. Served in the pub’s famous Ozzie Deluxe sauce, covered in melted Swiss cheese, onions, and tomato, this sandwich is then drizzled with ranch dressing to offer the perfect amount of cooling to the sticky heat between the buns. Also, look for the daily drink specials.

  • Dish pick: crispy Buffalo chicken sandwich at Trojan Tavern
  • Price: $9.95
  • Website: thetrojantavern.com
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 68064

Just outside of Omaha in Valley, Simply Delicious (215 N. Spruce St.) has a big name to live up to. Served with mashed potatoes and gravy, the pan-fried chicken will transport you to your mother’s dinner table. A dish that’s never quite as good when you make it for yourself, Simply Delicious adds a pinch of love to get it just right.

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Zip: 68069

If you’re into cheese, check out El Bee’s (3200 N. 240th St. in Waterloo). While the establishment has been open for decades, they have no official website or Facebook page, but fans of the Tex-Mex spot have maintained a page for them since 2009. Although known for their friendly service and strong margaritas, the fried ice cream takes the prize at this spot. Sweet and crunchy, it’s the perfect ending to the spicy and savory meal.

  • Dish pick: fried ice cream at El Bee’s
  • Price: $5.90 (cash only)
  • Facebook: El Bees
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke 

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Zip: 68102

It seems nearly impossible to choose a place to eat while wandering the Old Market’s endless options, and no matter where you finally stop, you’ll find something a local food artist has tortured themselves to present to perfection. When we finally held their feet to the fire, two of our consultant foodies chose not only the same establishment, but the same dish—Block 16’s Croque Garcon (available at 1611 Farnam St.), a one-third pound, locally-sourced burger with ham, a sunny-side-up egg, mustard, and truffle mayo. How good is the Croque Garcon? Ask Food Network host Alton Brown, who named it his favorite burger in America. 

  • Dish pick: Croque Garcon Burger at Block 16
  • Price: $8.25
  • Website: block16omaha.com
  • Chosen by: @Omaha.Feast and @EatOurWorld

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Zip: 68104 

Booming Benson has turned Maple Street into the place to be when you’re hungry. Your many moods are sure to be satisfied somewhere between the upscale Au Courant and the cozy Leo’s Diner. While choosing one dish from the many options was difficult, our team of foodies couldn’t seem to keep the name Ika Ramen (6324 Maple St.) out of their mouths. Whether it’s the ancient tradition, the painstaking broth process, or the warmth of a bowl of hot, sticky noodles, Ika Ramen takes great care with each dish, and Omaha has taken notice.

  • Dish pick: tonkotsu ramen at Ika Ramen and Izakaya
  • Price: $12
  • Website: ikaramenandizakaya.com 
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

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Zip: 68105

The picks for this zip were split, with almost an even number of votes for Greek Islands, Mother India, and Stirnella. So, we consulted Yelp to settle the score. Blame it on longevity, but the winner was the family-owned-and-operated Greek Islands (3821 Center St.). For 35 years, Laki “Bill” and George Sgourakis have offered their loyal patrons a taste of the Mediterranean and a seat at their table. The can’t-miss dish is the saganaki, a thin brick of warm baked cheese. It is brought to your table still sizzling from the oven, where it is doused with brandy and ignited to the festive cry of “Opa!” before being extinguished with the juice from a lemon slice and served on house bread.

  • Dish pick: flaming saganaki at Greek Islands
  • Price: $8.25
  • Website: greekislandsomaha.com
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 68106

Jennifer Coco has gained a reputation for being one of Omaha’s best chefs. Her establishment, J. Coco (5203 Leavenworth St.), ran away with this nomination for the barbacoa short ribs, which are served with creamy corn risotto, tomatillo salsa, and queso fresco. 

  • Dish pick: barbacoa short ribs at J.Coco
  • Price: $27 (served dinner only)
  • Website: jcocoomaha.com
  • Chosen by: @Omaha.Feast 

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Zip: 68107

Taqueria Tijuana (5139 S. 24th St.) is known as one of the most traditional and authentic of Omaha’s Mexican restaurants. Reviewers praise the menudo, a labor-intensive dish consisting of tripe (beef stomach) and chili base. This dish is often made communally and is part of many family celebrations. Taqueria Tijuana believes that anytime you join them for dinner, it’s reason enough to celebrate with a warm bowl.

  • Dish pick: menudo at Taqueria Tijuana
  • Price: $7 (served weekends only)
  • Facebook: @TaqueriaTijuana402
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

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Zip: 68108

For their intense, three-day pizza crust-making process, ornately tiled wood-fired oven, and their handmade pastas, Via Farina (1108 S. 10th St.) was the uncontested winner in 68108. Just outside the Old Market, the restaurant is intimate and friendly, with a knowledgeable staff and extensive wine list. The majority of our foodie consultants chose Via Farina, but there was some disagreement about which dish deserved the crowning glory. After cross-referencing online reviews, the egg yolk raviolio beat out the bianco pizza for the top spot.

  • Dish pick: egg yolk raviolo at Via Farina
  • Price: $14
  • Website: goviafarina.com
  • Chosen by: @Omaha.Feast

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Zip: 68110

Get-N-Go Fish (1706 N. 24th St.) is only open Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. How did a restaurant that’s only open half of the week (and closes before most people have even realized they forgot to thaw something for dinner and need to order take-out) make this list? Simple. The catfish. When you do something really well, you get to choose when you do it. 

  • Dish pick: whole catfish dinner at Get-N-Go Fish
  • Price: $12
  • Website: getngofish.com
  • Chosen by: @OmahaEat

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Zip: 68111

When Big Mama’s Kitchen (3223 N. 45th St.) lost owner and chef “Big Mama” Patricia Barron earlier this year, the family pulled together to maintain her legacy and mission: to bring you to her table. Her special-recipe fried chicken never lost its ability to get the family to sit down and hush, and the owners make sure you know that even though Big Mama is gone, you’re still family. The restaurant is currently located in the 68104 zip code, but is scheduled to move into the 68111 zip code (2112 N. 30th St.) after the Highlander Accelerator’s construction completes. 

  • Dish pick: oven-fried chicken at Big Mama’s Kitchen
  • Price: $9.29 (two pieces with one side), $10.89 (three pieces with one side); $11.99 (two pieces with two sides), $12.99 (three pieces with two sides)
  • Website: bigmamaskitchen.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402 

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Zip: 68112

A former food truck has emerged as one of Omaha’s hottest barbecue joints. Fat BBQ Shack (7440 N. 30th St.) still honors its former identity with heavy traffic from carry-out customers. But you might want to dine in, with blues music on the house speakers and wafting aromas of savory, sweet barbecue hot off the grill. Out of all the meat and sandwich options on the menu, the Shack Attack stands out. This mouth-watering behemoth comes with hand-cut fries topped with your choice of meat, barbecue sauce, shredded cheese, sour cream, ranch dressing, jalapeños, and chives. Don’t forget to share.

  • Dish pick: The Shack Attack at Fat BBQ Shack
  • Price: $8.99, add $1.49 for extra meat
  • Website: fatbbqshack.biz
  • Chosen by: @Omaha.Feast

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Zip: 68113

Offutt Air Force Base has its own zip code, but the meal options are limited to those with base access (or retired military and their families); however, Offutt does welcome the general public during certain special occasions. The public relations team at Offutt claims that Resa’s Famous Spaghetti at Peacekeeper Lanes has been a hit “for many, many years.” But for those lacking base access, there is the wonderful Korean House Restaurant (2413 Lincoln Road)—which is technically just outside Offut’s zip code in Bellevue—situated just beside the entry gate to the base. The restaurant looks a bit sketchy on the outside, but the tables are clean and the juicy kalbee (fried chicken bulgogi and beef bulgogi) is well-seasoned and comes with free kimchi side dishes. 

  • Dish pick: Resa’s Famous Spaghetti at Peacekeeper Lanes (for those with base access); house special at Korean House Restaurant (for those without base access)
  • Price: $6.25 full portion, $5 half portion (Resa’s Famous Spaghetti at Peacekeeper Lanes, served Wednesdays during lunch); $9.75 (bulgogi, chicken, kalbee, and drink at Korean House)
  • Facebook: @Offutt55fss & Korean House
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke (Peacekeeper Lanes) and @OmahaEat (Korean House Restaurant)

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Zip: 68114 

“El basha” was an Arabic term for “the elite society” during the Turkish and Ottoman empires. The unassuming atmosphere at El Basha restaurant (7503 Pacific St.) combined with the very reasonable prices may not strike you as “upper crust,” but the expertly balanced dishes and deep spices create the richest of flavor experiences. Our team chose the tender beef shawarma (which can also be made with chicken) from the extensive menu.

  • Dish pick: hummus with beef shawarma at El Basha
  • Price: $7.50
  • Website: elbashagrill.com
  • Chosen by: @OOOOmaha_Eats

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Zip: 68116

Wave Bistro (4002 N. 144th St.) boasts a large but focused menu of European- and Asian-inspired dishes created by chef/owner George Liao. His wife and co-owner, Connie, runs the front of the house, and the family’s warmth and charm are as much a reason to enjoy Wave Bistro as the exceptional food. 

  • Dish pick: shrimp roll with firecracker sauce at Wave Bistro
  • Price: $8.95 (served dinner only)
  • Website: wavebistrorestaurant.com
  • Chosen by: @Omaha.Feast

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Zip: 68117

Puerto Vallarta (4871 L St.) is a Tex-Mex party any day of the week. The restaurant serves various forms of meat and beans on tortillas and also has an exceptional salsa. But don’t miss the molcajetes: tender slices of ribeye, chicken, pork, shrimp, chorizo, scallops, or tilapia grilled with mushrooms, squash, Mexican onions, and nopal (cactus) served in a molcajete, a traditional grinding bowl. 

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Zip: 68118

An Omaha favorite for years, Pitch West (17808 Burke St.) offers house-cured meats, house-made pastas, and coal-fired pizza with an artistic touch. The Mia (pizza) features San Marzano tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, fresh mozzarella, house-made fennel sausage, and pepperoni. 

  • Dish pick: The Mia at Pitch
  • Price: $20
  • Website: pitchpizzeria.com
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld and @Omaha.Feast

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Zip: 68122 

Chosen by three of our reviewers, each for a different dish, Mangia Italiana (6516 Irvington Road) has something for everyone. For a truly unique experience, get there in March and try their Italian Reuben pizza featuring an olive oil and fresh garlic base, roasted red pepper dressing, corned beef, sauerkraut, and provolone on Mangia’s signature crust.

  • Dish pick: pizza rosso (whole milk mozzarella, asiago, romano, parmesan, and provolone) at Mangia Italiana
  • Price: $13.99 (10-inch), $16.99 (13-inch), $19.99 (16-inch) 
  • Website: mangiaitaliana.com
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

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Zip: 68123

The most devilish spot on our list—Sinful Burger (4005 Twin Creek Drive)—has an offense to fit any occasion. Choosing from the sins themselves is a crime, but Lust has never steered anyone wrong. A half-pound patty smothered in basil pesto, bleu cheese, and from-scratch garlic mayo.

  • Dish pick: Lust at Sinful Burger
  • Price: $8.99
  • Website: sinfulburger.com 
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 68124

This area boasts at least two spectacular steakhouses, but we chose The Drover (2121 S. 73rd St.). The steakhouse has made a science of seasoning and artistry of marinade. Your cut doesn’t receive the whiskey treatment or the secret spices until after you order it. At that point, it sits and waits until the optimal flavor window before being grilled to your specifications. Time-consuming? Yes. Worth it? Yes. (Tip: Try adding marinated mushrooms to the order).

  • Dish pick: whiskey steak sirloin at Drover (served dinner only)
  • Price: $26.95, add $8.50 for a bowl of mushrooms (enough for two or three people) 
  • Website: droverrestaurant.com
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 68127

Korea Garden Restaurant (5352 S. 72nd St.) offers authentic Korean cuisine in Ralston. The restaurant provides a range of fresh dishes, from plates of stir-fried octopus to bowls of bibimbap or the classic beef bulgogi (a popular Korean dish of marinated beef slices in a special house sauce cooked over a tabletop grill). Also, make sure to savor the banchan—appetizer dishes such as kimchi, gimbap, japchae, and potatoes—and don’t be shy to ask for free refills on the sides. 

  • Dish pick: beef bulgogi at the Korean Garden Restaurant 
  • Price: $10.95
  • Website: koreangardenomaha.com
  • Chosen by: @OmahaEat

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Zip: 68128

The La Vista area food scene is expanding, but nothing can overcome Omaha’s affection for any dish named after, well, us. The Omaha Potato Casserole at Summer Kitchen Café (12010 Giles Road) features lean ground beef grilled with onions and mushrooms, American, Monterey jack and cheddar cheeses, sliced tomato, and pickle chips.

  • Dish pick: Omaha Potato Casserole at Summer Kitchen Café
  • Price: $9.99 (junior), $11.99 (regular), $13.00 (king), add $1.39 for an egg on top
  • Website: summerkitchen.net
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 68130

Legacy Gyros (16920 Wright Plaza) had some stiff competition but still managed to win this vote. Reviewers mentioned the Turkish coffee—which isn’t easy to find in Omaha—and the pride the owner takes in his establishment as reasons to visit.

  • Dish pick: the classic gyro at Legacy Gyros
  • Price: $6.99
  • Website: legacygyros.com
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

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Zip: 68131

While Blackstone has no shortage of must-try eateries, Dante Pizzeria Napoletana (3852 Farnam St.) still manages to stand out for its quality ingredients, friendly staff, and fast-fine atmosphere. Choosing a single dish from the menu is akin to traveling with Virgil to the third circle of the inferno. Our reviewers failed to come to a consensus, so we executed judgment after much deliberation. The Diavolo was the eventual front-runner, with soppressata, link sausage, Calabrian chili, garlic, and mozzarella. It is truly sinful. 

  • Dish pick: Diavolo at Dante Pizzeria Napoletana
  • Price: $13
  • Website: dantepizzeria.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402 and @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 68132 

Chef/owner Dario Schicke doesn’t serve food he wouldn’t serve his family, and his Northern Italian-inspired Avoli Osteria (5013 Underwood Ave.) is no exception. The seasonal menu always has something new to try, but the Bolognese bianco (pork and veal Bolognese) with toasted hazelnuts and pecorino Romano cheese on rigatoni won our reviewer’s vote.

  • Dish pick: Bolognese bianco (now simply called “rigatoni” on the menu) at Avoli Osteria
  • Price: $18
  • Website: avoliosteria.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402

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Zip: 68133

Some zip codes on the periphery of Omaha offer slim pickings aside from national franchise chains and fast food. The southern reaches of Papillion are a case in point. The Hop House Bar & Grill (11425 S. 72nd St.) offers an alternative. Now to choose from the most-delicious deep-fried morsel on the menu. Why not get it all? The sampler platter offers just this opportunity with mac & cheese bites, onion rings, jalapeño poppers, fried spicy pub pickles, and fried battered cauliflower.

  • Dish pick: sampler platter at The Hop House Bar & Grill 
  • Price: $12.99
  • Website: hophousebar.com
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

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Zip: 68134

A small spot with big, fat Greek portions, Jim and Jennie’s (3026 N. 90th St.) offers a vast menu filled with flavor. Loved for their generous dishes, authentic flavors, and warm atmosphere, Jim and Jennie’s was the destination of choice among our contributors, but the winning dish was up for debate. Ultimately, the stuffed eggplant papoutsakia came out on top. Eggplant filled with seasoned ground beef and béchamel, the dish is topped with kasseri cheese and served with Greek potatoes.  

  • Dish pick: stuffed eggplant papoutsakia at Jim and Jennie’s Greek Village
  • Price: $11 (served Saturdays only)
  • Website: jimandjennies.com 
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 68135

Locally sourced, fun, and delicious, Over Easy (16859 Q St.) was the runaway winner for West O. While the establishment received hard nods for the corned beef hash, roasted portabello sandwich, and hash brown rounds, they won for their clever, house-made Pop Tarts. Choose between the seasonal fruit and Nutella, whether dining in or hitting the drive-through. Whatever you do, choose to pop by.

  • Dish pick: Pop Tarts at Over Easy
  • Price: $3.99
  • Website: overeasyomaha.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402 and @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 68136

Ling’s Asian Cuisine (6909 S. 157th St.), previously known as “Vietnamese Restaurant,” sits humbly in a strip mall, just waiting to offer you a cup of iced Vietnamese coffee. You’re treated with the same hospitality whether you’re dining in or carrying out, and the menu offers most pan-Asian favorites, from pad thai to kung pao. The owners are originally from Taiwan and used to run a popular Chinese restaurant in Lincoln. They are bringing a special Taiwanese beef noodle soup to the menu in the future.

  • Dish pick: vermicelli rice noodle bowl at Ling’s Asian Cuisine
  • Price: $10
  • Website: lingsasiancuisine.com
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

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Zip: 68137 

Shirley’s Diner (13838 R Plaza) hosts a cult following for being as warm as a greasy spoon, minus the grease. A clean and well-managed establishment, the staff is warm and the décor is updated old-school. The comfort-classic praised by our foodie was the Country Sunrise. The homemade biscuit with a sausage patty, scrambled eggs, and creamy sausage gravy will keep you satisfied until lunch…tomorrow.

  • Dish pick: Country Sunrise at Shirley’s Diner
  • Price: $9.99
  • Website: shirleysdiner.com
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

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Zip: 68138

Azteca (9429 S. 142nd St.) is an easy stop off I-80 at 144th Street. The restaurant is a welcome place to rest for weary travelers, but locals make the stop for a variety of reasons. The generous portions, friendly staff, and the piña colada are all reason enough to pop in. Azteca offers a mostly basic Tex-Mex menu, but they do it well. The Azteca Burrito Supreme stands up to its name, showcasing the best of the basic. The monster starts off with rice, beans, and choice of ground beef, pork, or chicken in a flour tortilla, which is then smothered with burrito sauce and topped with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and guacamole.

  • Dish pick: Azteca Burrito Supreme at Azteca Mexican Restaurant
  • Price: $9.95
  • Website: aztecaomaha.com
  • Chosen by: @EatOurWorld

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Zip: 68142

A fun spot to watch a game, grab a drink, or enjoy a casual dinner with friends, Ryan’s Food & Spirits (12221 Mary Plaza) does more than catering. Vegetarian and gluten-free options are available at the sports bar, with an extensive upscale menu available on the bistro side. The steak lafa wrap is a stand-out dish from an exceptional menu. The dish features herbed cream cheese, balsamic cranberry chutney, caramelized onions, and mixed greens with marinated grilled skirt steak.

  • Dish pick: steak lafa wrap at Ryan’s Food & Spirits
  • Price: $11.95
  • Website: rgcateringevents.com 
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402

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Zip: 68144

Several of our foodie consultants selected Little España as their Rockbrook favorite, possibly unaware that the establishment closed April 14. (Don’t tell them, OK?) The other name on their lips was Jaipur Indian Restaurant and Brewing Co. (10922 Elm St.). Delicious, from-scratch Indian fare is perfectly paired with their jalapeño ale (brewed on-site), friendly staff, and biryani. The winning dish was the chicken tikka madras, spiced boneless chicken in coconut milk sauce. 

  • Dish pick: chicken tikka madras at Jaipur Indian Restaurant and Brewing Co.
  • Price: $18.95
  • Website: jaipurindianfood.com
  • Chosen by: @FoodOmaha402

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Zip: 68147

Known for their signature “Toad” (a unique take on a fried taco), Nettie’s (7110 Railroad Ave.) is an old-school community favorite. The huevos con chorizo comes with two eggs scrambled with Mexican sausage, served with rice, beans, and tortillas.

  • Dish pick: huevos con chorizo at Nettie’s
  • Price: $14.95
  • Facebook: @NettiesFineMexicanFood
  • Chosen by: @TheWalkingTourists

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Zip: 68152

The Cabin Bar and Grill (9226 Mormon Bridge Road) is not fancy. But it is filling. Frontier pioneers would have approved of these portions. The prime rib is as big as the plate, and comes with a hearty serving of veggies and potatoes on the side. The gizzards are hand-breaded. But our pick comes from the menu’s “signature items,” the Triple Decker Reuben. The Cabin’s signature Reuben comes with home-cooked corned beef and the traditional fixings of sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing, and is covered in melted Swiss cheese. 

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Zip: 68154

Generous portions of nutritious food in an eco-friendly environment make Greenbelly (210 N. 114th St.) a go-to destination for Omaha’s health-minded. Gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options abound in the green-themed eatery, which also offers compostable, corn-based containers and cutlery. The Thai salmon salad won out, with grilled salmon, mixed spring greens, green onion, cilantro, and peanuts in a sweet Thai chili sauce and a side of Thai peanut dressing.

  • Dish pick: Thai salmon salad at Greenbelly
  • Price: $9.99 (baby), $10.99 (regular)
  • Website: thegreenbelly.com
  • Chosen by: @OOOOmaha_Eats

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Zip: 68157

The kitschy and fun 80’s Snack Shack (4733 Giles Road) that opened early this year across from Bryan High is an unassuming spot you may not notice if you aren’t looking for it. A glass of strawberry water is a fun twist and a refreshing kick after any of the spicy dishes on the Mexican menu. 

  • Dish pick: pork tamales with two street tacos at 80’s Snack Shack
  • Price: $6
  • Facebook: @80sMunchies 
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

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Zip: 68164

Hiro 88 in West Omaha (3655 N. 129th St.), which famed Japanese architect Hiroshi Nakamura helped design, is a premier Omaha destination for high-end Japanese and pan-Asian cuisine. Three Instagrammers suggested separate dishes: tempura udon (soup with creamy noodles and crispy shrimp), the Golden Gate roll (with tuna, shrimp, crab mix, avocado, and cucumber), and the negi hamachi roll (with yellowtail and green onions). Call us biased, but we deferred to the judgment of the Instagrammer with Japanese heritage.

  • Dish pick: negi hamachi roll at Hiro 88
  • Price: $7.50
  • Website: hiro88.com
  • Chosen by: @OmahaEat

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Zip: 68178

Creighton University has its own zip code, but the campus dining options are restricted to students. In the 68102 zip code, across the street from campus, China Taste (1702 Cuming St.) is popular for affordable Chinese meals. The all-you-can-eat lunch buffet is only $7.75, and the steamed dumplings received rave reviews from Creighton students and staff. But when it comes to eating on campus, the Rev. Lorn Snow suggests the public drop by St. John’s Church for Mass at 10:30 a.m. Sundays, and stay for the free coffee and donuts after the service. 

  • Dish pick: Steamed dumplings at China Taste (next to campus); coffee and donuts at St. John’s Church (on campus)
  • Price: $4.65 (for six steamed dumplings); free (coffee and donuts)
  • Website: chinatasteomaha.com and stjohns-creighton.org
  • Chosen by: Sara Locke

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Do you have a local food Instagram account we should be following? Drop us a comment, and be sure to follow us back @OmahaMagazine. 

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. 

David & Diane Hayes

September 28, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Over the past 30 years, “Hayes” has become a big name in the local restaurant and bar scene. With wife Diane now behind him as his partner and “most avid supporter,” Hayes has owned some area favorites including The Winery, Monterey Café, Jams, Bebo’s, Block 16, and several Egg and I locations. He currently owns V. Mertz and is active in numerous industry organizations. He was even inducted into the Omaha Hospitality Hall of Fame last year.

Despite all their ventures, the Hayeses felt Omaha lacked a particular kind of establishment they came to know and love from their visits to the Midwest’s largest metropolis.

“We really enjoy some of the cocktail lounges as we go through Chicago. But we couldn’t find the same thing here,” Diane says. “We felt like there was a market here for this type of concept.”

The couple opened Trio Cocktails and Company last December in the Sterling Ridge development near 132nd and Pacific streets.

“Trio is an upscale, midcentury modern cocktail lounge. It’s sophisticated, yet it’s warm and inviting,” Diane says. “We purposely made a small, intimate setting where people feel comfortable whether they’re in jeans or dressed up. It’s welcoming to any situation and a broad range of people.” 

Designed by award-winning architect Lori Krejci of Avant Architects, Trio is “a beautiful setting,” Diane says. “I think it brings a sense of sophistication.”

A focal point is the 600-bottle chandelier that stretches the length of the bar and changes colors throughout the evening. “It’s absolutely gorgeous,” Diane says. Not only is it a work of art, it was a labor of love.
Krejci designed the chandelier, and, after the spotless new bottles arrived from the manufacturer, the Hayeses helped her assemble the delicate fixture.

No detail was overlooked. “Check out the restrooms,” David says. “They’re beautiful.”

“We wanted to create an environment that was unusual and beautiful, and when you couple that with the drinks, I don’t think there’s any other place in Omaha that offers that combination, that environment, that experience,” Diane says. “Our bartenders make really good cocktails. They make the classics, but they use the best ingredients and people appreciate that. You’ll find Old-Fashioned cocktails, Manhattans, and martinis made in an exceptional way.”

Trio also offers more than 80 bottles of wine, 15 wines by the glass, and three rotating tap beers. It opens at 3 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, closing at midnight except Friday and Saturday, when it closes at 2 a.m. Guests can indulge in a happy hour from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. weeknights, and patio seating when the weather is nice.

“Omaha is a big restaurant community. There have been some exciting new restaurant concepts opening in this community, but this is something that is a little different. Trio is as fine as any cocktail lounge you’ll see in Chicago or New York,” Diane says. “It brings a different level of sophistication to Omaha. This is a destination in itself.”

Another plus? “Impeccable” service.

“Our manager at V. Mertz is also managing Trio. The level of service you see at V. Mertz, you will also see at Trio,” she says. “From the welcoming smile when you first walk in the door to the wonderful drinks you receive, the service is top-notch, and you will see that in all of Dave’s restaurants.”

Visit triococktails.com for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Groovy Gravy

January 12, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

UPDATE (Jan. 12, 2017) : After the publication of the January/February issue of Encounter Magazine, Cask Republic announced that it would no longer sell poutine.

“We realize that the food aspect, especially the poutine, was not financially viable,” says Ryan Frickel, co-owner of Cask Republic. Snacks will soon be available, and the bar allows patrons to bring in food from several area restaurants.

* * * * *

Foodies generally regard the 1950s as the nadir of 20th century cuisine in North America. It brought us TV dinners, jello salads, and tuna casseroles. However, it also brought us a Canadian dish that, depending on your disposition, is either a trinity of salty, starchy, fatty goodness, or a cardiologist’s dream for stirring up new business (in truth, it’s probably both).

Poutine is, essentially, french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. Like the Reuben sandwich, there’s been a few claims to its origin, but the general consensus is that it came from rural Quebec in the late 1950s. It’s a prominent staple for restaurants downtown (Block 16) as well as Benson (1912, Benson Brewery). For the Cask Republic bar in Dundee, it’s their primary focus.

Co-owners Ryan Frickel and Craig Lundin opened Cask Republic this past summer in the former home of the popular French Bulldog restaurant. Frickel came to the decision to focus on poutine after eating it in Benson last year. Frickel says there have been poutine-focused eateries sprouting up on the West and East coasts for the past few years. Frickel wanted to be the first in Nebraska to have such an eatery.

“Who doesn’t like meat and potatoes in Nebraska?” Frickel says.

poutine1For their version of poutine, the Cask Republic double-fries their french fries to get them crispy enough to withstand the heavy coating of gravy. Their beef gravy (they also have chicken and vegetarian variations) is a combination of homemade beef stock, spices, herbs like rosemary, and some chicken. Finally, their cheese curds, served at room temperature, top the dish. When you bite into one of the curds, it should sound faintly like a dog toy.

“If it’s not squeaky, then people in the poutine world get super pissed off,” Frickel says.

Like other greasy spoon staples such as hamburgers and hash browns, there have been plenty of high-end takes on poutine. 1912 has a variation that includes duck. Block 16’s gravy incorporates a red wine reduction. The Cask Republic has poutines that include burnt ends, and even “seasonal” poutines, including turkey for the holidays. Still, focusing your menu on dish that’s basically french fries and gravy is risky. Frickel, however, compares poutine to other dishes that are now commonplace around Omaha.

“[We] kind of likened it to sushi, where 20 years ago, people in Omaha either didn’t know what sushi was or never tried it. But on the coast, it was starting to explode,” Frickel says.

Of course, if you’re going to clog your arteries with starch, cheese, and gravy, you might as well go all out and wash it down with a brew. That’s where beer comes in at Cask Republic. Frickel and minority- owner Alex Gunhus are both beer enthusiasts; they traveled to breweries throughout the United States to come up with their beer menu. Frickel says he eventually wants to build his own brewery inside the Cask Republic.

“There’s nothing like that in the Dundee area, which blows my mind,” Frickel says. “We want to be the first to do that.”

Visit facebook.com/caskrepublic for more information.

Farmer to Table

April 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sarah Farmer wakes each day to a stack of cookbooks teetering at her bedside. The colorful tower of culinary tomes includes works by Farmer’s favorite chefs—Susan Feniger, Sean Brock, April Bloomfield—alongside classics such as an 1895 cookbook gifted by Farmer’s grandmother.

“My collection inspires me. I like seeing how food and the industry evolve over time,” says Farmer, the sous chef at Lot 2 Restaurant and Wine Bar and a member of the team of young chefs who won the 2015 American Culinary Federation Student Team National Championship.

Like her stacked cache of gastronomic guidebooks, Farmer, 26, strives for balance in cuisine, career, and life.

Work-life balance took “a lot of acrobatics” when Farmer studied at Metropolitan Community College’s Institute for the Culinary Arts (ICA), worked three jobs, and practiced with Culinary Team Nebraska, which went on to win the Culinary Federation’s national title for college teams, an achievement Farmer calls “one of the proudest, most humbling moments of my life.”

“Sarah is tenacious, intelligent, talented, calm, engaged, kind, and open-hearted,” says Brian O’Malley, Culinary Team Nebraska Coach and executive director of Metro’s Institute for the Culinary Arts.

Farmer, a native of Rochester, N.Y., moved to Omaha in 2009. In 2012—after stints studying video communications and intercultural studies—she realized it was time to pursue her lifelong passion for food.

“It’s a great environment with a really interesting dynamic,” says Farmer, who graduated in 2015.

She credits faculty members like O’Malley for giving her the skill and confidence she needed to succeed. In 2013, she landed a job with the celebrated team at J. Coco.

“I just wanted to get my foot in the door working in a professional kitchen,” says Farmer, who pursued J. Coco because of chef/owner Jennifer Coco’s talent and reputation. “I also wanted to work for a female chef and get that perspective in my first job.”

Farmer’s current boss, Lot 2 Head Chef Joel Mahr, finds her creativity motivating.

“Her attitude on cuisine is much like how I pushed myself in the early years of cooking,” he says. “Finishing culinary school and getting a sous chef position right away says a lot about her work ethic.”

Farmer, who has also worked at Localmotive Food Truck and Le Bouillon, says she and Mahr share similar visions and a “refined yet approachable” style.

Farmer enjoys dining at favorites such as Avoli, Ika Ramen and Izakaya, Nite Owl, and Block 16. If time allows, she enjoys movies, music, biking, and dancing. She also enjoys reading beyond the pages of her stack of cookbooks.

“I love learning new things,” she says, noting particular interest in current events, biographical nonfiction, and fantasy/sci-fi. She just re-read Lord of the Rings—a favorite and “a nice escape that has nothing to do with food.”

Farmer also relishes her close group of supportive friends.

“They’ve been my biggest driving force in Omaha for pursuing big goals and dreams,” says Farmer, whose 5-year plan includes continued learning and growth.

“I’m still very new in my craft, and the success and accolades I’ve gotten are actually lots of pressure,” she says. “I feel like the rookie winning the World Series…how do I top that and continue to grow? I’d like to go somewhere else, learn more, then hopefully bring that back to Omaha.”

Chicago is one possible destination. Although Farmer says she’d miss Omaha’s “excellent culinary community,” she’s eager as ever to gain new insight.

For now, Farmer’s balancing act continues here—practicing her craft at Lot 2, celebrating life with her friends, and continuing to push forward.

SarahFarmerOptimized

COMMONgood

February 17, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Helmets fastened, Leslie Wells and Chase King climb on their bikes and take off for a brisk ride through downtown Omaha on a crisp afternoon. For these avid cyclists though, today’s ride isn’t about recreation. It’s about recycling.

Earlier in the day, the two men collected hundreds of glass and plastic bottles, cups, containers, cardboard, cans, and other items from an Old Market coffee shop and a downtown restaurant. They loaded and secured each trash bag, box, and bin stuffed with recyclables onto a pull-behind bicycle trailer hitched to a Surly Pugsley bike with big, fat tires.

On today’s route, King rides the bike pulling the trailer, while Wells follows on his own bicycle. After pedaling their way to a recycling dumpster in a parking lot near Heartland of America Park, they unload the nearly 300-pound haul. Everything but the glass, which is biked to a collection site at 26th and Douglas streets, gets tossed into the giant bin.

Two days later, they’ll be it again—putting the cycle in recycle. Their efforts are part of COMMONgood Recycling, one of several programs operated by local nonprofit group inCOMMON Community Development.

Wells, program director at inCOMMON and a longtime cycling enthusiast, created and coordinates the pedal-powered service, which is offered Monday and Saturday to business owners in the downtown and midtown areas. Its primary goals are to assist small businesses, employ residents seeking entry-level work, and help protect the environment.

The idea came about after Wells noticed two of his friends, who own Omaha Bicycle Co. in Benson, using their bikes to recycle. It inspired him to take a similar approach to recycling at Aromas Coffeehouse in the Old Market, where he worked at the time.

At first, he used a handmade wooden cart attached to his bike to haul recyclables from Aromas but later switched to a solid aluminum trailer because it was stronger and could handle heavier loads. Over time, Wells thought other downtown businesses might be interested in his method of recycling. And if he could get enough customers to sign up and pay a small fee for the service, it could create job opportunities for low-income residents served by inCOMMON, where Wells volunteered.

His plan got a boost in May when inCOMMON was awarded a $25,000 grant from State Farm to help develop the program. Wells joined inCOMMON’s staff full time to expand and oversee the effort.

What started with one client has now grown to more than a dozen participating businesses, including Flatiron Cafe, Block 16, Aromas Coffeehouse, Kaneko, Table Grace Cafe, Elevate, Greengo Coffee & Deli, Bench, Davis Companies, CO2 Apartments, and others. Businesses sign up and pay a monthly fee of $40 for weekly pickup. Other pricing options, including one-time service, are also available.

Previously, many of those businesses were simply discarding recyclable materials in the trash. “A service like this is important because it allows small businesses to start doing the right thing by recycling and still afford to hit their bottom line by reducing their waste fee,” Wells says.

For riders, who are either unemployed or underemployed, COMMONgood Recycling allows them to make money, Wells says, and it gives those who want to transition back into the workforce an opportunity to acquire job experience, training, and multiple skills to include on their résumés.

Christian Gray, executive director of inCOMMON Community Development, says the recycling project fits in nicely with the organization’s overall mission to strengthen struggling neighborhoods and alleviate poverty at its root.

The nonprofit group, which in October celebrated the grand opening of its Park Ave Commons community center at 1340 Park Ave., provides a variety of services for neighborhood residents, including GED instruction, preventative and emergency services, community building, English language lessons, job readiness, and other resources.

King is among the riders employed by COMMONgood Recycling as an independent contractor.

Since June, he’s helped collect, sort, and haul recyclables to drop-off sites around town. He sees the service as a way to help promote a greener community and reduce the amount of trash that goes into landfills.

“Landfills are full enough already,” King says.

In the coming year, Wells hopes to add more riders, bikes, and customers, while continuing to raise recycling awareness. He also wants to expand the service to include other areas of the city, including Benson.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz

November 4, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Cookbook author Isa Chandra Moskowitz has a lot on her plate right now (yes, that was a cheap pun. Moving on). She’s just released her eighth vegan cookbook, Isa Does It, she’s wrapped filming an online video cooking series produced by Zero Point Zero, Inc., she designs the Meatless Mondays menu at Benson Brewery, and she’s opening her own vegan restaurant in Midtown Omaha next spring.

It’s all a part of keeping up with the growing momentum of the vegan lifestyle in the Midwest. “I think things are happening really fast,” Moskowitz says. “If I just look at my life here in Omaha for the past three years, things have progressed so fast. I think in five years, everything will be Portland. In terms of vegan, not in terms of fixies.” That’s a fixed-gear bicycle, for the non-hipsters among us.

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Welcome to the dry humor that is Moskowitz. Isa Does It is full of her quips, making the book not only an unintimidating introduction to vegan cooking but also a darn fun read.

The Brooklyn transplant went vegetarian as a teen of the ’80s for no huge reason other than that she likes animals. “As soon as I realized, oh, I can cook without meat, it just worked,” she says. Her mother and sister went along for the ride. “It was kind of the reverse of what a lot of people experience,” Moskowitz recalls. “You go vegetarian, your family disowns you, you can’t eat together. My mom came home with a stack of cookbooks and said, okay, let’s do this, and we all just started cooking together.”

20130911_bs_1154

Moskowitz transitioned to veganism shortly thereafter. She tried things out for herself, checked out how her friends cooked, watched The Food Network, and learned from the chefs at the restaurants where she served.

After admittedly being a little spoiled by the wide variety of ethnic food available in New York, Moskowitz moved to Omaha in 2010 to be with her boyfriend, John McDevitt. “You know, just like every other girl who’s not from here originally. Must be a lot of great Midwest guys here.”

It seems she’s settled in, as she lists her favorite places in town for vegan food: Kitchen Table, Block 16, Amsterdam Falafel, and Crystal Jade. If you order off the Crystal Jade vegan menu, look for the Isa Noodle. “I always went in and ordered a specific noodle with all these changes, so they finally just put it on the menu,” Moskowitz says. “They were like, we’re not dealing with you anymore. It’s seitan, cilantro, broccoli…it’s a noodle dish that’s kind of sweet and spicy and herby.”

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Though she experiments with food from all over the world, her own heritage influences the finished dish. “There’s always a Jewish-grandmother feel to everything I do, even if it’s curry,” she says.

Expect to see this unique style of comfort food on the menu at Moskowitz’s debut restaurant at 50th and Saddle Creek. “We’re going to do brunch and dinner,” she says, “no lunch. I’m going to keep the hours manageable.” Due to her commitments with cookbooks and shows, Moskowitz says she’s not going for a high-volume, high-turnover restaurant. “I want this to be a cozy retreat, like they’re in my kitchen.”

She’s still searching for the perfect partners for the restaurant. “I want my chef, even if they’re not vegan, to just love food,” she says. “I want them to love experimenting, with no pretension. I’d rather have someone who can grill tofu really well over someone who’s like, hey, I can create foam out of flax and banana. Someone who loves feeding people and cooks from the heart.”

The State of Downtown

December 25, 2012 by

With 2012 in the rearview mirror and a strong 2013 ahead of us, we thought we’d bring to you the State of Downtown Omaha!

Downtown Omaha is thriving. Major development and redevelopment projects are changing the landscape of the area. Projects such as the Hyatt Hotel, the Barker Building, the Marriott Hotel, the Highline, and the Gavilon headquarters building will bring people, jobs, housing, and businesses to the downtown area.

Small businesses continue to emerge. Le Wonderment and The Tea Smith have established themselves within the traditional small business center of the Old Market, while Café 100, The Tap House, Block 16, and McLovin—A Store for Men dot the downtown cityscape.

The coming year will bring additional changes and isn’t without challenges. Opportunities to improve the public parking system, vehicular and pedestrian wayfinding, the Leahy Mall, and 16th Street are within reach. However, we must also remain vigilant in our efforts to tackle the challenges that exist on 16th Street, in the lack of short-distance transit options, and the periodic safety issues.

This is a time in our city’s history when we should be proud of our downtown, its ongoing growth, and the bright future that lies ahead. Happy New Year!

This column is part of a series detailing the activities and efforts of the Omaha Downtown Improvement District (DID) to further strengthen Downtown Omaha.