Tag Archives: caramel

OJs Enchilada

August 2, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ground beef and cottage cheese on an enchilada. The combination sounds strange, but it tastes amazing.

Creamy, melted cottage cheese oozes over hearty meat and shredded lettuce, tucked into a flour tortilla. Douse the whole plate with ladles of finely chopped hot salsa (made fresh every day), and dig in.

The menu warns in all-caps: “GUARANTEED A GUT-BUSTER!” It stretches across the plate like a log, coated with a blanket of cheddar and sprinkled with black olive slices. Twin mounds of rice and refried beans huddle beside the delicious monstrosity.

OJs1Ever since I learned of cottage cheese enchiladas, OJ’s Cafe on the edge of the Missouri River has called to me like a siren song for fat kids.

Mexican food is fairly common in the Midwest nowadays, but OJ’s Cafe was a trendsetter. Located next to the Florence Mill, just south of I-680’s 30th Street exit near the Mormon Bridge, OJ’s wood-paneled facade harkens back to the days of the Wild West.

The recipe for cheese and beef enchiladas belonged to the owner’s mother. The owner, 70-year-old Olga Jane Martinez (whose married name is Vlcek) was born in Anaheim, California. She opened the cafe 40 years ago. Vlcek says they added the Western-style facade a few years after opening.

Mexican food was hard to find in Omaha back then. The restaurant was situated in the site of a former dairy that sold milk, eggs, ice cream, hamburger, and cheeseburgers. At first, Vlcek followed suit. She kept the menu and added a daily special. Mexican dishes were the Thursday and Friday special.

“Then customers started asking for more Mexican food,” Vlcek says. “I said, ‘You know what? I am going to try to make a business of this.’ So, I cut everything else (about a year after opening).”

OJ’s now offers a full menu with tacos, burritos, vegetarian options, nachos, and a wide range of Mexican fare. The kitchen will even switch out flour tortillas for corn upon request.

Walk inside OJ’s today and find heavy wooden lacquer tables and booths. Kitschy decorations abound. Ceramic suns cover one wall. Promotional mirrors for imported Mexican beer cover another. There’s a stained glass window with cacti and a sombrero, a crucifix, family photos, and lots of other trinkets contributing to the down-home atmosphere.

A waitress asks for our order. I know what I want, but ask her suggestion anyway. She recommends the cottage cheese and chicken enchilada. I pause for a moment. I didn’t know the meat choice could be switched. I take a risk. Chicken and cottage cheese it is.

When I order a plate of tortilla chips, I ask for a mix of corn and flour ($3.75) and a Pacifico on-tap ($3.75 glass) from an ample selection of Mexican beers. The beer arrives in a frosty mug. A margarita ($4) with salt on the rim follows with the entrée.

Word to the wise couple: Those with smaller appetites should consider splitting the enchilada ($10.25). After essentially chugging half of the dish, I slow to contemplate the merits of beef vs. chicken and cottage cheese. The chicken is fairly bland, aside from the rich cheesiness common to both. I still prefer the beef (which seems more savory, possibly cooked with more seasoning); however, I’m not disappointed. Being perfectly honest, I dump so much homemade salsa on my plate that it probably doesn’t matter what I’m eating.

OJs3To wrap up the meal, a sombrero ($5.50) arrives. Luckily, I’m eating with a dinner companion. We share the two heaping scoops of vanilla ice cream towering over a cinnamon and sugar-coated tortilla, all drizzled with Mexican caramel. 

Completely stuffed, I wonder about the origins of my favorite enchilada. Who better to ask than Olga Jane Vlcek herself. She still works at her namesake restaurant every day (OJ’s is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a mid-day break that closes the cafe from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

“That’s my signature enchilada,” Vlcek says of the beef and cottage cheese enchilada, which happens to be her favorite, too. The cottage cheese and beef enchilada was on the menu in the early days of OJ’s, but it wasn’t popular. “Ironically enough, I couldn’t sell them,” she says with a laugh. “People wouldn’t buy them, so I took it off the menu.” She made a commitment to herself that if her restaurant became established, she would bring back her mom’s enchilada recipe. And that’s exactly what she did. Omaha Magazine

La Dolce Vita

December 5, 2015 by
Photography by Bill SItzmann

Federico Fellini’s 1960 film, La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life) is best described as a dramedy, a mix of drama and comedy. The story of Dolce, the restaurant, is certainly full of drama, but there’s nothing funny about their growth into a full-service, white tablecloth dining destination replete with multi-course dinners, a full bar, and nicely appointed wine list.

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Dolce started as a pastry shop and bakery that also served a casual lunch. The public raved about their cakes, cupcakes, paninis, and burgers, but wanted more.

The first thing you may notice when you walk into Dolce is how tiny it is. With most tables dressed for two, this attractive space has garnered a reputation as an intimate
date-night eatery.

“Date night” is usually code for dollar signs, but Dolce has carved out a niche as a decidedly affordable experience. How about a nicely arrayed four-course menu for two that starts at just $58? That’s right, 58 bucks!

Executive Chef Anthony Kueper’s “Date Night” for two concept includes a choice of shared appetizer, soups or salads, entrees, and a dessert to split. Dolce is gracious about accommodating substitutions and add-ons. The sweet life, after all, is defined by the choices you make. Add a bottle of great wine and it bumps the bill to a mere $75. It’s very affordable fine dining and one of the best values in town.

On a recent visit my dining partner and I sampled the “Date Night” menu. The hardest part was deciding what to order because of the variety of tasty options. After much deliberation we selected the charcuterie board for an appetizer. The house-cured salamis, pork rillette, spicy mustard, and pickled vegetables were beautifully presented and as good as any I have ever had. But the star of this dish was the house-made rye bread rolls that were hot from the oven.

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Next I tried the soup of the day, which was an amazing puree of roasted sweet onions that were perfectly seasoned and nicely accented by crispy leeks and basil oil. My dining partner selected the warm goat cheese salad, which required a nominal addition to the bill. This dish featured sliced roasted beets, arugula dressed in an orange truffle vinaigrette, and, of course, warm goat cheese, which was breaded and fried. Delicious!

My entree was king salmon, which was perfectly seared and served with cannellini beans, carrots, and spinach. It was all in a sassy saffron broth with a caramelized onion jam. My dining partner had the pan roasted chicken breast, which was perhaps one of the most beautifully presented plates I’ve seen in a while. The chicken breast was juicy with expertly crisped skin plated over garlic gnocchi, seared kale, and roasted tomatoes accompanied by an olive puree and chicken jus that really set everything off. Another stellar dish!

We shared the brioche bread pudding for dessert. It was drizzled with caramel and came with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream just for good measure—a delightful finish for a very enjoyable meal.

The service at Dolce was also top-notch. Our server was a very attentive young man gifted with a near flawless sense of timing.

Omaha is now home to several restaurants that rival the best of the best on the national stage, but most tend to also emulate the price points that go along with such culinary reputations. Dolce is bucking that trend by offering spectacular food and service at an Omaha price point.

And that’s a winning formula for serving up the sweet life.

Cheers!

Visit dolceomaha.com to learn more.

Dolce2

Throwing Shade

August 16, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Everybody reads the same magazines and watches the same shows,” says Lindsay Duer-Robertson, a stylist at Matt Wayne Salon off of 49th and Dodge streets. “That ends ups with people looking a lot alike. Someone who sees that and wants to make a statement will try something different.”

That “statement” for you could be anything from a few blonde highlights to neon pink. But it’s perfectly okay if you don’t know yet where you land on that spectrum. Rebecca Forsyth, stylist at Bungalow/8, says that’s what consultation visits are for. And make sure to bring pictures of anything that’s caught your eye.

“I think there’s this myth that hairstylists don’t like photos,” Forsyth says. “A Pinterest board on a phone is super helpful.” Both Duer-Robertson and Forsyth agree with the oft-quoted hairstylists’ phrase: “My caramel is probably different than your caramel.”

Let’s say you’ve decided to go from brunette to hot pink. “You can do it in one visit, but that visit’s going to be six to eight hours long,” Duer-Robertson says. Best to have a goal in mind and break it up over a period of time. That’ll give your hair time to recover from the processing, which is pretty intense. The bleaching process has to break the melanin molecules in the hair and expose different pigments through several stages: brunette, red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, and finally a pale yellow. Only then is your hair ready to accept an unreal shade like ocean blue or pastel purple.

“I think there’s this myth that hairstylists don’t like photos.” – Rebecca Forsyth, stylist at Bungalow/8

“Be mindful, your hair will be really dry,” Duer-Robertson warns. She recommends a protein-based conditioner. “In that first week, put in a leave-in conditioner after every wash.” She personally touts the Damage Remedy and Dry Remedy lines from Aveda, especially the Color Conserve™ Daily Color Protect conditioner. “That’ll keep your color strong up to 30 days,” she says, though pastel shades still may not keep as long as a month.

Such conditioners are valuable, Duer-Robertson says, because the product seals hair cuticles down after being a little roughed up by a cleansing shampoo. Leave a conditioner on for at least 15 minutes (unless it’s a leave-in, of course), and then rinse it out with cool water to ensure the cuticle doesn’t reopen. Consider using a wide-tooth comb to lessen stress on your hair when it’s wet; once your hair is about 80 percent dry, feel free to take a brush to it for a blowout.

Forsyth says it’s the flatiron that’s the huge culprit for further damaging processed hair. The heat is higher and touches the hair for a longer period of time than a simple blow dryer. “If you can achieve a great look with a blow dryer and a brush, you’re in a great situation as far as damage,” Forsyth points out. “I love that more people are wearing their natural styles and textures.”

If you just can’t leave the hot tools alone, remember that the general rule is the less styling, the less shampooing, the better. “Try to find ways that you don’t have to mess with your hair as much,” Forsyth says. “For example, last night I curled my hair, so today I have the base for a really cool updo.” She personally shampoos only twice a week.

For high-maintenance color like neons, pastels, or reds, Forsyth agrees with Duer-Robertson that it’s essential to invest in good product. Some of her favorite products for maintaining perfect color are in Karasoft’s color protection line. “And anything with UV protection,” Forsyth adds. “We blame the shampoo and forget that we’re in the sun all the time. Bring back hats, not just for protecting our faces but also our hair.”