Tag Archives: drink

Her Fountain of Youth

July 11, 2017 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

Few visitors who sneak a peak at Betty Davis’ treasure trove of soda fountain collectibles can appreciate their impact on generations of Americans who grew up before the 1950s.

The ice cream molds, dippers, five-headed malt mixers, banana bowls, trays, tall glasses, tin Coca-Cola signs, and a 12-foot-long counter with a gray marble top and marble frontage—stored in Davis’ spacious Council Bluffs home and garage—recall a more innocent age: a time when a boy and girl slipped two straws into one ice cream float and sipped as they leaned toward each other, and when soda jerks, in their white jackets and bow ties, had more swagger than Tom Cruise’s character in the movie Cocktail.

“The soda jerks were what bartenders are today,” says Davis, retired executive director of the Douglas County Historical Society in Omaha. “They knew everybody, they listened, they gave everyone personal service—mixing the concoction in front of you. They were the biggest big shots in town,” she says with a laugh.

From the early 1900s through the soda fountain’s heyday in the Depression-era 1930s, most jerks were men (no kidding!), until women filled in during World War II. “They got the name when they jerked the pull handles of the carbonated water in two different directions to regulate the flow into the flavored syrups,” she explains.

An unabashed romantic about the era, Davis grew up across the river listening to stories about how her parents “courted at the soda fountain” at Oard’s Drug Store, now Oard-Ross, on 16th Avenue in Council Bluffs.
And she vividly remembers holding the hand of her “tall, Danish” grandfather as they walked to the drug store to get ice cream.

Years later, in the late 1980s, while volunteering at the old Western Heritage Museum in what is now Omaha’s Durham Museum, those memories came flooding back when a group of former “fizzicians” from the region gathered for a reunion around the museum’s established soda fountain.

“Over 500 people showed,” she marvels. “I discovered that the soda fountain was implanted in people’s memories. The public came just to look at the soda jerks and talk to them. It was magic.”

The overwhelming success of that first reunion led Davis in 1990 to found the National Association of Soda Jerks. The association grew quickly, swelling to more than 1,000 members in less than two years. “I got a personal letter postmarked Washington, D.C., from a former soda jerk. It was from [former U.S. Senator from Kansas] Bob Dole. He’s a member.”

But age has caught up with the dwindling ranks of soda jerks, as it has with Betty Davis. Now 83 and experiencing mobility difficulties, she realizes the window of opportunity to open a soda fountain museum showcasing her happy hobby has closed. “This is of no value to me locked in a garage,” she reasons quietly.

After months of searching for a “worthy” home for her collection, Davis heard about a multi-pronged, ambitious nonprofit headquartered just a few blocks north of the Historical Society, where she worked for many years.

The mission of No More Empty Pots, located on North 30th Street in the historic Florence neighborhood of north Omaha, revolves around food. The organization not only provides access to locally grown, affordable, nutritious food, it offers culinary arts training in one of two commercial-grade kitchens, located in the labyrinthine basement of the renovated turn-of-the-20th-century row of buildings.

Another component of this food hub, the Community Café at 8503 N. 30th St., slated to open to the public in the fall, caught Davis’ attention on many levels because of its parallels to the soda fountains.

“Betty told us how drug stores started selling sodas and ice cream to draw people into the store to buy things, and the fountain was never meant to be a moneymaker,” says Nancy Williams, co-founder and executive director of No More Empty Pots. “This cafe will help our employees learn how to converse with people and really serve them, and not just with food. That will translate into many different career paths.”

Believing the cafe can become “a beacon…to unite all the ethnic differences we have,” Davis signed over her soda fountain collection and the trademarked National Association of Soda Jerks to Williams and No More Empty Pots. A display case in the middle of the cafe will house Davis’ relics of the soda fountain era, her contribution to the preservation of an American tradition.

The 12-foot-long World War I-era soda bar, which Davis picked up years ago in Soldier, Iowa, will stand behind the large windows of the storefront, beckoning people to come in, enjoy a freshly made soda, and socialize.

“We’re going to make our own soda syrups and extracts from seasonal fruits and herbs and then add the carbonated seltzer water,” Williams says. “And we’ll have local seasonal ice cream.”

Confident that her goals and the mission of No More Empty Pots align, Davis sees her soda fountain breaking barriers, inspiring conversation, and making people happy for many years to come.

Visit nmepomaha.org for more information about the nonprofit receiving the soda fountain and memorabilia.

This article was printed in the July/August 2017 Edition of 60Plus.

Obviously Omaha

February 23, 2017 by
Photography by Provided

It’s not mere luck that Omaha was ranked third overall of the nation’s best cities for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations (according to wallethub.com in 2016). If there is one thing our city is known for, it is rallying together to celebrate with friends, both old and new. Omaha has rich Irish heritage, and Omahans are eager to boast their love of the local Irish population. So, of course, the city turns green with pride on St. Paddy’s Day—from east to west. Festivities range from live Irish entertainment and personal pub food tours to black-and-tans and parades of whisky shots. Head to any of these highlighted hot spots to celebrate in local Irish style.

01. Central Omaha
Clancy’s Pub
Clancy’s Pub has a longstanding tradition as a must-stop visit for St. Paddy’s Day. While the Pacific Street location has undergone new ownership within the last few years, it has still proven itself to be full of that Irish spirit patrons have grown to love.
(7120 Pacific St.)

Brazen Head Irish Pub
If you are determined to settle in at the most authentic Irish pub in Omaha, look no further than Brazen Head. Named after the oldest pub in Dublin, this Omaha gem will transport you to the Emerald Isle. The Brazen Head opens its doors at 6 a.m. for a traditional red flannel hash breakfast. The day continues with authentic Irish entertainment and food (including fish and chips as well as corned beef and cabbage).
(319 N. 78th St.)

02. Benson
You’d be remiss not to stop by Benson’s oldest, continuously running bar and only Irish Pub—Burke’s Pub—for drink specials and their famous apple pie shots. While a few bars along the Benson strip (on both sides of Maple Street from 59th to 62nd streets) serve up green pitchers and Jell-O shots, neighborhood staples like Jake’s, Beercade, and St. Andrews (which is Scottish) feature specials on authentic Irish beers, such as Kilkenny, and Irish whiskeys.

03. Leavenworth
The Leavenworth bar crawl has become somewhat of a year-round tradition, especially on St. Patrick’s Day. Locals call it a convenient way to pack in a handful of bars in one strip—beginning at 32nd Street at Bud Olson’s or Alderman’s and continuing on a tour down Leavenworth toward The Neighber’s on Saddle Creek.

Marylebone Tavern
The Marylebone is one of two Irish bars on the tour, recognized by the giant shamrock painted out front on Leavenworth Street. The bar is known for its cheap prices and stiff drinks.
(3710 Leavenworth St.)

Barrett’s Barleycorn Pub & Grille
Barrett’s Barleycorn, the second of the two Irish bars on the tour, opens its doors at 8 a.m., serving sandwiches in the morning followed by a hearty lunch next door at Castle Barrett, with beer and specials flowing all day long. Barrett’s closes the parking lot to create an outdoor beer garden, while inside tables are cleared for what usually turns into a packed wall-to-wall party.
(4322 Leavenworth St.)

04. Old Market
The Dubliner
Toting the tagline, “If you can’t get to Dublin to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, there’s a little piece of Ireland nestled underground at 1205 Harney Street in the Old Market,” on the front page of their website, The Dubliner is one of Omaha’s oldest Irish pubs. Pull up a bar stool at this Harney Street haunt for a breakfast of Lucky Charms and Guinness and be sure to stick around for the Irish stew, corned beef sandwiches, and live music.
(1205 Harney St.)

Barry O’s Tavern
Slip onto the patio at Barry O’s to mingle with the regulars and the O’Halloran clan themselves at this family-run bar. Enjoy drink specials and stories from some of the friendliest characters you’ll meet. St. Paddy’s Day usually brings an entertaining mashup of regular patrons and “Irish-for-the-day” amateurs.
(420 S. 10th St.)

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Immature Art for Mature Audiences

December 30, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Since time immemorial, bored teen boys have been drawing a certain part of the male anatomy on anything they can set pen to. Identification of such “artists” usually leads to their detention. However, for Mike Bauer and Dustin Bythrow, doodling juvenile outlines of phalluses was the stepping-stone to their artistic careers.

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Together known as Bzzy Lps, the two have spent the past eight years bringing an artistic touch to subject matter that most consider crass. From turning a childhood image of Lindsay Lohan into a Juggalo to splicing together bizarre online conspiracy videos, their work is always fresh, unique, and never without controversy. The group’s name is a term borrowed from a hip-hop jargon dictionary that refers to a woman who enjoys fellatio. 

 “We became friends after discovering we have a mutual enjoyment of drawing stupid pictures,” Bythrow says.

When the two first met, Bauer was attending the University of Nebraska at Omaha for a degree in art, and Bythrow was working at a gas station. Mutual friends introduced them knowing Bauer would enjoy Bythrow’s side art project—a hand-drawn book of convenience store items: i.e., big gulps, churros, and overdone hot dogs talking back to customers.

 Following their instant connection, the two would regularly get together to draw and drink (and yes, sometimes this included illustrating parts of the male reproductive system). During each boozy hangout, they’d collaborate on images to see where their creative and liquored-up minds would take them. Soon these quasi-creative brainstorm meetings became a regular thing, and they decided to start illustrating content others could enjoy in zine form.

 “Zines were an easy way to get all our drawings into one place at one time,” Bauer says.

 At last year’s Omaha Zine Fest, Bzzy Lps hosted a table of their independently published content, with their Juggaluminati Hachetmanifesto zine quickly selling out. Inside the illustrated book are popular pop culture icons—Judge Judy, Yogi Bear, and Rob Lowe to name a few—painted to look like fans of the Insane Clown Posse. For next year’s Zine Fest, Bythrow is working to develop character concepts of his Mouse Boy, a Mickey Mouse-esque superhero with a really rotten attitude, into a comic.

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While these inventive cartoons and illustrations are Bzzy Lps’ specialty, they also have created T-shirts, stickers, and dabbled in video art. For the independent art venue Project Project, under Bythrow’s lead, the two made a three-hour-long video installation that stitched together nonsensical content found on YouTube.

 “I didn’t sleep for weeks and just went down the rabbit hole of the internet,” Bythow says. “But we got asked back again, which was a first for Project Project.”

 During an unseasonably warm October day on a NoDo patio, in between drags of cigarettes and a rather heated discussion on the underrated roles of Nicholas Cage, the two weigh where they’d like to see their careers develop. Visions of drawing professional comics and developing content for Adult Swim dance in their heads.

 “All that stuff on Cartoon Network, it’s nice to see other people who draw dumb cartoons and care about it,” Bauer says. “We just don’t want to go back to drawing dicks again.”

Visit bzzylps.storenvy.com for more information.

Just Can It!

August 27, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Chances are, in recent visits to your local grocery store, liquor store, or pub, you may have noticed a change to some of your favorite products. Shelves once lined so perfectly with that beautiful bottled nectar we call beer have started to deviate from their normal lineup and now include a plethora of various containers—most notably, cans. From some of the largest breweries to the mom-and-pop brewpub down the street, cans are popping up everywhere. But why on earth would a brewery put their product, their labor of love, in a vessel so “low class,” so “cheap,” so…aluminum? The answer is simple—because it tastes better!

Through my years in the beer industry, I have witnessed that look of confusion, doubt, and utter disgust when a guest is informed that their favorite lager is not available in their preferred container.

“But we do have it in cans,” a staff member may explain.

“Uh…no, thank you. I’ll just have something else,” they state with a sense of superiority, visibly repulsed at the notion.

It’s no wonder that many consumers turn their noses up at the thought of drinking canned beer. For decades, most beers that could be found in cans were mass-produced, mass-marketed, often watered-down domestic beers. In the even more distant past, cans did not contain the proper inner lining to protect the beer. In fact, tin cans were the norm, and lead—yes, lead—was used in the seams of these cans. Thankfully, this is no longer the case.

Though I don’t often tip my hat to the macrobreweries of this country, some of the “big guys” figured out long ago that cans are far superior to bottles. Cans are more recyclable than their glass counterparts, they weigh less and therefore require less fuel to ship, and are typically more portable than bottles. (Go Green!) And while bottles are often not allowed at pools, parks, or concerts for fear of breakage, cans are generally more acceptable.

In addition, have you ever popped open a bottle, especially an import, and it tasted a bit like cardboard or wet paper? This is called oxidation. It occurs when oxygen comes in contact with finished beer. Bottles, especially those with twist-off caps, are more prone to oxidation, whereas cans have less air in the container, which helps to prevent this type of spoilage.

While all of these aforementioned statements are valid arguments in favor of the can, there is one solid fact that cannot be refuted—cans block out light.

It’s a very common, albeit terribly unfortunate, assumption that imported green- and clear-bottled beers are supposed to have a unique ‘twang’ to them. That funky odor that stings the nostrils upon first inhale is more commonly known as a “skunked” beer. Do not be fooled. Your beer is NOT supposed to smell or taste like that. Green and clear bottles are the worst possible container for your beer, as they allow light to penetrate the container, which interacts with the acids in the hops, creating a sulfur smell—a reaction known as “light-struck.” Even artificial light sources can skunk a beer.

Needless to say, cans, on the other hand, do not allow any light to come in contact with the precious liquid they protect inside.

Still don’t believe me? I challenge you to buy a 6-pack of green- or clear-glass bottles that have been sitting under your local grocery store’s fluorescent lights, and then grab a 4-pack of the same beer sold in cans. Pour each one into a glass, take a sip, and be amazed at the difference.

Next time you find yourself shopping for your favorite brew, whether import, domestic, or craft, don’t ignore the cans. They’re good for the environment, easier to store, safer, and prevent you from getting “skunked.”

Here’s to drinking good, unadulterated beer! Na zdrowie!

Chad Rozniecki is the owner and operator of The Lauter Tun – Fine Ales and Spirits, located at 3309 Oak View Dr. #102.

Planning Your Company Party

August 26, 2013 by

It’s that time of year again to start thinking about planning your next company party. Unsure how to make this year’s party a success? Amy Lackovic, event production director at planitomaha, gives practical, step-by-step advice.

Where to start? Lackovic says to first consider the attendee experience. “Employees want to attend an event where they can be themselves,” says Lackovic. “It is important to create an environment where they feel comfortable enough to open up to their peers and really get to know one another.”

The next thing to consider is the budget because this will determine everything from the invites to the location. If your budget is tight, Lackovic suggests these steps to saving money: go with electronic invitations instead of print; use preferred vendors with discounts; reuse décor, florals, and linens from other events; eliminate labor costs by doing it yourself; control your event timing so you do not run into overages; and limit alcohol consumption.

Once you have the budget in place, start looking for the event space. “You should lock in your event space as soon as you can,” says Lackovic. “Typically, you should lock in your space at least six months in advance.” When finalizing the space, Lackovic recommends asking about cost and deposit, number of people it can hold, catering options, AV options, location (easy for the majority of your attendees), and any limitations the venue may have.

“Employees want to attend an event where they can be themselves…where they feel comfortable enough to open up to their peers and really get to know one another.” – Amy Lakovic, event production director at planitomaha

Theresa Farrage, ballroom event specialist with Scoular Ballroom (which just underwent a complete renovation), suggests remembering two things when selecting a venue: your vision of the event and your guests. “You should definitely keep your big picture in mind but also don’t forget about the little details,” says Farrage.

Simple details that make a big difference may be included in the venue’s overall cost; just be sure to ask the key questions. “Is there a security guard on premise? Does the fee include table and chair rentals? You may think you’re getting a great deal, but once you factor in the cost of a few amenities that don’t come standard, you may be in for a big surprise,” says Farrage.

Farrage stresses booking your venue well in advance. “If you have your heart set on a venue, be flexible with your dates. Booking your event on a weeknight or during the off-season will often save you money.”

Once the venue is chosen, Lackovic breaks the event down by the remaining essentials: entertainment, decorations, personalization, menu, and gifts.

Entertainment

“Revisit the question of ‘what do I want the attendee experience to be?’ If it is a more social and lively event, I would suggest a band, as they have the ability to strongly interact with the attendees. If it’s a networking event, I would suggest going with simple background music or even a DJ.”

“If you had an area to splurge on, definitely look into spending the extra dollars on entertainment,” says Lackovic. “The entertainment can make or break an event.”

Decorations

“Adding lighting to your event can add a dramatic effect and ambiance. Adding some soft seating around the venue can also make the event feel more chic. Make sure you utilize everything the venue has to offer. Sometimes, your venue has in-house décor options included in the rental fee.”

Personalization

“An easy and cost-effective way to show this is to have a personal note of gratitude from the employer or manager. Another avenue is to offer incentives in the everyday workplace, such as a ‘Jeans Day’ or a floating PTO day the month of their birthday.”

Gifts

“It is not a necessity to provide a take-home gift, but it may leave a lasting impression on the attendee. You want to make sure that whatever item you decide to give away can actually be useful. We have seen people go toward more tech-savvy items such as branded cell phone power docks or USB drives. This way, their gift will not only remind the attendee of the event or organization, but it will also make the person more inclined to keep the useful and unique gift.”

Menu

“Within the past couple of years, the menu options have expanded quite a bit. People are much more health-conscious, so it is extremely important to plan ahead for those attendees who may be vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, etc.”

Jennifer Snow, owner/director of operations at Catering Creations, dishes on the latest ideas in food: “A current trend has been to take street foods, comfort foods, and bar foods and put an elegant and upscale twist on them…this makes the food fun and familiar for your guests and still gives them an opportunity to try new flavors.”

Some examples of comfort-food-turned-haute-cuisine are Gouda cheese-stuffed sliders or a French fry station with truffle aioli and caramelized onion ketchup. Another trend is to “bring out the kid” in your guests. “Everyone loves a classic sundae station with chocolate sauces and whipped cream—and don’t forget the sprinkles!” says Snow. “Or what about a pretzel cart traveling with assorted toppings like nacho cheese, honey mustard, or even chocolate sauce and chopped nuts?

“We are currently working on our holiday menus to include customized caramelized popcorn stations with several varieties of sweet, salty, and savory popcorn mixes such as a Cajun caramelized popcorn with nuts and chocolate,” shares Snow.

“A current trend has been to take street foods, comfort foods, and bar foods and put an elegant and upscale twist on them.” – Jennifer Snow, owner/director of Catering Creations

Not every event needs shrimp cocktail. If your company is on a tight budget and you still want to include a nice seafood item, Snow suggests crab and shrimp cakes, which are still delicious but less expensive.

“It has also become trendy to use some of the less expensive meat options and add savory flavors and tenderness by slow braising them. This saves costs versus ordering beef filet,” says Snow.

“Coffee service isn’t always needed for a hot summer event but always plan on more coffee drinkers for events during the holidays,” says Snow. “Try throwing in a fun option like a specialty coffee and hot chocolate station to add condiments such as chocolate chips, caramel sauce, whipped cream, or peppermint sticks.”

There you have it—expert advice on how to make your company party one to remember. Now get to work!

Dishcrawl

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

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.

Rachel Grace, food blogger of Fat in Omaha.

Rachel Grace, food blogger of Fat in Omaha.

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.20130423_bs_1950_Web

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.

Crafty Cocktails

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

House of Loom owners Brent Crampton and Ethan Bondelid finally took the plunge and dove headfirst into a new entrepreneurial endeavor, The Berry & Rye. Tucked away in the former Myth Cocktail Lounge at 1109 Howard Street, The Berry & Rye is a craft cocktail lounge with a unique objective in mind.

“I love the culture of the drink experience behind the craft. It’s a very soulful approach to imbibing,” Crampton explains. “Something I get to experience often is friends getting together to order these labor-intensive drinks that have lots of creativity and skill put into them, and enjoy good conversation in this sit-back-and-take-your-time kind of atmosphere. Then, when the drinks arrive at your table, people are so intrigued by their drinks, they become a conversation piece.”

Brent Crampton and Bondelid

Brent Crampton and Ethan Bondelid.

The craft cocktail is rooted in the classic recipes of the early 1900s. The practices were lost once the Prohibition Era hit in 1920, and people stopped caring about sculpting a superior drink with fresh juice, fresh ingredients, and high-quality spirits.

The Berry & Rye strives to provide not only a relaxed environment, but also a carefully concocted and tantalizing drink.

“In a sense, it’s like visiting a restaurant,” Bondelid says. “You wouldn’t expect to grab a menu and eat standing up. We ask that people take and enjoy a seat while being served at their table. It’s not the type of place to yell or act overly loud. It’s a comfortable, conversational bar, and this heightens everyone’s experience.”

Considering that loud behavior and drinking often go hand-in-hand, creating a more cultured craft cocktail atmosphere may seem like a lofty goal. But for Bondelid and Crampton, it’s something they’ve experienced throughout their many travels. They are bold enough to envision the potential in Omaha.

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“There is a wealth of great culinary and cocktail experiences out there,” Bondelid assures. “Omaha’s culinary culture has seen some great strides recently, and its cocktail culture is starting to grow as well. In traveling, I’ve been able to visit some of the country’s greatest cocktail venues. I’ve wanted to bring that flavor to Omaha, from the non-overcrowded, loud rooms to the incredible range that can come from balanced and creative cocktails.”

Both Bonelid and Crampton are confident in The Berry & Rye’s intriguing concept. To date, they have invested nearly $15,000 into their “ice program.” They have a massive reverse osmosis system, which provides the purest water possible for all syrups and ice machines. From commercial freezers to Japanese ice presses that create perfect spheres to order, they have taken ice very seriously.

“The thing that separates The Berry & Rye from the rest is that when you collectively consider all the aspects of our concept, such as the ice program, specialized tools, methodology, expertise, and dedicated atmosphere, we’re taking craft cocktails further than many people in Omaha have up to this point,” Bondelid explains. “Namely, we’re taking our ice program further than any other venue, and we’re the only non-restaurant craft bar that offers hosted seating, ensuring that the consistency in experience remains the same.”20130516_bs_6498_Web

Crampton is careful to point out that the seating-room-only policy isn’t a “VIP or exclusive” thing. It’s in place “solely for consistency,” he says. It takes time to craft each drink. The duo has also developed an in-house soda program; they make their own cola, tonic, and citrus syrups, but, of course, their focus is on original cocktails. Classics like gin and tonics are always an option, but they urge you to try one of 20 original recipes on their menu to truly grasp what The Berry & Rye is all about. Perhaps Lily’s Dinner Party, with Broker’s gin, wasabi, and egg whites; or Smoke Over Trinidad, with Zaya rum, sherry, and tobacco syrup made with pipe tobacco from SG Roi. (The latter is served in a corked carafe so guests can pour for themselves at their own speed.)

“When tending a bar and making drinks becomes an art form and an experience visually and flavorfully for the guests, then you know what makes it special,” Bondelid says. “When you have people that follow their passion to the farthest extent of their skills, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Berry & Rye
1105 Howard St.
402-613-1331
theberryandrye.com

Light Up Your Summer

Photography by Mid-America Expositions

Nebraska may not be stereotypical wine country (Hello, California), nor does it play host to the world’s largest hot air balloon festival (that’s reserved for Albuquerque, N.M.). However, that hasn’t stopped Mike and Joe Mancuso from hosting a unique summer’s end event that combines the two in a family-friendly way. On the fringes of Omaha, wine is poured and balloons soar at the Nebraska Balloon & Wine Festival.

Attracting thousands of people each year, this is the event’s seventh anniversary. Happening August 9 and 10 at the Coventry Campus, just south of 204th and Q streets, this year promises an expanded event, with more wines to taste and enjoy and more family fun. The festival begins at 5 p.m. on Friday and 3 p.m. on Saturday. General admission adult tickets can be purchased at the entrance for $7 and children 12 and under tickets are $5.

“Part of the success that we’ve seen with the Taste of Omaha event is the high interest in doing an event in the western part of the city,” says Mike Mancuso, president of Mid-America Expositions, the producer of both the balloon festival and foodie event. “We thought the best atmosphere would be with hot air balloons, which turned out to be a positive and enjoyable part of the event.”DSC_1341_web

Half the festival’s namesake focuses on wine and the ever-growing popularity of wine tastings. Wine connoisseurs, wine lovers, and those interested in trying something new interact with chefs while sampling the various Cornhusker state wines throughout the duration of the festival. A special wine and food presentation will be given at 6 p.m. each night. Tickets can be purchased prior for $12, and includes five wines to taste and a souvenir wine glass, or they can be purchased at the festival for $15.

“This is the one time we can put all the Nebraska wineries together at one place. Nebraska is known for having great soil and producing great crops. Why not grapes and making great wine?” Mancuso says.

Mac’s Creek Winery & Vineyards, out of Lexington, Neb., has been participating in the festival since day one, seven years ago. Joining as a way to reach the Omaha wine market, the high attendance and exceptional running of the event kept the vineyard coming back, says Seth McFarland, owner and vineyard manager.

“We have vastly different wines [from California]. We have different grapes, which gives us a different starting point in terms of behavior growth,” says McFarland. “We’re also Nebraskans, so we’re not afraid of hard work. That, combined with the unpredictable weather, promotes exceptional flavors.”

“This is the one time we can put all the Nebraska wineries together at one place.” – Mike Mancuso

With more than six million spectators attending hot air balloon festivals each year nationwide, Nebraska is throwing its hat into the ring as a premier hot air balloon destination. At the festival, guests can take a hot air balloon ride, as well as see the balloons dance to the musical beat of live performances and witness a balloon light show. The balloons launch at 7 p.m., with the “Balloon Glow” light show beginning at 9 p.m.

Veteran balloonist Mark Enholm will conduct these balloon rides and light shows. Returning this year to serve as balloonmeister, Enholm has been with the festival since its inception. “My job is to coordinate the different balloonists and balloon events,” he says. “All of them are commercial pilots, meaning they’re licensed to carry two or three guests per flight. The first year, we had five balloons participate. This year, we’ll have nine or 10; most are local, though we’ve added one from Des Moines and another from Missouri.”

Enholm credits Mother Nature for contributing to the festival’s growth over the years. “We’ve been very lucky with the weather,” he said. “You never know what you’re going to get—rain, tornadoes, hail…In six years, we’ve been very successful in both our flights and the glows.”IMG_8070_web

He says the professionalism of the balloonists is also a factor. “The pilots go out of their way to make the rides fun and enjoyable. We don’t want riders white-knuckling it. The safety of our passengers is paramount.”

New to this year’s event is the Vintners’ Lunch. This special lunch, from noon until 2 p.m. on Saturday, focuses on supporting local businesses. Fresh, local foods will be paired with Nebraska wines by Omaha’s best chefs to provide a homegrown food experience for luncheon guests.

“Our VIP food and wine tastings have been so popular…we wanted to add another opportunity to add the wine to the food,” Mancuso says. “We thought since the vintners were staying with us overnight, it would be great for them to do a lunch before the last day of the event.”

That’s something Omahans can raise their glasses to.

For more information regarding the Vintners’ Lunch and the event itself, visit showofficeonline.com/nebraskawineballoonfestival.html.

Banana Crumb Muffins

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Banana Crumb Muffins

Ingredients (makes 10 muffins):

  • 1½ cup + 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup + 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3 bananas, mashed
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • ⅓ cup packed brown sugar
  • ⅛ tsp ground cinnamon

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
  • Lightly grease 10 muffin cups or line with muffin papers.
  • In a large bowl, mix 1½ cups flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  • In another bowl, beat together bananas, white sugar, egg, and ⅓ cup melted butter.
  • Stir banana mixture into flour mixture until moistened, and then spoon combined mixture into muffin cups.
  • In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, 2 Tbsp flour, and ground cinnamon. Add 1 Tbsp of butter until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle topping over muffins.
  • Bake in preheated oven for 18 to 20 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean).

Orange Fizz

Ingredients (makes 1 drink):

  • ice cubes
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • ⅓ cup tonic water
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Directions:

  • Fill a glass with ice cubes.
  • Pour in orange juice, tonic water, and lemon juice.
  • Stir and serve.

Sources: allrecipes.com

Railcar Modern American Kitchen

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jared Clarke can just as likely tell you how to make a great-tasting vinaigrette as he can the science behind why the mixture is called an emulsion and why oil floats on top of vinegar.

An experienced restaurant chef, Clarke has degrees in both culinary arts and culinology. The latter field focuses on the science of food, and culinologists are equally familiar with beakers and test tubes as they are with pots and pans. While many culinologists work in food-product development, research, quality control, and other roles in laboratories and government agencies, Clarke chose restaurants because of his passion for food and love of cooking.20130517_bs_6706_web

The 34-year-old Fairbury, Neb., native is chef-owner of Railcar Modern American Kitchen, which opened in December near 144th and Blondo streets. Its name and railcar era-inspired decor is a nod to the railroads that were key to Omaha’s growth and development.

Clarke envisioned a restaurant inspired by the dining cars prevalent during the golden age of rail travel. The result is a cozy yet elegant space with wood accents, warm paint colors, vintage chandeliers, and a variety of train memorabilia. Industrial elements such as open ceilings with exposed ductwork lend a modern touch to the dining room.20130517_bs_6709_web

The restaurant sources several products from local food producers, including Little Red Barn Beef, Jisa Farmstead Cheese, Truebridge Foods, and Le Quartier Baking Company. Railcar’s eclectic menu features fresh takes on classics.

“What I try to do is modern comfort food,” Clarke says. “Everything’s from scratch.”

Though hearty meat-and-potato entrees like the Woodford Reserve Tenderloin Medallions and Stout Braised Short Ribs are popular, there are several dishes for fans of lighter fare. When creating the menu, Clarke wanted to include options for a wide variety of guests, from vegetarians to gluten-free customers. A vegetarian-friendly cauliflower hash features cauliflower instead of potatoes, which means it’s also suitable for people watching their carbs.20130517_bs_6699_web

Customer satisfaction has been a part of Clarke’s mission since his first restaurant job at Chili’s in 1998. Just six weeks into the job, he was asked to help train new employees how to cook. In 2005, he moved to Chicago and worked as an executive chef for five years.

“It was pretty awesome,” he says. “I love Chicago. I’m a huge Cubs fan, and the dining scene is really amazing.”20130517_bs_6685_web

Expecting their second child, he and his wife returned to Nebraska to be closer to family. Clarke was a partner in the locally owned Blue Agave, where he developed the menu and headed up the kitchen. A few months after Blue Agave closed in summer 2012, he launched Railcar. With Omaha home to Union Pacific headquarters, he thought his concept would be a perfect fit.

What hasn’t been ideal, however, is a road-widening project at the intersection near his restaurant. Traffic on portions of Blondo Street has been detoured while crews move utilities and do other work.20130517_bs_6672_web

“It’s hard to say if it’s hurting us,” Clarke said, “but it has slowed down our growth.”

Despite inconveniences caused by construction work, which is expected to continue into fall, Clarke plans to keep chugging away and welcoming diners all aboard at Railcar.

Railcar Modern American Kitchen
1814 N. 144th St.
402-493-4743
railcaromaha.com