Tag Archives: food

Horsing Around and Something Fishy, Plus MAHA Mystery Exposed!

March 30, 2017 by


PICK OF THE WEEK
: Not many international events are held in Omaha. That’s why it really is a big deal that people from around the globe have been filling up the area’s hotels this week as the FEI World Cup equestrian championship gallops into full throttle. The competition that began Wednesday is considered the equestrian equivalent of the Masters in golf or the U.S. Open in tennis. More than 50 horses and their riders will compete in both dressage (horse training and movement) and jumping events with the finals on Saturday and Sunday at CenturyLink Center. How did these beautiful equines from all over the world make their way to the Big O? Check out the latest issue of Omaha Magazine or online here for the scoop on the horses’ big trip from Amsterdam, Netherlands. For more information about the World Cup and to view a schedule of events, go here.

TONIGHT: Thursday, March 30: Another huge Omaha event is the annual MAHA music festival. Organizers have been mum about the this year’s lineup. The silence will be broken TONIGHT at Benson’s Reverb Lounge (6121 Military Ave.). The reveal video will be shown at 8 p.m., followed by karaoke. The pain or excitement of the announcement will be eased or enhanced by plenty of drink specials. Tickets for MAHA (Aug. 19 in Aksarben Village) also will be on sale. Now in its ninth year, the nonprofit indie music festival features an all-day lineup of local and national acts. Prior years’ headliners include Modest Mouse, The Flaming Lips, Death Cab for Cutie, Garbage, Dashboard Confessional, and Passion Pit. For more information, click here.

Friday, March 31: With Lent season in full swing, Omaha Magazine provides an awesome guide to getting your fish Fridays on. Executive editor Doug Meigs compiled a list of six must-try fish fries. “Expect to spend a few hours standing and waiting in line at Omaha’s most-popular fish fries,” Meigs reports. “The long wait—and the chance to meet new friends while drinking beer—is sometimes the most fun part of the evening.” Great grub mixed with alcohol and friendly conversation? That doesn’t sound fishy at all.

NEW GRUB IN NODO: Speaking of fish, one of the metro’s best new seafood restaurants is Hook & Lime + Tequila (735 N. 14th St.) located across from Slowdown in Nodo. The menu features a large selection of top-quality Mexican dishes, including a la carte tacos and tortas, all for under $20. “We have this amazing menu, these amazing items, that we’re able to bring to people who normally wouldn’t get to experience them,” owner Robbie Malm says. “We’re trying to take that food, that approach of sourcing locally and treating these items with respect, and make it more approachable. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a suit and tie or flip-flops, we welcome everybody here.” And don’t forget about the tequila. Read all about Hook & Lime is the latest issue of Omaha Magazine’s Encounter, or read the article online here.

Saturday, April 1: Tequila shots may be just the thing to celebrate “150 Years of Nebraska Poetry” at the launch party for the new book Nebraska Poetry: A Sesquicentennial Anthology, which will be released in May. The University of Nebraska-Omaha’s Criss Library is hosting the event Saturday at 3 p.m. on the lower level of the library. Editor Daniel Simon will be on hand to discuss his anthology—the first of its scope to encompass 150 years of the state’s literary history, featuring 80-plus poets and more than 180 poems. This landmark collection includes poems by such well-known poets as Willa Cather, Loren Eiseley, and Tillie Olsen—as well as some remarkable but relatively forgotten writers from the late 19th to the mid-20gth centuries. For more information or to order the book, click here.

FOR A COMPLETE LISTING OF EVENTS, CLICK HERE.

Destinations

February 22, 2017 by

AKSARBEN VILLAGE

Horse stalls went bye-bye long ago. Now, Aksarben Village is losing car stalls, too. But that’s a good thing, as far as continued growth of the former horse-racing grounds goes. Dirt is overturned and heavy equipment sits on the plot extending north and east from 67th and Frances streets, formerly a parking lot for visitors to the bustling area. That’s because work has commenced at the corner on what will become HDR’s new global headquarters, which opens some time in 2019. The temporary loss of parking will be offset by great gain for Aksarben Village — a 10-story home for nearly 1,200 employees with a first floor including 18,000 square feet of retail space. HDR also is building an adjacent parking garage with room for ground-level shops and restaurants. But wait, car owners, there’s more. Farther up 67th Street, near Pacific, the University of Nebraska-Omaha is building a garage that should be completed this fall. Plenty of parking for plenty to do.

BENSON

A continental shift has taken place in Benson — Espana is out and Au Courant Regional Kitchen is in, offering Benson denizens another food option at 6064 Maple St. That means a move from now-closed Espana’s Spanish fare to now-open Au Courant’s “approachable European-influenced dishes with a focus on regional ingredients.” Sound tasty? Give your tastebuds an eye-tease with the menu at aucourantrestaurant.com. Also new in B-Town: Parlour 1887 (parlour1887.com) has finished an expansion first announced in 2015 that has doubled the hair salon’s original footprint. That’s a big to-do at the place of  ’dos.

BLACKSTONE DISTRICT

The newest Blackstone District restaurant, which takes its name from Nebraska’s state bird, is ready to fly. Stirnella Bar & Kitchen, located at 3814 Farnam St., was preparing to be open by Valentine’s Day. By mid-January it had debuted staff uniforms, photos of its decor, and a preview of its delectable-looking dinner menu. Stirnella (Nebraska’s meadowlark is part of the genus and species “Sturnella neglecta”) will offer a hybrid of bistro and gastro pub fare “that serves refined comfort food with global influences,” plus a seasonal menu inspired by local ingredients. Fly to stirnella.com for more.

DUNDEE

Film Streams (filmstreams.org) made a splash in January announcing details on its renovation of the  historic Dundee Theater. Work began in 2017’s first month on features including:

Repair and renovation of the original theater auditorium, which will be equipped with the latest projection and sound technology able to screen films in a variety of formats, including reel-to-reel 35mm and DCP presentations.

A throwback vertical “Dundee” sign facing Dodge Street.

An entryway that opens to a landscaped patio/pocket park.

New ticketing and concessions counters.

A store with film books, Blu-ray Discs and other cinema-related offerings.

A café run through a yet-to-be-announced partnership.

A 25-seat micro-cinema.

Oh, yeah, they’ll show movies there, too. And Dundee-ers won’t have long to wait—the project should be completed by the end of 2017.

MIDTOWN

In a surprise to many—especially those holding its apparently now-defunct gift cards—Brix shut its doors in January at both its Midtown Crossing and Village Pointe locations. It was not clear at press time what factor, if any, was played by a former Brix employee, who in late December pleaded not guilty to two counts of felony theft by deception after being accused of stealing more than $110,000 as part of a gift card scheme. Despite the closing, Midtown has celebrated two additions of late as the doors opened to the “Japanese Americana street food” spot Ugly Duck (3201 Farnam St.) and to Persian rug “pop-up shop” The Importer.

NORTH OMAHA

The restoration of North Omaha’s 24th and Lake area continues its spectacular trajectory. In January, the Union for Contemporary Art moved into the completely renovated, historic Blue Lion building located at 2423 N. 24th St. The Blue Lion building is a cornerstone in the historic district. Originally constructed in 1913, the Blue Lion is named after two of the building’s earliest tenants: McGill’s Blue Room, a nightclub that attracted many nationally known black musicians, and Lion Products, a farm machinery distributor. The entire district was listed as a federally recognized historic district in April 2016.

According to its website, “The Union for Contemporary Art is committed to strengthening the creative culture of the greater Omaha area by providing direct support to local artists and increasing the visibility of contemporary art forms in the community.” Founder and executive director Brigitte McQueen Shew says the Union strives to unite artists and the community to inspire positive social change in North Omaha. “The organization was founded on the belief that the arts can be a vehicle for social justice and greater civic engagement,” she says. “We strive to utilize the arts as a bridge to connect our diverse community in innovative and meaningful ways.”

The Union will be hosting the annual Omaha Zinefest March 11. Event organizer Andrea Kszystyniak says Zinefest is a celebration of independent publishing in Nebraska. Assorted zines—essentially DIY magazines produced by hand and/or photocopier—will be on display at the free event, and workshops will be offered to attendees.

OLD MARKET

M’s Pub fans had plenty to be thankful for in November following the announcement that the Old Market restaurant would rise from the ashes of the January 2016 fire that destroyed the iconic eatery. Various media quoted co-owner Ann Mellen saying the restaurant would reopen this summer. Construction has been steady at the restaurant’s 11th and Howard, four-story building, but customers weren’t sure M’s would be part of the rebirth until Mellen’s well-received comments. Mellen says the feel—and the food—will be the same. Even if the name may change.

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

Mexican
 Perfection

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Anthony Bourdain was asked what food trend he would like to see in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), he said, “I would like people really to pay more for top-quality Mexican food. I think it’s the most undervalued, underappreciated world cuisine with tremendous, tremendous potential.”

At Hook & Lime Tacos + Tequila, North Downtown’s newest addition, you will find that top-quality Mexican food and all kinds of potential, though you won’t necessarily have to pay more for it.

Owner Robbie Malm says after selling his share in Dudley’s Pizza and Tavern, he wanted to do something smaller and more creative. With a little help from his wife, Erin, and his brother, Tim Malm, he has done just that.

Hook & Lime’s menu has a selection of a la carte tacos, small plates, and tortas, all for under $20.

But if you do want to spend some money and have a more decadent experience, you can try the family-style tacos or the tasting menu (with or without tequila).

For the family-style tacos, you can choose between the whole fish, which is currently fried, striped bass, or bone-in barbacoa, which is cooked for 72 hours, crisped in the oven, and sent to the table for you to pick apart.

Head chef Alex Sorens says the tasting menu is something he’s excited about because it gives his crew the opportunity to create dishes and test things out. If they’re good, they’ll go on the next tasting menu.

“It’s stuff that we wouldn’t normally serve to the public,” he says. “It will be a select amount of these things, and when we run out, we run out.”

The menu features a lot of fish, hence the “hook” in Hook & Lime. Sorens says he gets their fish from Seattle Fish Co. out of Kansas City, Missouri. He uses their program Whole Boat Harvest for some of the dishes, like the ceviche. The program sells the “leftover” fish from hauls, fish that would normally go to waste because they’re not as well-known as others.

“The reason for that is because I’m trying to do my part to not be in that same group that’s using all those super popular, over-fished species that are going on endangered lists right now.”

Sorens also tries to support other environmentally conscious businesses, getting a lot of their ingredients from local producers like Plum Creek Farms and Jon’s Naturals.

Malm says these are things you might normally only find at “higher-end, white tablecloth places.” He says their goal is to make that food available to everyone.

“We have this amazing menu, these amazing items, that we’re able to bring to people who normally wouldn’t get to experience them,” he says. “We’re trying to take that food, that approach of sourcing locally and treating these items with respect, and make it more approachable. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a suit and tie or flip-flops, we welcome everybody here.”

Malm says he has been “very, very fortunate” in finding the team to do that.

“Everyone seems to be really excited about their role in this,” he says. “So I quickly found out that my best role is really to enable them to just dive in.”

This enthusiasm extends to the front of the house, where bar manager Brian van Egmond works to create original cocktails using ingredients made in house.

“It’s a fusion between speed and craft,” he says. There will be a couple margaritas available on tap, but the fresh juices are added after they’re poured.

So far, van Egmond says they’ve made their own orange brandy, orange liquor, syrups, and crème de cassis. He is currently working on a strawberry tequila for their strawberry margaritas. They also have a hibiscus-infused reposado, which is used to make the Roselle cocktail.

“That’s one I think both Negroni and Cosmo fans will appreciate.”

Van Egmond says they also have a well-curated spirits list, and plenty of beers to offer, including many from local breweries. There are also several wine options.

Of course, if what you’re really looking for is some straight up, premium tequila, Hook & Lime has you covered.

“Tequila is my favorite thing to drink,” Malm says. “It is my favorite thing to drink,” he repeats, laughing. “And I’m a fairly recent convert.”

But once he fell in love with tequila, it became a little bit of an obsession. He talks excitedly about touring tequila distilleries in Mexico with his wife. He says they toured five different spots, including Cuervo and Herradura.

The restaurant’s offerings reflect his enthusiasm, with more than 100 tequilas on their list and four different styles of flights available if you want to do a little sampling before you commit.

“They say there’s no zealot like a convert,” Malm says. “And that is definitely true when it comes to tequila.”

Undoubtedly, Hook & Lime will do their share in creating converts, both to tequila and to a greater appreciation of top-quality Mexican food.

Hook & Lime is open Sundays through Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.

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

Birrieria El Chalan

January 3, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Step inside Birrieria El Chalan, and the sizzle of grilled meat along with the aromatic scents of cumin, chiles, and other spices are the first signs that Mexican food fans are in for a treat. And once they start digging into a plate of tacos, tortas, or tostadas, they will realize this place is not about Tex-Mex, fusion, or modern Mexican. Instead, the focus is on homestyle, traditional food that, for the most part, is flavorful and done well.

Although there is nothing fancy about the outside or inside of the small, locally owned spot near 24th and J streets in South Omaha. The spare, simple restaurant is a fun, casual, and welcoming place to eat.

El Chalan serves many of the classic favorites one would expect at a Mexican restaurant, but it also offers cuisine from the state of Jalisco in west-central Mexico. Dishes such as birria, a spicy, savory stew made with goat or beef are popular among many patrons. For our recent first-time visit to the restaurant, my dining partner and I skipped the specialties and stuck to more familiar fare.

Complimentary chips and salsa are a great way to start. I could have sat there all day munching on the crispy tortilla chips and fiery red salsa. Medium spicy with a hint of smokiness, the salsa is terrific both as a dip and drizzled on nearly everything. Equally addictive is the house-made guacamole. Slightly chunky with chopped onion, tomato, and cilantro, it boasts a salty, spicy, citrusy balance.

The kitchen does amazing things with tacos, too. My dining partner, a former South O resident who has eaten tacos all over the neighborhood, said they are the best he has tried locally. Diners can choose from more than a half-dozen meat options, ranging from marinated pork to beef tongue. We went with carne asada (grilled steak) tacos.

Warm corn tortillas, soft yet sturdy, hold a generous amount of tender, seasoned steak chopped into small pieces, dressed with onion and cilantro. Diners can add accompanying garnishes of sliced radish, lime, and a blistered whole jalapeño for added texture and flavor.

Tortas, a popular Mexican sandwich, are offered with a choice of meat, topped with lettuce, avocado, pickled jalapeño, and other ingredients on an oval-shaped roll with a pillowy interior and grilled exterior. We tried a torta con lomo (pork loin sandwich). The meat was tender and flavorful, but the bun started falling apart under the weight of all the filling before we could finish.

I’m a huge fan of chile relleno—a poblano pepper stuffed with mild white cheese, battered, and then fried until golden brown—but the restaurant’s version missed the mark for me. A zesty tomato-based sauce drowned the pepper, making the breading soggy. And I thought the sauce was too thin and watery. The entree comes with fluffy seasoned rice and creamy refried beans.

The restaurant takes cash only, but you won’t need much. Tacos cost $2; entrees run about $8. Despite the shortcomings, our overall dining experience was satisfying. Those looking for a casual, low-key spot that highlights traditional flavors of Mexico will find it at Birrieria El Chalan.

Rating:

Food- 3.5 stars

Service- 3 stars

Ambiance- 2 stars

Price- $

Overall- 3.5 stars

Visit http://Facebook.com/pages/birrieria-el-chalan/168661723148405 for more information.

This article was printed in the Jan/Feb 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

René Orduña

October 13, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

According to René Orduña, a restaurant’s dishwasher is as key as its chef. “He knows what’s coming back,” says the head chef of Dixie Quicks in Council Bluffs. “What people aren’t eating. So if I wanted to work for a restaurant, I’d get a job as a dishwasher and see what’s coming back. And if they’re not enjoying the food, then I wouldn’t stay there very long.”The good chefs, he says, will always check the plates coming back. To this day, a half-empty plate prompts Orduña to ask the waiter if a guest disliked a meal.

Orduña co-owns the Southern-style diner known as Dixie Quicks with his husband, Robert Gilmer. The restaurant has been open in one location or another since 1995. So if Orduña says it’s important to check the plates, he knows what he’s talking about.

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While the chef has worked in a variety of restaurants across the country (New Orleans. Atlanta. San Francisco. New York City), it’s fair to say he’s been in kitchens his entire life.

Orduña was 1 year old when his mother opened Howard’s Charro in South Omaha. He started making tamales on Wednesdays when he was 6. “Spreading the masa, putting the meat in them, putting them in boxes to freeze,” he recalls. As a young adult, he waited tables around town and cooked in a few kitchens as well. “The Golden Apple, worked at M’s,” he recites. From 1971 to 1973, he worked at the French Café in Downtown Omaha before he began traveling.

Today, both he and Gilmer are elbows deep in Dixie Quicks from dawn till dusk. Orduña cooks, serves, buses tables, washes dishes, and Gilmer handles the art of the attached RNG Gallery (“That’s Robert Newton Gilmer,” Orduña clarifies) and the restaurant’s books. “You don’t want him cooking, and you don’t want me doing books,” Orduña says with an emphatic wave of his hand.

Patrons of Dixie Quicks are probably okay with that arrangement. After taking their seats, guests walk over to the gigantic chalkboard menu to decide among Cajun, Southern, and Southwestern options. Orduña says he’s careful about revamping the menu. “Every time I take something off that board, somebody gets …” upset, he says. “It’s almost like I have to open another restaurant to try another menu.”

Do tell?

“Maybe someday,” he dodges coyly. He’s chalking it up to a dream right now, his desire to open several restaurants in one. “A Cajun restaurant. And a barbecue restaurant. And a pizza place. Kind of like a food court.” A place like that, Orduña thinks, would get freshly graduated culinary students used to working in a professional setting. “You can have fine dining anywhere, at any kind of place,” he insists.

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Personally, he favors what he calls the Iron Chef method. “I like going to my refrigerator, seeing what I have, and figuring it out. That’s what I do most days when I go shopping at the grocery store. That’s what usually makes up the menu.”

Has anything new and exciting come out of this experimentation?

“Oh gosh. Just about everything,” he says. “I start playing back there with spices and flavors and textures…” It’s handy that he and Gilmer live just above the restaurant. He could be tinkering in the kitchen at any time of day.

Today, it’s a broccoli cheese soup. “The cheese just looked good,” Orduña says. “And the broccoli was plentiful and gorgeous, and I thought, you know, it’s the perfect day
for soup.”

Article originally published in March/April 2014 in Omaha Magazine.

Update 11/18/2016: After a short battle with Stage 4 cancer, Rene passed away in November 2016. A celebration of Rene Orduna’s Life will b held this Sunday 11/20 at The Max from 4-8 pm

Decisions, Decisions

March 3, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In the last few years, southern food, including barbecue and Cajun, has been enjoying increased popularity nationwide. Here in Omaha the genre has remained relatively scarce. A little over a year ago, Ryan Ernst opened Mouth of the South: Southern Grub Bar & Grill. I had been hearing lots of great things about this restaurant and had been meaning to make it over there, but never found the time until recently. Now I can share my experience with you.

The restaurant is located in the heart of the historic Florence neighborhood on North 30th Street. It has a nicely decorated fuchsia-colored facade, and once you get inside you see it has a warm, folksy feel with unpolished wood floors, brick walls, and wood table tops. There is also a large counter/bar where guests may enjoy their meals, listen to the blues on the stereo, and watch sports on the TV.

Paying homage to Dixie, drinks are served in jars and the silverware and napkins are in a simple paper bag wrapped in twine. The restaurant has a really comfortable vibe, and on the night I was there it was packed with what I assumed were local people from the neighborhood.

The menu at Mouth of the South has a nice selection of appetizers, soups and salads, sandwiches, burgers, and entrees, and all are nice mixtures of Cajun, Creole, barbecue and soul food. They also offer a soup of the day and several tantalizing specials. The full bar features a very interesting list of southern-themed craft cocktails, an impressive beer list, and a nice selection of wines.

Just like the ambiance, the service is very casual and friendly.

Let me start by admitting my bias toward Cajun food in particular and a love for southern barbecue. I have eaten a lot of these types of foods and my bar is set pretty high for what I consider to be good. On this particular night my dining partner and I started off with gizzards ($7) and the boudin balls ($8). The gizzards were fried cajun-style and coated with a pepper jelly glaze and this yummy combination melted in our mouths. If you’re not familiar with boudin, it is a southern rice and meat sausage. The Mouth of the South’s rendition was formed into balls, breaded, deep fried, and served with an authentic remoulade sauce. It was perhaps the best boudin I have ever had.

Next we shared a bowl of gumbo ($5), and it would be no exaggeration to say that this is the best gumbo I’ve found in Omaha.

For entrees I tried the smoke pit sandwich ($12). This gut-buster of a meal had moist smoked brisket, tangy smoked pork, crisp coleslaw, barbecue sauce, and melted cheddar cheese served grilled on sourdough bread. I can describe this sandwich with
one word—“delicious!”

My partner tried the jambalaya ($13), which was loaded with Andouille sausage and chicken. There was no skimping on the meat with this memorably tasty, hearty plate.

I had no room left for dessert, but sacrificed myself for you, the reader, and ordered the bourbon pecan pie ($7). This homemade pie was crammed with pecans and had a lovely bourbon-flavored custard in a perfect crust. It was served with some very rich vanilla ice cream. Like everything else I tried that night, it also deserves top marks.

If you are getting the impression that I liked the Mouth of the South, you would be correct. Now sufficiently recovered, I’m already daydreaming about going back for more. Maybe the catfish poboy or the smoke stack burger?

Decisions, decisions.

Cheers!

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Veggie Crisps

Photography by Baldwin Publishing

This article appears in Her Family August 2015.

Try these “chips” the next time the kids are looking for a salty snack. Great as an after-school nibble or for a party, these veggies are a healthy alternative to fried potato chips.

Find more great recipes at HealthyKohlsKids.com. The Healthy Kohl’s Kids program is a partnership between Children’s Hospital & Medical Center and Kohl’s Department Stores to educate children and parents about healthy nutrition and fitness. 

ingredients

2 small parsnips, peeled

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 small sweet potato, peeled

1/2 tsp salt

1/8 tsp black pepper, optional

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with foil.

Clean the vegetables, removing dirt and any wax coatings. Peel, or leave the outer peel on for extra nutrition.

Use a vegetable peeler to scrape thin strips from the parsnips. Put these in a bowl and toss with 1 Tbsp of oil. Spread out in a single layer on one of the prepared baking sheets.

Repeat with the sweet potato, spreading them on the second baking sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the baking sheets. Bake for another 5 minutes and remove from the oven if crisp and browned at the edges. If the crisps are not browned, bake for an additional 4 to 5 minutes, checking every minute, as the crisps brown very quickly. (Parsnips cook more quickly than sweet potatoes.)

Transfer the crisps to a large bowl and season with salt and black pepper. Serve immediately.

Nutrition Facts: Calories: 65, Fat: 4g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 0, Sodium: 162mg, Carbohydrates: 8g, Fiber: 2g, Protein: 1g


Yield: 8 servings (1/4 cup, or about 10 crisps)

VeggieCrisps

The Scratch & Sniff Method

May 8, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Article originally published in May/June 2015 Omaha Magazine.

I meet Chad Lebo at Whole Foods early on a Wednesday evening. He’s made his way to the café section by way of the store’s cured meats area, and he’s unexpectedly teaching me about nitrates.

The longtime subject of controversy regarding their possible toxicity, nitrates give cured meats their pink color and signature flavor, Lebo says. They also occur naturally in many green vegetables—kale and spinach, for example. Thus so-called nitrate-free meats cured with celery powder aren’t actually nitrate-free, Lebo says, and from there, we launch into a tangential discourse about food humans crave, and why.

It’s not really a surprise that the interview begins this way. Lebo is, after all, the owner of Cure Cooking, through which he leads private cooking classes and, from a commercial kitchen in Fort Calhoun, sells ham, bacon, cheeses, spices, and more. In all cases, Cure Cooking’s food is made with heritage techniques—the kind your grandparents’ grandparents used. The kind that, in the case of bacon, involve nitrates; in the case of bread, sourdough starter. He stops short of teaching people to make sauerkraut in crocks.

“We make sauerkraut in a bag,” he says. “We’re not just teaching real traditional ways, but traditional ways you can do in your own kitchen.”

The culinarily curious can invite Lebo into their own home kitchens, visit Lebo’s own kitchen in his Dundee home, or head to Fort Calhoun to learn traditional food preparations that include curing and smoking, fermentation and pickling, canning, cheese and chocolate making, sourdough bread baking, and cooking a pizza from scratch—read: making the dough, cheese, and sauce from scratch. Each class is three hours; Lebo provides ingredients and any equipment he thinks attendees might not have already.

Lebo adds that he’ll soon be offering intermediate-level supervised cooking sessions at his Fort Calhoun kitchen for those who’d like to make sausages, bacon, cheddar cheese, and other foods in larger quantities to take home. Cure also serves its own creations Saturdays at Too Far North in Fort Calhoun.

During each session, Lebo also delves into the science and history of the process in focus. At the end of the class, participants leave with their own finished products, plus recipes.

“These are things I think people are afraid to learn just from a book or YouTube,” Lebo said. “It’s more of a scratch-and-sniff kind of thing.”

And Lebo would know. Though he grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country amid Mennonite relatives, he didn’t start learning traditional cooking methods himself until he and his wife, a geneticist, moved to Madagascar in 2008. What was going to be one year turned into six—and the prospect of not having readily available bacon wasn’t one Lebo wanted to face. So he learned to make it. Then he learned to make cheese. And eventually, he learned enough to make things he and his wife—and his neighbors—wanted to eat.

“The idea of self-sufficiency and taking care of yourself isn’t hipster—it’s what you do,” Lebo says. “Food is a trade. It’s a skill, not an art. For most of the world, it’s what you can get that day. I feel bad calling it an art. We’re lucky we can do it in a craft way.”

And based on the interest the classes have garnered, Lebo said locals want to get back in touch with the slower, more detailed methods in the kitchen. Class attendees want to know where to get local ingredients and how to support local farmers. And while they might not have three hours every night during the week to utilize what they learn in class, they can extract practical techniques, Lebo says—making bread on the weekend or making fresh ricotta in about five minutes.

“There’s something great about that,” Lebo explains. “It’s the tradition, and it’s made by you and it’s cheaper. You control the complete process. These are things you can do.”

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Brother Sebastian’s Steak House & Winery


April 10, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in March/April 2015 Omaha Magazine.

It’s no small feat for a restaurant to be successful for so much as a decade. Statistically speaking, very few make it that long. It’s even more unusual for a restaurant to make it for multiple decades.

Brother Sebastian’s is quickly closing in on four decades as one of the top restaurants in Omaha, which puts them in a very elite category. It is a generally accepted fact that to survive that long restaurants have to completely reinvent themselves every seven to 10 years to stay relevant. Brother Sebastian’s brings that point to question since very little about the restaurant has changed since they opened in 1978. This makes me think that if you get it right in the beginning there is no need to reinvent yourself. This place instead just relentlessly focuses on doing everything right every day. It seems to have worked for Brother Sebastian’s.

To test this theory I recently visited Brother Sebastian’s for dinner. As I walked up to the front door while being serenaded by a choir of monks singing ancient hymns, I was quickly reminded of the many great experiences that I have had there over the years. It truly is a beautiful restaurant and designed to look like a rustic French abby that has many different cozy, dimly lit dining rooms. My dining partner and I were seated by a friendly manager at a lovely, intimate booth in a small room that had a giant fireplace in the center. From our table we really could not even see any other tables, which made it feel like we were the only ones in the restaurant even though the place was nearly full.

We started off with an order of Escargot ($8.50) and Shrimp Scampi ($9.95). The Escargot was tender and moist served on a mushroom cap with rich garlic butter sauce. The scampi was also served “Escargot style,” but topped with bubbling Havarti cheese and the same garlic butter. Both were delicious. Next we made our trip to the salad bar, which is included with all entrees. In general I am not a big fan of salad bars and would prefer to have the kitchen make my salad, but this salad bar was as nice as any I have seen, with plenty of fresh ingredients to satisfy everyone’s tastes. For entrees I had the Rib Eye Steak ($27.95) and my partner had the Chicken Picatta ($21.50). The rib eye was served as ordered, grilled to a perfect medium rare. It was appropriately seasoned, very tender, and loaded with flavor. In fact, it was so good that I would go so far as to say it was the best steak I have had dinning out in Omaha in the last several years. The Chicken Picatta was equally good, with a pair of tender breasts of chicken breaded and served over angel hair pasta with an outline of sauteed spinach in a tangy piccata sauce. For dessert we tried the Chocolate Cake ($8.95) and Lemon Cake ($8.95), both house-made. Either of these would have been more than enough to share and boasted four or five layers topped by rich butter cream icing. Both were moist, decadent, and very memorable.

Throughout the evening we enjoyed our server and were impressed with her kindness, knowledge, and timing. The manager was ever-visible, making sure that everything was running like clockwork and that all the guests were enjoying the same great food and service that we were. Not once did we want for anything. Beverage service is also strong with a wine list that is incredibly expansive with just about every variety, style, and region well represented. There is also a good selection of fine liquors and beers.

Brother Sebastian’s has proved to me that it has managed to not only maintain its high standards for 38 years, but it may even be getting better with age! Cheers!

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Sugar Low

February 18, 2015 by

Holly Martens struggle may sound all too common. After the birth of her children she experienced a variety of symptoms. She had low energy; she experienced moodiness and mood swings, felt generally crabby and could not lose weight around her mid-section. Martens knew her struggle was not unique, but also knew she had to do something about it.

“With both pregnancies, I gained so much weight and really had trouble with my mid-section. I finally figured out what to do about it and was so happy I made the decision to be healthier overall,” Martens says.

Martens, with the help of Vice Cross Fit gym, went on what she calls a sugar detox. Once she was educated about sugar and added sugars, she was shocked at how much of it she had been consuming.

“They really taught me how much sugar I was eating and what all that sugar was doing to be body. The sugar in our diet really has a bad affect on our bodies.”

Martens was in for even more of a shock. After 21 days, she was amazed at how different she felt. “I felt awesome. I was not so tired. I didn’t get headaches anymore. My skin cleared up and my stomach was much flatter.”

What was even more refreshing was that Martens never felt deprived. She says she truly felt she could maintain healthy or “clean” eating.

“I ate so much food, especially meat. I never did feel deprived. The cravings were not there,” Martens says.

It was that lack of deprivation that Martens felt was the key to her success. After the 21 day sugar detox, Martens continued to maintain sugar-free eating during the week and would indulge a little on weekends.

Shannon Muhs, a dietician with Hy-Vee, was able to shed some light on how our bodies react when we have too much sugar in our diet.

“When we eat more sugar, our bodies experience a brief high, followed by a sort of crash, which is why we feel more sluggish. Our bodies will also produce excess insulin, which will cause the body to want to eat more and eventually our bodies run out of places to store that excess sugar and it starts to store itself as fat,” Muhs says.

As Martens experienced, once sugar is eliminated it doesn’t take long for our bodies to recover. “Within a couple of days, you should have more sustained energy and a more balanced energy load. You should not experience as many highs and lows and should be craving less sweets,” she says.

Martens plans on maintaining her healthier lifestyle and even convinced her husband to join her on her journey, who after limiting sugar lost close to 40 pounds.

“We both feel so much better. It’s really amazing. I was never really big on diets, but this is something I don’t feel is necessarily a diet. It’s a lifestyle and I am very passionate about it.”

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