Tag Archives: French Bulldog

Groovy Gravy

January 12, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit facebook.com/caskrepublic for more information.

Ready for Omaha

April 29, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mention ramen, and the comparison to cheap packages of the staple college dorm food seems obligatory. Though powder-flavored instant ramen is a poor attempt at the real thing, it’s more likely that your first run-in with a proper bowl of this hot, steamy comfort food was sometime over the last decade, if at all.

And yet today in Omaha, real ramen, with its aromatic broth and fresh ingredients, is available at a handful of dedicated spots, with more on the way. A day for Jose Dionicio, chef and owner at Ika Ramen and Izakaya, begins and ends with the broth, which he says came about through years of trial and error. “In our case, ramen is not about rehydrating noodles,” Dionicio points out. “There’s a lot of time, effort, and tears going into making this. It’s a whole meal, something fulfilling. Soul filling, actually.”

Yoahi-Ya

Yoahi-Ya

Housed in what Dionicio calls “a little shack” at 63rd and Maple streets, Ika Ramen and Izakaya is the punctuation mark at the end of any night out in Benson. Slurping up your tonkotsu (rich pork broth) while other tables do the same, it’s evident this is a neighborhood eatery. No tablecloths, no pretension, no frills.

In addition to the main types of broths (chicken, pork, and vegetable) and a handful of appetizers, Dionicio and company serve up a few daily specials—a little spicy seafood with kimchi here, a few crispy chicken skins there—and that’s it.

Chef A.J. Swanda’s menu at Ugly Duck Ramen is even more finite: there’s just one type of ramen available every week, along with a robust vegetarian version, complemented by a small selection of appetizers and sides, and pastry chef Kate Anderson’s inventive doughnut holes (called dodos), which rotate flavors weekly. Haven’t heard of Ugly Duck? It doesn’t actually have its own location—yet. While Swanda would like to open a brick-and-mortar location in the future, his main locale over the past year was borrowed space at the popular bar-and-pub-grub spot Nite Owl, his ramen usually sold out within a few hours. Swanda plans to hold popup events in the near future as he works toward owning a storefront.

Of course, it’s not just soup that Omahans are after. Outside the nearby Scriptown Brewing Co., diners can indulge in their nut butter cravings with Peanut Butter Johnny’s. As a food truck offering about a half dozen sandwiches on the menu—from the Tin Can (almond butter, fig jam, goat cheese, honey and bacon) to your basic peanut butter and grape jelly—owner John Jelinek reports that business has been great.

Brother Sebastian's Steak House

Brother Sebastian’s Steak House

If a slightly more refined experience sounds appealing, down in the Old Market chef Paul Kulik has made a menu at Le Bouillon designed around the best processes of European cookery, in particular the Basque region of France. Diners with a hankering for cassoulet, rillettes, fresh oysters, and the like regularly fill the place.

Dolce

Dolce

But while Kulik would rather serve his interpretation of these classics than fiddle with by-the-book authenticity, he acknowledges that this level of specialization requires a higher degree of thought and determination than at a more generic restaurant—and he’s had experience in both settings. “The notion that Omaha wasn’t ‘ready’ for something was a very pervasive sentiment for a long time, and that’s something that had to be shattered,” Kulik asserts. “Omaha would never just be ‘ready’ for something. You have to present it in a persuasive manner. You have to make good things in an affordable way, in a pleasant setting. You have to win people over one at a time.”Omaha didn’t move from choice-of-vegetable-and-potato places to a hotbed of chef-driven adventures overnight. Dionicio explains the time was finally right last year to present his noodle-centric menu, but that earlier would have been premature. At his other spot, the Peruvian-inspired seafood restaurant Taita, he first introduced bowls of ramen as late-night fodder for service industry folk in 2012, and later on Sundays as a brunch item. Week by week and bowl by bowl, ramen gained ground among food enthusiasts, hungover hipsters, and everyone in between.

But as Brian O’Malley, chef instructor at the Metropolitan Community College Institute for Culinary Arts sees it, this development has historically run slower, citing the decades it took for Omaha to warm up to something like sushi. “For all of my childhood there were zero places to get sushi, and then in high school there was one, in the early 2000s there were two, and then eight, and now I lost count.” O’Malley credits quicker access to information with expediting the whole process—the world getting “smaller” through the Internet and diners having the option of doing their homework on certain types of cuisine.

And still, as a whole, we pander to nothing, especially not fleeting trends. “With new foods and new ideas, we’re open, but we’re slow to open,” O’Malley explains. “But once that embrace occurs—once we love something—we love it for real. That is a proud thing about being an Omaha diner.”

The Grey Plume

The Grey Plume

Collaboration Feeds Success

As the number and breadth of dining options in Omaha continues to expand year over year, the discussion runs deeper than just the sheer number and types of offerings. Generally speaking, Omaha’s leading chefs of today want everyone else to do well.

This sentiment runs deeper than one might expect. O’Malley describes it as a collaborative tension, one that spurs both innovation and craftsmanship. In this way, the creative culture borrows from that of Omaha’s music and art scenes; the sharing of ideas tends to benefit the final product in tangible and intangible ways. There’s also the stripped-down truth about a good, old-fashioned work ethic. Says O’Malley: “We have this super-heightened respect for hard work. Everyone is willing to support you when you bust your ass.”

Careful not to subscribe to rampant boostering that can foul up a creative scene, Omaha chefs have gotten really good at working together. Kulik asserts it has to do with the friendships cultivated over the past decades, often in slavishly small hot kitchens. Collaborative events help, too: everything from Emerging Terrain’s 2010 Harvest Dinner—a five-course meal prepared by 10 area chefs using ingredients from 40 local farms serving 500 diners—to regularly occurring pairing dinners and chef swaps. It’s common to see name-studded menus advertising the provenance of a particular ingredient: French Bulldog sausage, for example, or Culprit Cafe & Bakery bread.

Salt 88

Salt 88

For the Love of the Game

Omaha’s contemporary restaurants are remarkably more genuine than most. Where there’s a great dish, an approachable chef isn’t far behind. In a national climate that pushes franchised fast-casual concepts that don’t let you forget that you are dining inside of a concept, it is refreshing to feel connected to the people making your food and the story they’re trying to tell. Growth is done with caution, and for the most part, no one goes into this field to become rich. It’s much more heartfelt than profit; they’re intent on sharing a special something.

Plank Seafood Provisions

Plank Seafood Provisions

For Bryce Coulton of The French Bulldog, it’s using food as a way to experience something elsewhere, whether that’s your grandma’s smoked braunschweiger or a Thai summer sausage that takes you to the shores of Bangkok. For Maides, it’s growing up around kitchens, and watching his grandmother gather fresh vegetables from the garden to cook with.

At the core of this sincerity is a yearning for the uncomplicated, and the possibility for perfection. When Kulik and his crew make a menu, they first sit down and decide what it is they’re most excited about. Once they have that, the process turns to how they transfer that excitement to the dishes at hand. “If you want to get good at what you do,” advises Kulik, “you have to narrow your focus on the philosophy of the place.” These days, with menus that have mostly gotten over a rough case of identity crisis and executed in a positive environment for the right reasons, Omaha’s kitchens are headed in the right direction.

Mula Tacos

Mula Tacos

Soap Dreams

December 7, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ryan Cook was working at Dundee’s Amsterdam Falafel & Kabob when a crowded kabob machine fat trap got him thinking ruefully about the sheer magnitude of the goop that went to waste. So, naturally, he decided to make it into soap.

Perhaps a slight leap of reason, but Cook and Benson Soap Mill co-owner, Tim Maides, quickly realized they were onto something special—creating eco-friendly, handcrafted soap from local, recycled ingredients.

Cook says their foremost commitment is to a global-friendly, sustainable business.

“That’s our ethos,” he says. “It’s about how we can access local, unused resources to create something valuable.”

“We both have culinary backgrounds,” says Maides, “so that’s a prevalent theme. You always want to use everything you have and can get your hands on. Even our labels are recycled paper bags that we stamp and repurpose.”

Cook pushed beyond his original fat-spiration, studying the chemistry of soap-making and exploring superior fat sources from which to render tallow for soap.

“We started collecting from restaurants doing in-house butchering,” says Cook. “Talking to chefs, we realized how much fresh, high-quality, unprocessed, excess fat is just literally being thrown in the trash. It’s dozens of pounds per hog per restaurant, everywhere.”

“Bryce (Coulton) from French Bulldog really got us started,” says Maides. Cook concurs, calling Coulton a “very encouraging mentor.”

The duo practiced rendering high-quality, fresh tallow, while also exploring regional nut and seed oils. By summer 2013, Benson Soap Mill sold its first bars, fittingly, at Benson Days.

Early on, batches were made in one huge block then cut into bars with wire or a samurai sword. While a decidedly hilarious tool for the job, the sword produced inconsistent bars, so Maides suggested moving to 4-ounce silicone molds, guaranteeing a uniform size and shape.

“Our soap is a unique, Midwestern soap,” says Maides, “because we’re using our own formula and not importing the same oils everyone else uses.”

Cook believes the positive feedback on their soap is due to quality materials, plus the absence of chemicals, detergents, and unnatural ingredients. Reading the ingredients of commercial soaps is enough to make one stop gleefully singing in the shower and start pursuing an advanced chemistry degree to decipher the contents. Counter to that, Benson Soap Mill’s Coffee Soap, for example, includes Blue Line Coffee grounds, sweet almond oil, and purified tallow. Period.

Other varieties include a red clay-colored Benson Bar and a black-flecked, navy blue Charcoal Soap, made with Nebraskan hardwood charcoal. There’s also Peppermint, Citrus-Ginger, Tea Tree, and more. Each variety has no more than five (totally comprehensible) ingredients and is made in small, patiently cured batches.

“[In the future] we want to forage and distill naturally growing wild plants in Western Nebraska and create own our own scent patterns, unique to the region,” says Maides.

Cook envisions expanding that template nationwide, using each area’s local fats, nut and seed oils, herbs, spices, mosses, and flowers.

“We’re always learning, getting better and more efficient,” says Cook, “which will ultimately allow us to broaden our comprehensive, sustainable concept.”

20140930_bs_4660

Exploring Omaha on Valentine’s Day

February 7, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Valentine’s Day is all about sharing the love and letting your spouse, your children, your friends—even your dog—know that you care.

But when it comes to Valentine’s Day celebrations, it can be a little difficult to share the wealth when you find yourself stuck in the stereotypical rut of chocolate, flowers, and the same dinner at your favorite restaurant every year.

Home to dozens of distinct neighborhoods, Omaha offers hidden gems that are waiting to be discovered, as well as classic landmarks that might be overlooked on Valentine’s Day.

Meghan Francis and Kerry Jones, founders of the Omaha-based blog Wise Owl + Sly Fox, brainstormed some unique Omaha Valentine’s Day activities.

“I guess we’ve always been old souls with old styles, and that’s one great thing about Omaha: There’s just so much history here,” says Francis.

Together, Francis and Jones came up with a Valentine’s Day “tour of Omaha.” Pick and choose from different activities to show loved ones a small portion of all the intimacy, history, and romance that Omaha has to offer.

Get your heart rate up in the morning with a walk or run with your loved one through the Field Club neighborhood. Located along an old railroad bend, the Field Club trail offers visitors a brief glimpse into a bygone era. Although you’ll have to bundle up, the sights of this secluded area include gorgeous ravines, snow-capped trees, and abandoned railroad tracks.

If your partner is a history buff, make a quick stop by the Gerald R. Ford Preservation Center near Hanscomb Park. An exhibition on Ford, the only president to have lived in Omaha, is open by appointment by calling the center’s main phone line at 402-595-1180. The exhibit is available for private viewing Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., free of charge. The exhibit features photos of his birthplace, family memorabilia, and gifts given to Ford by world leaders and well-wishing locals.

For lunch, hop on over to Dundee, home to both casual and higher-end fare in an all-accessible setting. Stop by the French Bulldog for something on the trendier side or try Dundee Dell for classic comfort food from an Omaha staple. Both spaces offer comfortable opportunities to spend some time watching the eclectic crowd of Dundee.

20131211_bs_7501

If you’re looking for an afternoon activity once the kids come home from school, Valentine’s Day crafts are an easy way to get the whole family involved. Francis and Jones suggest making homemade cards.

“We’re big fans of sending things through the mail. It’s just always a fun thing, and it’s something that we don’t do a lot in this day and age,” says Francis.

“Send them to your grandma, your single aunt, veterans at the VA hospital, whoever,” adds Jones.

For crafting supplies, head out to South-Central Omaha. David M. Mangelsen’s has been stocking Omaha’s crafting closets since 1961, and is an easy stop to find any Valentine’s Day-related arts and crafts supplies you could think of. A few hours coloring, gluing, and bedazzling might expose some hidden creativity among the family.

If you want to end your night with a more traditional Valentine’s Day celebration, spend the night in the Old Market, which is home to a host of restaurants that offer the quintessential romantic dinners by candlelight. Francis and Jones’ personal favorite is La Buvette, a French-style café and grocer.

For some after-dinner entertainment, look to the Omaha art scene. Many of the Old Market’s art galleries, including the Passageway Gallery and Anderson O’Brien Fine Art, are open until 9 p.m. on Fridays for some late-night shopping.

Although, after a whirlwind day around Omaha, you might want to hit the sack early.

For the Love of Pets

December 12, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Animals are a huge deal in this house!” exclaims Kim Hanusek of Bennington, mom to Samantha, 9, and Leigha, 6.  She’s also a second-grade teacher at Pine Creek Elementary in the Bennington Public Schools district. Kim is always eager to visit about the eight animals (yes, eight!) that complete her extended family.

“First off, we have Tucker, 3, a purebred Boxer,” shares Kim. “My family has been raising Boxers for 20 years, and my sister and I grew up showing Boxers in 4-H. I have shown Tucker locally at shows in Lincoln and Omaha, but now he’s a ‘finished champion,’ which means he’s just a coach potato.

20131007_bs_5823

“Then we have Piggy, a French Bulldog who’s 4 and also a purebred. We got him from a breeder, and he actually looks like a pig.”

Kim goes on to describe her three feline friends. Callie, a domestic shorthair Calico, was adopted from the Nebraska Humane Society seven years ago (which makes her the most senior pet of the household).

Diamond, 4, is a Ragdoll, a domestic breed known for its gigantic size and limp body. “The kids like to hold him like a baby, and he’s so flexible, he folds up in half.”

20131007_bs_5813

Then there’s Lily (age unknown), a domestic shorthair stray the family took in a couple years ago. “Another teacher spotted her in the snow on the playground one day, and I took her home. We didn’t intend to keep her,” Kim confesses, “but [Leigha] had been asking for a cat of her own, and we were trying to get her to stop chewing on her blanket. I told her, ‘Little girls that chew on blankets don’t have their own cats.’ It worked like a charm,” Kim recalls with a laugh.

The family also has two hamsters—gifts to the girls from their father, Brian, for Valentine’s Day last year.

20131007_bs_5750

And just what does Dad think of all the animals in the house? “He grew up in a home where the dog stayed outside most of the time,” says Kim. “Then he found me and met my family…He had to become an animal lover out of necessity! Now, he travels to dog shows with us and willingly goes along with it all. Truly, he loves seeing the enjoyment the girls get out of [the animals].”

Last, there’s Coty, an 18-year-old paint horse that Kim got while in college. The family boards Coty at The Farm at Butterflat Creek in Bennington. “I did a little breakaway roping on her when she was young, but I was never successful,” Kim recalls. “She’s pretty ornery, but she’s turned out to be a great family pet. The girls and I ride her…both girls took riding lessons this summer. Samantha hopes to ride competitively one day.”

20131007_bs_5798

Samantha plans to begin showing Boxers next summer in 4-H Junior Showmanship competitions as well, Kim shares proudly.

“My hopes are that both girls will show or train dogs in 4-H and more competitively in AKC-sanctioned shows when they get older,” she adds. “There’s a lot of enjoyment and pride that comes when you work hard and bond with a pet. The possibilities are endless with dog/owner activities. They might move on to dog agility, confirmation [breed judging], obedience, therapy dogs, and/or working with our breed-specific rescue group.”

20131007_bs_5790

While the family pets are teaching her girls lessons about hard work and responsibility—they help clean cages, take the dogs to obedience classes, make sure all the animals are watered and fed daily, and other duties—Kim says they’re teaching them lessons in humanity as well.

“They’re learning that the animals depend on them…that all animals need love and attention, and that playtime is a requirement of pet ownership, too. They’re learning that animals feel…and they’re all unique. Samantha, especially, has taken a real interest in learning about the differences in dog breeds and their temperaments and behavior.”

The family has also done some work with a dog rescue club, which has allowed the girls to see how some pet owners treat pets as disposable. “I want them to understand that pet ownership is a commitment, and you don’t get rid of a pet because you’re bored with them or so you can get another. It’s not temporary,” adds Kim.

20131007_bs_5529

Having so many pets does offer its challenges, Kim admits. The family has to budget for yearly vaccinations and heartworm pills, boarding and farrier fees, vet bills, and of course, pet food and supplies. All the expenses can add up. Taking any trip can also be a hassle. “We always have to ask, ‘Who’s going to take care of the animals?’ before we can go anywhere.”

Recently, Kim and Brian approached the girls about taking a vacation to Disneyland. The girls’ response? “They told us they wanted to go to New Orleans where they make Pitbulls & Parolees or to the Florida Everglades to see where Gator Boys is shot.” These are two Animal Planet shows the family watches together. A love of animals is ingrained in them for life, Kim says.

“A lot of what we do revolves around the animals, especially the dogs. They join us for fire-pit nights with the neighbors…they sleep in our bed…they’re there for just about everything.” And that’s just how the Hanuseks like it.