Tag Archives: Grey Plume

Obviously Omaha

December 27, 2016 by
Photography by Contributed

The month of February is an often-underappreciated time on the calendar of many Midwesterners. The cold temperatures, the snow—the long winter season is almost behind us, but the warm promise of spring still out of reach. However, shift perspective a smidge, and you might find a hidden gem or two in this fantastic metropolis. OpenTable.com certainly did when they awarded Omaha one of the Nation’s Most Romantic Cities in 2016.

From the newly dating to the “old married couples,” we have your go-to guide for all things romantic in honor of St. Valentine. Cupid’s arrow is guaranteed to strike and captivate your sweetheart when you pull one of these activities out of your inventory.

oldmarketHorse-drawn carriage rides
Omaha’s Old Market is a charming turn-of-the-century historic district located in downtown Omaha. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and has an active nightlife, including some fine eateries perfect for any date night. What makes this particular area of Omaha unique, however, is its horse-drawn carriage rides (weather permitting, of course). With the beautifully lit, gas lamp-lined, brick-paved streets, a private ride with your Valentine is a fairytale way to end—or begin—an amorous evening.
mjcarriage.com/tours.html

potteryplaceThat Pottery Place
Which pottery place? That Pottery Place (yes, that’s its name) is a great place for Valentine’s Day, especially for creative, artsy couples. Duos are welcome to bring in their favorite beverage and snacks to enjoy while they paint pre-fired ceramic sculptures of their choosing. The ceramics include everything from dinnerware to piggy banks that are just in need of a splash of color and a pinch of imagination. Pick out something to paint for each other, and unveil your masterpiece to your sweetheart. Ask about their Valentine’s Day discounts when booking.
thatpotteryplaceomaha.com

cookingclassCouples Cooking Classes
Omaha is home to some of the nation’s most influential chefs and renowned restaurants, so it makes sense that learning from the best is the way to go if you are looking to improve your culinary skills—or simply have a good time together. Upscale cookware and grocery boutiques like the Grey Plume and Williams-Sonoma offer cooking classes, some of which are led by famous chefs. Call in advance to check their events, and book in advance to reserve a spot—especially this time of year.
thegreyplume.com/product-category/cooking-classes
williams-sonoma.com/customer-service/store-locator.html

lauritzengardensLauritzen Gardens
Experience one of the most inimitable romantic dinners in Omaha at Lauritzen Gardens. Among its intimate surroundings, guests dine on a three-course meal and a glass of wine for $55 per person. The ambiance is what makes this a distinctive Valentine’s Day date idea, but the food is exquisite as well. Taking your plans one step further, the gardens are also the perfect place to pop the big question. Reservations for Valentine’s Day dinner opened December 1, 2016. Spots fill up quickly, so call now.
lauritzengardens.org

orpheumThe Orpheum Theater
Omaha’s Orpheum Theater has served the arts community for nearly a century. A cornerstone of the city’s cultural history, this former vaudeville house was constructed in 1927, and has since been restored impeccably. Its lavish décor and architecture, and its resounding acoustics make this elegant performing arts venue an incredibly romantic place to enjoy a show. The evening of Valentine’s Day, the Orpheum is showing Elvis Lives, a multimedia and live musical journey across Elvis’ life that highlights the King’s greatest moments. Think quirkiness and class all rolled into one unique Valentine’s Day idea.
ticketomaha.com

Reducing Food Waste

October 4, 2016 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

The night of the Jimmy Buffett concert could not have been more perfect, weather-wise: a calm, near-cloudless 70-degree evening. Packs of Hawaiian-shirted Parrotheads meandered the Old Market’s cobblestone streets in search of 5-o’clock somewhere, food, and drink.

Major shows at CenturyLink are routine for downtown Omaha, but for the city’s restaurants, event schedules are just part of the unscientific guessing game to determine how much food to prepare for the nightly dinner rush.

Sometimes the indicators to make more food—a concert, a beautiful night outside, and an upcoming holiday—are the same indicators for restaurateurs to make less. Restaurants deal with this guessing game all the time. Wasted food impacts their bottom line. Any unused food usually means lost revenue. Environmentally, repercussions stretch across the entire cycle of food production.

Three restaurant owners gave their estimates on what they threw out each night: Ahmad Nazar, owner of Ahmad’s Persian Cuisine, estimates his restaurant fills a 45-gallon garbage can for a standard dinner service. Clayton Chapman, chef and owner at The Grey Plume, says his restaurant fills an 18-gallon garbage can per night. David Mainelli, co-owner of Julio’s, says his restaurant fills an entire dumpster in a week.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimated that 133 billion pounds of food went to waste in 2010. “The statistics are 40 percent of food that’s produced ends up in the landfill,” says Beth Ostdiek Smith, president and founder of Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue.

Since its founding in 2013, Saving Grace has delivered more than one million pounds of food to local non-profits. The majority of the food comes from grocery stores, caterers, and convenience stores.

“When I started this, I thought that (restaurants) would be our top food donor. That’s not the case,” Smith says. “Our restaurants have learned to manage their food, and it’s more made to order, so there’s not as much waste from restaurants as maybe there once was.”

Different restaurants around town tackle the food waste problem with different strategies. At Ahmad’s, Nazar says his 26-plus years of experience have taught him about portion control. “I’ve learned how people want it, especially business people who travel. They don’t want too much food. It’s hard to judge, so I have a portion ready for everyone,” Nazar says.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimated that 133 billion pounds of food went to waste in 2010.

Mainelli says Julio’s kitchen staff tries to minimize waste by boiling the parts of the chicken that do not reach a customer’s plate and making it into a stock. Onion skins are used for barbecue sauces. Still, Mainelli believes his restaurant could do better in managing food waste. For example, cooked rice IS an item that has a short lifespan, as it cannot be reheated for a restaurant-quality dish. “Sometimes, we’ll throw out an entire batch that could serve 50 people,” he says.

The Grey Plume is renowned for being one of the most environmentally friendly restaurants in the nation. In addition to using recycled materials for their drywall and steel framing, Clayton Chapman says the restaurant uses a three-step process to reduce food waste. The first step involves using as much of the ingredient as possible (when carrots get cut up, the remaining carrot pieces get pureed into a base).

“Not everything has a second life, but most things do,” Chapman says. The second step includes composting any leftover and eligible ingredients. The final step is to prepare everything to order so that reheating isn’t necessary.

Along with internal quality control, Ahmad’s, Julio’s, and The Grey Plume have donated food and resources to charitable organizations like Siena/Francis Homeless Shelter and Youth
Emergency Services.

In 2012, after recovering from an undiagnosed lymphatic illness that left him bedridden, Mainelli was inspired to start Feedback Omaha, an organization that works with local restaurants and nonprofits to feed those in need. In addition to donating food to the needy, Feedback Omaha organizers also perform a standard restaurant-style dinner service.

In July, the organization provided its first service for YES, which featured a taco bar for about 100 kids. In October, Feedback Omaha served about 250 people at the Lydia House with Mama’s Pizza and All Inclusive Catering providing food for the event.

The standard for what can be donated is a simple (but inflexible) rule: whatever is cooked, but does not go out to a customer, can be donated. For example, a cooked pizza in a restaurant kitchen is ripe for donating. However, if it goes out into the restaurant dining area, it’s no longer a candidate for donation.

“If it’s in the buffet, it cannot be rescued. If it’s in the back, we can still rescue it,” Smith says.

Visit savinggracefoodrescue.org or facebook.com/feedbackomaha for more information.

Encounter

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Reinventing the Classic

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Time travel back to childhood. Sink your teeth into two slices of white bread slathered with creamy peanut butter and purplish jam, the sandwich staple of sack lunches and after-school snacks.

Can you taste the love? Hungry for more? Many Omaha locals drive over to the Old Market Farmers Market on a Saturday morning for their fix. There’s often a line stretching around the black truck with an orange logo, where customers eagerly await gourmet twists on standard PB&J.

PBJ3PBJ—Peanut Butter Johnny’s—is the dream and brainchild of John Jelinek. You won’t find Skippy and processed strawberry jam here. Jelinek’s food truck rolls through town selling sandwiches made from many different types of bread, a variety of nut butters, and artisanal jams ranging from spicy jalapeño to exotic fig. He even puts bacon on his sandwiches.

Jelinek isn’t a chef or a well-known restauranteur in town. In fact, Peanut Butter Johnny’s is his first business. Jelinek previously worked as director of sales vendors for Time Warner. He dreamed of owning his own business, and he initially thought about opening a clothing store.

Then he considered opening a food truck, but he wasn’t sure if it would work for him; “There’s already a lot of pizza trucks and that sort of thing, and frankly, they do it better than I can,” Jelinek says.

Jelinek finally settled upon the idea of serving grown-up versions of childhood comfort food. He took the concept and (literally) rolled with it. Not being a chef, he wanted a professional to make sure his vision was as delicious as he imagined.

He contacted Beth Augustyn in the culinary arts department of Metropolitan Community College. Augustyn made a connection with graduate Jarrod Lane, a sous chef at Marks Bistro. The business owner and chef stuck together like…

Jelinek didn’t just connect with Lane. He also connected with chef Clayton Chapman of the Grey Plume, Patricia Barron of Big Mama’s, and chef Paul Kulik of Le Bouillon. Jelinek asked for help from these local culinary giants, and each helped create the specialty sandwiches on his menu.

“What’s great about John is he has a vision but he allows us to create,” says Chapman. “We went to a few tasting sessions to get that to where he wanted it. He’s incredibly creative and able to see something in its finished place much before it’s started.”

PBJ2

Peanut Butter Johnny’s opened for business on the evening of Dec. 5, 2015, at a fundraiser for the Nebraska AIDS Project. Over the summer, the truck attended the free Memorial Park concert and fireworks, and the Fourth of July Parade in Ralston. Anywhere the people go, they go.

PBJ serves sandwiches upon sandwiches. And customers can’t get enough. At ConAgra in early July, Jelinek, Lane, and two other employees served 40 orders in little under 30 minutes. “People were telling us they’ve waited over an hour for other food trucks,” Lane says.

Jelinek’s multi-ingredient sandwiches require time and love. Aside from bacon, other dishes feature chicken, and many sandwiches come grilled.

“You can’t go wrong with PB&J,” claims customer Justin Swanson. “I want to support local business owners, plus this is way better than I can make.”

On a sweltering summer day, Swanson saw the truck parked near 90th and Dodge streets. He swung by to support the business (and his bar friend). Swanson is a bartender at The House of Loom, where Jelinek often chooses to spend his free time.

It’s these type of friendships that keep customers coming to PBJ. Chapman says Jelinek’s personality also draws return customers.

“It’s his enthusiasm, it’s his drive, it’s his passion for what he’s doing,” Chapman says. “You’re just naturally drawn to it.”

“So much of business is relationships,” Jelinek says. “So much of repeat business is relationships. Serving them good food and being nice to them so they say, ‘You know, let’s go back.’”

He wants the food truck community to keep making relationships, too, especially in the wake of new regulations.

“It’s important that we have rules that everyone can live by,” Jelinek says. “Food trucks want to find a way to get along well and be something unique.” 

Visit pbjohnnys.com for more information. Encounter

PBJ1

The Grey Plume

September 25, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A few years ago it would be hard to believe that Omaha would be home to one of the top three greenest restaurants in America, let alone a James Beard Foundation award semi finalist. In the past you would have to visit cities like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco to find restaurants and chefs with accolades such as these, but The Grey Plume has been in the national spotlight since the day they opened in 2010.

GreyPlume2

Chef/Owner Clayton Chapman has racked up more James Beard nominations than any Omaha chef in history. “Farm to Table” and “Eco-Friendly” restaurants are quite common in many large American cities, but in Omaha it’s still a relatively new phenomenon. The Grey Plume takes all of this to a new level with the close collaboration Chapman has with his growers and ranchers.

The restaurant is quite handsomely designed with a formal but still comfortable feel. White tablecloths and velvet-covered bench seats give the restaurant a plush, luxurious look.

Great care was taken in the design to use reclaimed and recycled materials as well as special low-energy kitchen equipment with a small carbon footprint. The artwork featured around the restaurant comes from local artists, as does some of the plateware made from recycled wine bottles.

Chef de Cuisine John Engler’s menu is constantly changing, but on a recent visit I saw several dishes that fondly recalled previous visits. My dining partner and I started off with one of my favorites, the Duck Fat Fries ($9). As the name implies, these crispy hand-cut fries are fried in duck fat and served over aioli with a farm-fresh egg on top. The combination is incredible. We also tried the Smoked Housemade Ricotta Gnocchi ($12). This beautifully presented appetizer features pumpernickel bread crumbs which provide flavor as well as texture. It also has a cherry purée and fresh leeks. I am certain I will be ordering this one again. Next we tried the Cold Potato Soup ($9). This concoction had a velvety cream texture and was garnished with truffle powder that gave it a great umami boost. We also had the Heartland Organics’ Spring Greens Salad ($8), a nice light salad featuring local mixed greens, feta cheese, radish, and lavash with an olive oil dressing. For entrees I had the Morgan Ranch Wagyu Beef ($36). It featured perfectly cooked “petite filet” or teres major cut. The dish also had some oxtail, tongue, and an amazing sausage, all from Morgan Ranch in Burwell, Nebraska. A light demi glace sauce, shaved asparagus, shiitake mushroom, and Yukon gold potatoes made this dish a delicious combination. My dining partner tried Plum Creek Farm’s Chicken Roulade ($27). This moist chicken was served with baby bok choy, snap peas, farro, and a savory strawberry puree—another stellar entree. For dessert we had TGP Hand Crafted Chocolates ($13.50) and the Ice Cream Trio ($8.50). The ice cream dish consisted of a trio of scoops: salted caramel, orange chamomile, and sorrel. The sorrel, at first, seemed an odd flavor for ice cream, but I was instantly hooked.

 

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At times in the past I felt that the service at The Grey Plume was perhaps a bit stuffy and overly formal. Servers sometimes make your head spin with their immense knowledge of food and wine while using French words and terms that most diners have never even heard of. But this was not the case on this particular evening. Our server was friendly, humorous, and casual, but provided excellent service. He went out of his way to explain the dishes to my dining partner using layman’s terms. He also earned extra points on his wine recommendation of an exquisite French bordeaux that went perfectly with my Wagyu beef.

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There is no doubt in my mind that The Grey Plume is one the best restaurants in Omaha. Unfortunately my income bracket does not allow me to frequent places in this price range often enough. But don’t relegate this special place to birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions. You owe it to yourself to experience The Grey Plume, the hot spot that has so deservedly received so much critical acclaim all across America.

Cheers!

The Grey Plume, 220 S. 31st Ave.

402-763-4447 or thegreyplume.com

Food=4/5 Stars

Service=3 1/2 /5 Stars

Ambiance=4/5 Stars

Price $$$$

Overall=4/5 Stars

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