Tag Archives: menu

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.

Culprit Cafe sticks to the basics.

January 29, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Espresso and bread might not sound like much of a restaurant menu, but for Culprit Cafe owner Luke Mabie, those are the only two things he needed.

When designing the menu for his new restaurant, now open at 16th and Farnam streets, Mabie turned to the basic elements of a traditional bakery and cafe.

“My palate is always looking for more with less,” says Mabie. “We wanted to bring everything back to its original element.”

While simplicity reigns supreme at Culprit, that doesn’t mean customers get just a cup of coffee and a slice of bread. Rather, Mabie aims to focus on perfecting the simplest elements of Culprit’s variety of drinks, sandwiches, and baked goods.

Culprit was inspired by Mabie’s love of classic bakeries, as well as his experiences in New York City honing his craft as a pastry chef.

“Too many people focus on having that one recipe where it’s just like, ‘Oh yes, I have this thing, nobody else has this,’” says Mabie. “You come to realize that there’s never going to be a recipe that is so special or stands out so much that everybody’s going to be jealous of it. Because it’s all about the experience as a whole.”

20131114_bs_1994

Owner and pastry chef Luke Mabie is all about more taste with a simple menu.

 

You aren’t going to find novelty drinks and secret menus at Culprit Cafe—what you see is what you get, and Mabie makes sure to keep Culprit’s offerings simple yet satisfying.

Take, for example, their cappuccino. Culprit sells their cappuccinos in one size only. As Mabie explains, a cappuccino is meant to consist of one-third espresso, one-third foam, and one-third milk. If you make cappuccinos bigger, the espresso can be overpowering, so Culprit keeps their cappuccinos at their original 6 oz. size.

This thoughtfulness shows up everywhere on Culprit’s drink menu. All syrups are made in-house, so that “the customer has a closer relationship to what we do,” says Mabie. On a recent visit, the vanilla latte and drip coffee were surprisingly smooth and not too bitter, perfect for both the coffee addict and the casual sipper.

While Mabie enjoys coffee and knew he wanted it to be a fundamental part of his business, he actually had no experience with it before opening Culprit. So he took the same approach that he does to baking and focused on the craft. Mabie traveled around the Midwest, tasting different coffee roasters, eager to educate himself on coffee as much as he could, before settling on Broadway Cafe and Roasting Co. in Kansas City, Mo.

Broadway account manager Brian Phillips worked with Mabie, and was impressed by his dedication to educating himself on coffee.

The open-face veggie sandwich pairs well with a salad of candied walnuts, feta, and balsamic reduction dressing.

The open-face veggie sandwich pairs well with a salad of candied walnuts, feta, and balsamic reduction dressing.

“When I got the phone call from Luke, I could tell that he was really passionate about coffee, but didn’t have the technical vocabulary,” says Phillips. “But I knew right away, when he was talking about his work, with the way that he makes bread, there was a lot of crossover.”

A quick glance at Culprit’s bakery display emphasizes the work Mabie puts into his classic baked goods. Pies and cakes at Culprit aren’t just served as slices from an hours-old display but rather as individual portions. The apple brown butter cake with a honey cinnamon buttercream frosting was basic yet satisfying, just like the rest of Culprit’s menu. Containing the perfect ratio of cake to frosting, the cake wasn’t loaded with the sugars and sweeteners found in many foods nowadays.

The bread at Culprit is just as much of a labor of love. Mabie bakes his at 3 p.m. every day, so that it’s fresh for customers who come right off of work.

The bread is more than just an accent on Culprit’s sandwiches and salads. It’s the foundation for which Mabie provides lunch fare with a variety of flavor profiles and textures, to please everyone from meat lovers to vegetarians. Once again, it’s back to the basics for Mabie.

 

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!

Railcar Modern American Kitchen

June 20, 2013 by
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

The Corner Creperie

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Derek Olsen pours a careful ladleful of batter onto one of two crêpe griddles, about 16 inches in diameter. Then he lightly spins a sort of crêpe trowel—a wooden dowel T’d with a smaller wooden handle—around and around, until the batter has thinned out across the whole surface.

The crêpe browns to golden in about a minute, at which point he takes a wooden spatula and lifts the crêpe away from the griddle to turn it over. Only 15 to 20 seconds on that side.

In the meantime, he’s been warming the portioned-out filling, which was made from scratch earlier that day. In this case, it’s quark and cheddar cheese, apple and bacon. And it is divine.

Sweet crêpes are served cold. The Citrus has lemon curd, macerated raspberry, and raspberry coulis—a bright tartness that brings some light to a cold and gray day.20130313_bs_9170

Why crêpes?

“It was an idea my wife and I had from traveling—a versatile way to do both desserts and savory items,” Olsen says. Cities in Western Europe as well as larger U.S. cities, like Seattle and San Francisco, all have small, outdoor crêpe stands. It’s a quick and easy street food. “Our idea was to bring the crêpe stand indoors—keep it very easy, in and out, but put a roof over its head.”

This makes it an ideal breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack for people on the go, such as the faculty, staff, and students of Creighton University. Located at 343 N. 24th St., The Corner Creperie is practically on campus.

As if on cue, a college-aged couple comes in and orders a few crêpes, which they, of course, Instagram before eating.20130313_bs_9190

Certainly the Creperie is not just for Creighton folks. It’s close to Central High School and the Joslyn Art Museum, or worth the drive from any part of town.

In addition to this new restaurant, which opened December 8, Olsen and his wife Doan (Didi) also own The Nail Salon in the Old Market. They’re busy, especially as parents of an infant daughter.

As soon as Didi arrives, she helps some new customers at the register. Derek prepares their crêpes. You can tell that they’re small business owners, ready to do whatever task needs to be done.

And they’re invested in Omaha. It’s even part of their tagline: “Simple. Local. Portable. Delicious.” “We try to source as many items locally as we possibly can,” Olsen says.20130313_bs_9207

Their proteins come from four Nebraska farms. Their coffee beans—they offer almost as many coffee drinks as crêpes—come from A Hill of Beans Coffee Roasters in Omaha. Even the metalwork in their furniture was done by Chris Kemp at the Hot Shops.

The creation of their menu was also a communal effort. The Olsens collaborated with Brian O’Malley, a faculty member at the Metro Culinary Institute. They later added Chase Grove, a recent Metro Culinary grad, to their staff.

Grove helped develop the new menu, which debuted in May. He says they’ll make it refreshing for the summer and try some creative takes on familiar foods. “We’re doing things people will recognize, but do them in a new and surprising way,” Grove says.

The Corner Creperie
343 N. 24th St.
402-955-9577

Restaurant Review: Louie’s Wine Dive

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Wine should be fun” is what it reads on the staff’s t-shirts at Louie’s Wine Dive, and I have to say that I couldn’t agree more. So often, it seems that people are put off by buying wine, ordering wine, or going to wine bars because of the “snooty factor” that is perceived to come along with it. At Louie’s, they’ve done a good job of making wine more accessible to the masses and keeping the snobbery out of it. For that, I commend them.

The Shops of Legacy in West Omaha, has a large selection of very good restaurants. The location that Louie’s now occupies has been home to a couple of restaurants over the past few years, which should be a clue as to how competitive this area is for the West O dining dollar. If the success this small company has had in its Des Moines and Kansas City locations is any indication, then it’s safe to say that Louie’s has a good shot at making it here. The restaurant is very attractive and far from what I would call a dive, but they do have some “divey” features, such as chandeliers made from liquor bottles and mismatched chairs. I would describe the atmosphere as casual and comfortable.

After studying the wine list for a few minutes, it quickly becomes obvious that great care has been taken in the curation of the selections. Most growing regions and varieties are well-represented, and there’s not a dog in the bunch. The food menu has a little of everything as well: creative gourmet food with interesting twists on familiar favorites. There are appetizers, bruschettas, sandwiches, comfort-food entrees, pasta dishes, and salads.

On a recent visit, my dining partner and I started off with an order of Lobster Poutine ($15) and Louie’s Margarita Bruschetta ($9). This version of poutine is a rich lobster sauce poured over some delicious French fries with chunks of Maine lobster and topped with Fontina cheese. This dish was excellent, and one that I would recommend. The bruschetta was equally good and earned extra points since it was made on a baguette from Le Quartier Bakery, which happens to be my favorite bread in Omaha.20130329_bs_9505_Web

Next, we had a starter version of Emily’s Apple Harvest Salad ($5). This was made with baby greens, apples, cranberries, bacon, goat cheese, and candied pecans. I can promise you that I will order this salad every time I return. For entrees, we had the porchetta ($16) and the Shrimp Diablo Pasta ($16). The server told me that the corporate chef had won awards with the porchetta in the past, and after a few bites I could see why. This Italian-rolled pork shoulder is braised for hours with herbs and garlic so it melts in your mouth. The Shrimp Diablo might be the next one to win an award, as the creamy red pepper sauce had just the right amount of spice and a lovely toasted garlic finish. The shrimp are large and cooked perfectly.

Even though we were full, we soldiered on to try Lemon Pound Cake ($6). This moist cake had just the right relationship between sweet and sour and was topped with some fresh blueberry puree. It was a solid finish to a great meal.

I usually like to give new restaurants a little time to work out the kinks before sharing my thoughts with our readers, but, in this case, I made an exception, as it seemed to me that there were no kinks that needed working out. One of the many advantages a small restaurant company enjoys is the ability to send seasoned staff and managers to help open a new location, which makes the whole process considerably smoother and more enjoyable for the patrons. Our server was very well-trained and made some very good food and wine recommendations.

I think Louie’s Wine Dive will make an excellent addition to the West Omaha restaurant scene, and I am already looking forward to my next visit.

Cheers!

Louie’s Wine Dive
16920 Wright Plz., Ste. 118
402-884-8966
louieswinedive.com

RATING (5 Stars Possible)

Food & Beverage: ****
Service: ***
Ambiance: ***
Price: Moderate
Overall: ***1/2

Restaurant Review: Mantra Bar & Grille

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Where Maple Street passes through the Benson neighborhood is arguably one of the most exciting urban revitalizations currently happening in Omaha. It seems like every month there’s a new retail store, restaurant, or bar opening up. In spring of 2012, Mantra Bar & Grille became the latest restaurant to part of this thriving Benson area. Mantra owner Mac Thompson, no stranger to the Omaha restaurant scene, is well-known for his other, highly regarded restaurant, Taxi’s Grille & Bar.

Located at 6913 Maple, Mantra is toward the west end of the budding Benson scene, affording patrons plenty of parking—something which is very scarce five blocks further east. From the outside, Mantra has a very smart look to it with an inviting patio and artsy facade. Inside, the restaurant is drop-dead gorgeous with a modern, industrial look to it that’s well-designed and really catchy. There’s a bar that runs the entire length of the restaurant, as well as several flat screens for watching sports. The sound on the TVs is pretty much off, so you can hear the well-curated playlist of classic rock (which I just happen to love) played at a comfortable volume. The restaurant has booths along one wall; in the center, brushed-aluminum tables add to the restaurant’s striking appearance.14 January 2013- "Mantra" in Benson is photographed for Omaha Magazine.

The menu at Mantra has a nicely balanced variety of selections. There’s an assortment of small plates, salads, sandwich, light entrees, and some very enticing specials. Many of these menu items look very familiar to past meals I’ve had at Taxi’s, which by all means is a good thing.

On a recent visit, my dining partner and I started with the Dijon Shrimp Appetizer ($9.50). These were served in an escargot-style dish and were drenched in garlic butter and topped with bubbling havarti cheese. It was served with some of their fresh-baked sourdough baguette. The combination was incredible! We also tried the Bacon and Tomato Flatbread ($8.95). This concoction featured a perfect thin crust, goat cheese, roasted tomatoes, pepper bacon, and some kind of a maple, balsamic drizzle. This is one stellar dish and now, one of my personal favorites.14 January 2013- "Mantra" in Benson is photographed for Omaha Magazine.

For dinner, I ordered the Blackened Tuna Tacos ($14.95) off the specials list. This dish is comprised of three tacos made with small corn tortillas, cole slaw, green salsa, avocado, grated jack cheese, and a generous portion of flash-seared tuna. It also comes with some Mexican-style rice and beans. These were some of the best fish tacos I have had in some time. My dining partner tried the Chicken Piccata ($17.95). The tender chicken breasts were seasoned and cooked perfectly. The piccata sauce was well-executed, making this a memorable dish as well. For dessert, we tried the Pistachio Cake French Toast ($6.50). It’s served with ice cream and maple syrup. After a couple of bites, it was obvious why this is their signature dessert. All I can say is, be sure to save some room.

The service at Mantra was spot-on. Our server was very knowledgeable about the menu and made some excellent recommendations. We were never left waiting for anything, nor did we feel rushed. The beer and wine list features some great selections, and there’s also a full bar with some interesting-sounding signature cocktails. All of these things combined to make for an excellent dining experience, and one that I’m ready to repeat.

Cheers!

Mantra Bar & Grille
6913 Maple St.
402-933-1666
mantraomaha.com

RATING (5 Stars Possible)

Food & Beverage: ****
Service: ***1/2
Ambiance: ****
Price: Moderate
Overall: ****

Malara’s

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Two elderly gentlemen are just getting up from the table. “We don’t work here,” the one in the knit sweater says gallantly, “but we could probably seat you.”

They probably could at that, if they’re some of the regulars who have been gracing Malara’s Italian Restaurant since it opened on 22nd and Pierce streets in 1984. Caterina Malara, an American by way of Argentina by way of Italy, first put her name to a small carryout shop as a way of providing for her young family. “There weren’t any tables or anything,” says her daughter, Maria Szablowski. “We mostly served sandwiches then.”

Decades later, Malara’s has expanded in both size and menu, and Szablowski is now the restaurant’s manager. “We make pretty much everything ourselves,” she says. Her favorite is the fried cheese ravioli, though her niece, Ashley Gomez, is torn between her grandmother’s lasagna and the Italian cheesecake.20130204_bs_5079 copy

Malara’s serves strictly Italian comfort food, and the food is prepared accordingly. “We’re casual, you know, spaghetti and meatballs,” Szablowski says. Recipes are vague, if there are any at all. “It’s a pinch of this, a pinch of that.” Gomez adds that when Malara teaches her kitchen a new recipe, she’ll say, “No cups! You judge yourself.” With such a home-style method, dishes are surprisingly consistent.

Szablowski says that if Malara had her way, the menu would be constantly filled with new items. For the sake of the staff, they introduce one or two new dishes every so often while keeping on staples like the homemade cheesesticks, chicken parmesan, and ricotta cannoli.

Still, the matriarch is very much present in her restaurant. “She’s here everyday,” Szablowski says. “We can’t keep her away.” Malara still cooks a bit, but is less hands-on. “She watches you like a hawk,” Gomez says with a laugh, but adds that Malara is very patient, especially with her great-grandchildren, a few of whom work in the kitchen.

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The fact that the restaurant is family-run is inescapable, from the daughter waitressing on weekends to the photos of great-grandkids on the wall. Even if staff members aren’t family strictly speaking, they may as well be. Szablowski and Gomez compare notes on which employees have been with them the longest: “Maki, the bartender, has been here for 22 years. Then there’s Marilyn, the cashier, she’s been here for 20. And Amy and Kathy and…”

If all you need to enjoy the cozy ambience is a dessert and a drink, consider having a sour crème puff under the original tin ceiling at the bar. Though Malara’s serves a full bar, wines and beers carry the day. Especially for Malara herself. “Mom loves her glass of Lambrusco every night,” Szablowski says with a smile.

Malara’s Italian Kitchen
2123 Pierce St.
402-346-8001

 

Good Drinks, Good Music, Good People

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“We keep it mellow but fun,” says Joanna Murzyn, one of the owners of Myth, a martini bar in the Old Market at 11th and Howard streets. “We like to have a calm feel. Nothing dancey or headbanging.”

Guests sit back on chocolate-leather couches and converse over craft cocktails while acoustic or jazz sets play in the lounge’s front window every Thursday night. The club sends out events news and promotions to anyone who texts “Myth” to (402)-965-0230, or guests can check Myth’s Facebook page to find out who’s playing next. If it’s the first Thursday of the month, you’ll find local musician Chris Saub with his guitar, a microphone, and folk rock sung with slight gravel. “It’s a sort of relaxed kind of rock,” says regular John Lewenthal. “He plays his own music, but occasionally he’ll mix in a cover.”

Myth is a rewarding place to be a regular. “We have a great crowd here,” Murzyn says. “You really develop relationships over the years.” Regulars know they’ll have a place to escape the downtown crazy on New Year’s Eve, and a special rum stays behind the bar for the only patron who drinks it. “Only one customer wants it, and we get it for him,” she says.

Owner Brian Murzyn

Owner Brian Murzyn

Murzyn credits her husband and co-owner, Brian, with a talent for bringing guests back for more. She recounted the story of someone freshly moved to Omaha who walked into Myth one night. “He said he knew he had to force himself to get out and meet people,” Murzyn recalls, “and there was Brian behind the bar. He’s been a regular for a couple years now.”

Regulars and newcomers alike should feel free to ask the versatile bartenders to make them something off-menu if none of the Myth suggestions sound quite right. “They love that,” Murzyn says. She estimated that roughly 80 percent of the cocktails served over the stained concrete bar are unique to the lounge. The Mystique, for example, has been a favorite since Myth opened in May 2007. The sweet pink drink is comprised of X-Rated Fusion Liqueur, mango rum, and pineapple.

“They have a really good feel for various drinks,” Lewenthal says. “They have such a large repertoire of things they’re able to put together, even for somebody that may not know they enjoy drinks like that.” The average cost of a Myth cocktail is $9, though there’s wine and beer (bottled and draft) for those with simpler tastes.

A couple menus from next-door restaurants are kept under the bar in case patrons need a pizza from Zio’s or an appetizer from Stokes to go with their cocktails. There is one TV behind the bar, positively small in comparison to what you’d find at a sports bar, for taking a break in conversation to check a score.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Myth is no longer open.