Tag Archives: Omaha Magazine

Where to Eat Now

July 4, 2017 by
Photography by Joshua Foo

Omaha is a foodie’s dream, but like a dream, the panorama is always changing. Omaha Magazine presents this special package as a guide to sampling the newest local offerings from the culinary scene. Many of the restaurants are brand-spanking new. Others are longtime favorites with new locations, new food concepts, and/or different management. A few of the dining concepts are still works in progress.

To read how we determined the restaurants to be featured in this in-depth list, read the full intro to this piece, New & Now.

Neighborhoods featured include:

Aksarben

Beacon Hills

6750 Mercy Road
402-933-3115
beaconhills.com

Beacon Hills may not be brand new, but it is fresh to Omaha. Anne and Craig McVeigh originally opened the restaurant in a Lincoln hotel around 16 years ago. That location closed last summer, but there’s no need to fret. They brought their tried-and-true American comfort food to Omaha’s Aksarben Village in October. With an extensive menu featuring everything from panko-breaded chicken strips to filet mignon, visitors can expect to find more than enough to choose from. The happy hour is from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and they offer a special brunch menu from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Blue & Fly Asian Kitchen

721 S. 72nd St.
402-504-6545
blueandflyomaha.com

One of Omaha’s top Chinese restaurants goes by the name Blue & Fly. Yue Cong (who moved to Omaha at age 21) opened Blue & Fly in 2015 with the goal of introducing more authentic Chinese cuisine to his adopted home. He succeeded spectacularly with tongue-numbing Sichuanese dishes, northern-style dumplings, Shandong-style caramelized sweet potato desserts, and more. Editors suggest the deep-fried intestines, with a side of sliced potatoes served cold in vinegar.

Herbe Sainte

1934 S. 67th St.
402-913-2396
herbesainteomaha.com

The owners of Herbe Sainte, collectively known as SamFam LLC, are certainly no strangers to the Omaha restaurant scene. Ron Samuelson is a former owner of M’s Pub, and his nephews, Justin and Aaron Halbert, have each worked for several successful restaurants over the years. They recently combined their extensive knowledge to bring New Orleans-inspired cocktails and food to Omaha, opening in the thriving Aksarben area in October. Traditional NOLA libations, such as Sazeracs, daiquiris, and hurricanes are offered alongside original creations and twisted takes on classics, like the “Corpse Reviver No. 2.” Though initially intended to be more a bar than a restaurant, demand for their food motivated them to open for lunch. Their “Choose 2” option during lunch is the perfect way to check out what they have and try a little sample of everything at an affordable price. But if you really want to dig in and go for it, try the peel-and-eat shrimp or dive right into the broiled oysters with herbed butter sauce, cheese, and Peppadew relish. The melt-in-your-mouth-good shrimp come in either quarter-, half-, or one-pound portions and are served simply—with horseradish, lemon, and a house cocktail sauce. Even the roast beef po’boy has a little “lagniappe” that makes it better than most other po’boys out there. And though it may not sound quite right, the crawfish cheesecake is highly recommended. If all these options aren’t enough for you, Sunday brunch features mimosas for one cent after you buy the first two.

New Gold Mountain

6750 Mercy Road
402-614-1668
newgoldmountain.com

Local fans of dim sum—a type of Cantonese cuisine that could be described as Chinese-style tapas—are familiar with New Gold Mountain Restaurant. For those living in the eastern reaches of Omaha, a long drive is no longer necessary to satiate their cravings for dim sum. New Gold Mountain has a new, more centrally located branch in the Aksarben Village. It’s a big win for the city’s food scene, especially with the original location near 156th and Maple streets still up and running. If Confucius could have been to Omaha today, he might drop another axiom for ages: “Sometimes you lose some, sometimes you dim sum.”

Petrow’s

5914 Center St.
402-551-0552
petrows.com

If you haven’t been to Petrow’s lately, you may be surprised when you visit it next. The longtime Omaha staple recently remodeled, and they went all out. Gone is the old diner look. Their new look is stylish and modern, right down to what the servers wear. They also now have a patio, with a fire pit for chillier times. Don’t worry, though. They still offer their classic dishes, with a few new items to mix things up. The upgrade is the latest for a restaurant that first opened as a “drive-in” back in 1957.

Sandwich Proper at Aksarben Village Farmers Market

67th and Center streets
facebook.com/sandwichproper

The initial idea for Sandwich Proper came about when four friends—Patrick Shannon, Evan Brockman, Ryan Filbrandt, and Ben Holling—noticed that the Aksarben Farmers Market didn’t have any vendors providing fresh, made-to-order food options. They decided to rectify this, and of course, to use local ingredients, often from the other vendors at the market. They served their first sandwich last year, and everyone’s loving it. Check them out for yourselves while supporting local farmers and vendors at this year’s Aksarben market.

Suji’s Korean Grill

1303 S. 72nd St.
402-884-7500
sujiskoreangrill.com

Initially a fast-casual restaurant (a bit like Chipotle for Korean food), Suji’s Korean Grill completely overhauled its menu and business model in November. Suji’s is now full-service with expanded meal options for lunch and dinner. The biggest change was the addition of endless Korean barbecue, which starts with a heaping platter of assorted meats that you cook right at your table. It’s a fun option for families or a group of friends looking for a unique dining experience.

Bellevue

Quick Bites Soul Food

105 W. Mission Ave.
402-715-4419
facebook.com/quickbitessoulfood

Just the faintest whiff of fried chicken is generally enough to get that fried-food craving going. If it hits you while you’re hanging out in B-town (aka Bellevue), you’ll want to head to Quick Bites Soul Food on Mission Avenue (which opened in 2016). Go for the homemade fried chicken, mac ’n’ cheese, and fried okra, but don’t leave without a little something sweet from the candy shop.

Roma Italian Restaurant

605 Fort Crook Road North
402-916-5820
facebook.com/romabellevue

Delicious Italian food came to this Bellevue location via—Texas? You read that right. Gresa and Albert Govori met in Brownwood, Texas, where Albert already owned an Italian restaurant. They eventually decided to move back to Gresa’s hometown of Lincoln, but couldn’t find the right space there. Turns out, the right space was on Fort Crook Road in Bellevue. Roma opened in spring of 2016.

The Special Restaurant

303 Fort Crook Road North
402-884-0441
thespecialrestaurantinc.com

Amarillo BBQ was a big-time favorite. When it closed in 2010, many wondered what would happen to the beloved space left behind. Whatever went in there would have to be something special. Enter Bellevue native and Navy veteran Laura Scott and her husband, Ed. They serve authentic, home-cooked diner-style food at a great price.

Umami Asian Cuisine

1504 Galvin Road South
402-991-8822
umamiasianne.com

Sushi in Nebraska is something visitors may find questionable. Is the fish fresh? Do the chefs really know what they’re doing when it comes to sushi? These are fair questions in an area known for serving mostly steak. But the food landscape has changed a lot over the past few years, and Bellevue is a good example of this. At Umami, there is no question that sushi chef Keen Zheng is making great strides in helping with that change. For the last 13 years, Zheng studied with New York City’s greatest sushi chefs. This meant working at not just one, but two Michelin-starred restaurants in the process—Kanoyama and 15 East. He later worked at Sushi Nakazawa, a New York Times four-star restaurant, under Daisuke Nakazawa, who has trained with chef Jiro Ono. Ono is featured in the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and is considered by many to be the best sushi chef in the world. All this experience is evidenced in Zheng’s preparation, cut, presentation, and taste. While the sushi is clearly exceptional, there are plenty of other delectable dishes on the menu. Curry, bento boxes, and kung pao are all options here, and all are equally tasty.
The chicken curry udon with its mild, red Thai curry flavor is one of those comforting dishes that you will look forward to, especially if you’re not feeling well. For anyone looking to fill that fried-food craving, the rock shrimp tempura appetizer is where it’s at. But the main draw, the sushi, is exceptional. The “mango tango” seems to get a lot of action, and the “1504 Bellevue” is not to be missed, especially for those looking for a spicy little kick.

Benson

Au Courant Regional Kitchen

6064 Maple St.
402-505-9917
aucourantrestaurant.com

This beautiful, bright space with its lush plants, large wood bar, and handmade tables and chairs (crafted by the chef) is reminiscent of a small European bistro, yet still decidedly American. The décor is perfectly suited for the space, considering they serve “new European” cuisine using ingredients grown here. The menu is frequently updated by chef and co-owner Benjamin Maides and his talented staff. “We sit down every Saturday night and go through the menu,” he says. “For us, we love just creating new and original dishes.” The menu generally features a selection of amuse bouche, aperitifs, pastas, and savory proteins. The wagyu tartare was a particularly delectable offering, and the pastas are paired perfectly with their fresh, sometimes unconventional accompaniments. Maides recommends the chef’s tasting menu. “We pick dishes we’re most excited about, $55 for six courses,” he says. “It’s kind of a cool way to just try the whole menu.” Maides adds that he doesn’t want to be a restaurant that’s known for one or three dishes, and that’s what everyone orders. “We strive for our menu being our signature dish.” The drink menu is crafted with care and whimsy, as evidenced in the frequently updated drink names. “Mule No. 1” and “The Big Elephantowski” were especially tasty concoctions based on classic cocktails. The Mule No. 1 is a bastard-child of a Moscow Mule and a Pimm’s Cup. The Big Elephantowski is, of course, a take on the White Russian, known for being the drink of choice for “The Dude” in The Big Lebowski. The wine list is short, but bottles are thoughtfully selected, with many offerings from Europe, as well as bottles from Willamette Valley in Oregon to Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. Au Courant took over the space formerly occupied by the tapas restaurant Espana. Co-owner Carlos Mendez closed that restaurant and started his collaboration with Maides in the same space, creating something new and exciting in the Benson area. For anyone missing their Espana favorites, head over to Rockbrook Village to Little Espana, an extension of the former Benson eatery.

Ika Ramen and Izakaya

6109 Maple St.
402-306-7247
ikaramenandizakaya.com

Folks unfamiliar with Japanese culinary traditions only know “ramen” as cheap blocks of noodles that come with foil-wrapped seasoning packets. But packaged ramen is not the real deal. More and more Omahans have discovered authentic ramen, thanks in part to Jose Dionicio. He started serving ramen as a novelty at his Peruvian/Japanese seafood restaurant, Taita. Eventually, Ika Ramen and Izakaya opened a few blocks west on Maple Street. After less than two years of operation, Ika took over the Benson space previously occupied by Taita (which closed in February after five years).

Ted & Wally’s

6023 Maple St.
402-551-4420
tedandwallys.com

Ted & Wally’s ice cream has been a downtown staple since the ’80s, and now you can find their homemade, slow-churned originals in Benson as well. This location opened in March 2016, starting out as a kind of joint venture with Localmotive (until the popular food truck folded in October). Fortunately, the ice cream business is still going strong. Keep an eye out for their Guinness-flavored ice cream and other specialty flavors.

Virtuoso Pizzeria

6056 Maple St.
402-556-9090
facebook.com/virtuosopizza23

If you were depressed to learn that the Pizza Shoppe Collective was closing, you should be happy to know that Benson has a new pizza joint in the same location. Virtuoso Pizza opened in May and is being run by David Losole of the famed Losole family. He is a certified “pizzaioli,” so get down to Benson and see what all the fuss is about. The Pizza Shoppe was a hotspot for Benson cultural happenings; former owner Amy Ryan is turning her attention to running the Benson Theatre.

Blackstone

The Blackstone Meatball

3910 Harney St.
402-715-5009
theblackstonemeatball.com

Can you build an entire restaurant around one food item? The Blackstone Meatball has done just that—and it works. “Ballers” can choose from four different styles: classic beef, Romesco pork, provincial chicken, and mushroom with white bean for vegetarians. Chef Matt Baum says he likes to offer a special meatball every two weeks, along with a special sauce, side, and risotto. “That’s one way we stay seasonal.” While the special meatballs are usually a hit, Baum says the classic is probably their best-seller. It’s 50 percent beef and 50 percent pork, but with a little twist, more like a sweet Italian sausage than what you’d normally find. “My grandfather and my father had been making sausage for years. I sort of boosted one of their recipes and made it a little more mine,” Baum says. “So, it’s sort of a German, Irish, Italian sausage,” he adds with a laugh. Even if you don’t like meatballs, you can always stop in for a drink and maybe a show. Every Friday night there’s something going on—whether it’s a DJ, karaoke, or neighborhood bingo, where you can win prizes put up by businesses in the area. On Saturdays there’s live music, oftentimes performed by someone who frequents the guitar shop downstairs. What draws the biggest crowds, according to Baum? “Bingo has definitely been huge. I suggested doing bingo as sort of a joke, just something kind of weird and fun, and people freak out about it,” he says. “They take it very seriously. It’s intense.” The Blackstone area has been a big draw for Omaha lately, and Baum says he’s excited about the trolley/streetcar idea discussed during the 2017 mayoral campaign. “It could help a lot of people avoid drinking and driving,” he says. “There’s a lot of great neighborhoods in this town—but it’s really hard to get there.”

Coneflower Creamery

3921 Farnam St.
402-913-2399
coneflowercreamery.com

With summer in full swing, you may need the patience of a saint if you want to check out this little ice cream shop. But, if you have the patience, you will be so happy you did! From classic flavors like cookies and cream to original creations like sweet corn, they do it all using ingredients sourced from farms here in Nebraska and Iowa. The Blackstone Butter Brickle is not to be missed, especially since the flavor was first introduced to the public at the former Blackstone Hotel, just down the street (the same hotel gave rise to the Reuben sandwich).

Noli’s Pizzeria

4001 Farnam St.
402-359-1802
nolispizzeria.com

The debate between New York- and Chicago-style pizza has been ongoing for decades. Noli’s Pizzeria is doing its part to convince Omahans that it’s the New York way or the highway, right down to the water they use. Owner Joel Marsh went so far as to install a filtration system to emulate that NYC-flavored tap water. It seems to be working, as people are flocking to the quaint little corner shop. Noli’s moved into the former Black Squirrel Tattoo location in March (after two years at its original location on the same block). With choose-your-own toppings, you can order pizzas whole or by the slice. A slice with anchovies, goat cheese, and Kalamata olives is one of our favorites!

Stirnella Bar & Kitchen

3814 Farnam St.
402-932-0444
stirnella.com

“Sturnella neglecta” is the scientific name for Nebraska’s state bird, the meadowlark. It’s also the inspiration for the name of this gastro pub in Omaha’s thriving Blackstone district. The Nebraska theme extends to the menu, which uses locally sourced, seasonal products. Plus, their closed-in patio area is perpetually prepared for Nebraska’s ever-changing weather.

Blair

Cottonwood Cove Marina

10270 Riverside Lane
402-426-1900
thecottonwoodcove.com

Cottonwood Marina has long been a hotspot for Omaha’s river rats. When the flood hit the Missouri in 2011, area boaters lost not just a favorite stop along the river, they also lost out on the fun and good times to be had there. Brothers Steve and Mike Lupardus wanted to bring that fun back, so they bought the site and started building. While the building may look different, the support the brothers have received is a good indication that the community will continue to enjoy this riverside destination.

Cathedral

Lisa’s Radial Cafe

817 N. 40th St.
402-551-2176
facebook.com/lisasradialcafe

The 2016 passing of beloved Omaha restaurant icon Lisa Schembri saddened the multitude of regulars at Lisa’s Radial Café. Thankfully, Schembri’s resilient daughters stepped up to the difficult task of running the famed cafe, sticking to the tried-and-true formula their mother used—delicious food and service with a smile. If you haven’t been, get there. It’s like finding a small-town diner in the middle of the city, where the staff remembers you and welcomes you with a smile. And if you’re lucky enough to become a regular, maybe even a hug. But expect a wait. To accommodate the usual weekend brunch backlog, Lisa’s has an adjacent waiting room with free coffee.

Central Omaha

Swartz’s Delicatessen

8718 Pacific St.
402-905-2792
swartzsdeli.com

One may not expect to find an authentic, kosher, Jewish deli in the middle of Omaha, but that’s exactly what you’ll find at Swartz’s Deli in Countryside Village. From classic matzo ball soup to smoked lox, they have everything you could want in a deli, right down to the latkes with applesauce and sour cream.

Timber Woodfire Bistro

8702 Pacific St.
402-964-2227
timberomaha.com

If you like wood-fired foods, you need to head to Timber in Countryside Village. Whether on the grill or in the oven, the food here is infused with the warmth that comes from cooking with wood. Several of the dishes display a bit of French inspiration, which goes perfectly with the Le Quartier bread they offer. The décor is homey yet elegant. It’s the perfect addition to this reinvigorated area.

Adana’s Kebab House

7641 Cass St.
402-614-8892
adanaskebabhouseomaha.com

While there are several Mediterranean restaurants around Omaha, Adana’s Kebab House is unique for its focus on Turkish cuisine. Ayten and Wesley Hooper opened the Bellevue location in 2015, and it was a hit among the locals and the military crowd alike. The second location opened in November on Cass Street. Although the décor in the new location seems a bit sterile, the food is bursting with flavor. The gyro meat is some of the best in town.

Council Bluffs

712 Eat + Drink

1851 Madison Ave.
712-256-5525
sevenonetwocb.com

If you find yourself in Council Bluffs looking for a fine-dining experience but want to avoid overhearing that inescapable “ka-ching, ka-ching,” then head to 712 Eat + Drink, located in a nondescript strip near the Mall of the Bluffs. Don’t let the location fool you. The inside is clean and inviting, with a large, colorful mural on the wall by local artist Gerard Pefung, depicting the former Bayliss Park fountain. Owners Janie and Ryan Rogers, who also own the sports bar Glory Days, say they noticed something was missing from their city’s food scene and decided to fix that. “In bringing this concept over here, it was truly just us seeing something that was lacking over here…a chef-driven place,” Janie says, adding that while Dixie Quicks is “obviously amazing,” most people think of them as more of a lunch and brunch place. They wanted to fulfill that need for the nighttime crowd. Their menu features mostly homemade items made with native ingredients, from rib-eyes to grilled cheese. The food may sound simple, but the flavors aren’t. Chef Oscar Hernandez has had a successful career, working in several well-known restaurants around Omaha, so it’s no accident that the food is more complex than it appears. The meat is especially flavorful, and their house-made tater tots are not your mama’s Ore-Idas. The Cubano sandwich has already become popular among regulars, and their brunch menu is a mix of traditional and not-so-traditional items, offering chicken-fried steak, chilaquiles, and a hangover burger topped with bacon, pickled jalapeños, and beer-cheese sauce. There’s also a full bar, with a heavy emphasis on Iowa-brewed craft beers, including more than 23 on tap, a simple craft cocktail menu, wine list, and several craft sodas for the non-boozers. One thing’s for sure, 712 is repping Iowa hard.

Dixie Quicks

157 West Broadway
712-256-4140
dixiequicks.com

While Dixie Quicks certainly isn’t new, they did have a major shake-up last year. Rene Orduna passed away in November, devastating those who knew the engaging owner. But the show must go on. Orduna’s husband, co-owner Rob Gilmer, has kept it going. He recently added a bar where you can sit and watch the organized chaos of the well-run restaurant. Of course, the food is still delicious.

Salty Dog Bar & Grill

2411 S. 24th St.
712-256-4851
saltydogcb.com

Early in January, the Salty Dog Bar & Grill was forced to close for a remodel due to a fire that started in the kitchen. But the C.B. favorite is back and better than ever, and chef Hugo Cardona has those char-wings flying out of the new kitchen. Don’t forget to ask about their specials. They’re usually a steal.

Downtown

Block 16

1611 Farnam St.
402-342-1220
block16omaha.com

Block 16 has been around for about six years, but owners Paul and Jessica Urban have consistently offered new and intriguing specials without repetition—close to 2,000, in fact. They also have special food event nights, including collaborating with TREAM (Tacos Rule Everything Around Me), which they can now expand on thanks to the 2016 addition of their “Supper Club.” This farm-to-table restaurant helped popularize that movement here in Omaha and they have been expanding diner’s palettes ever since.

Boho Rice

13th and William streets
phone number TBD
facebook.com/bohorice

Boho Rice is yet another project being taken on by entrepreneur Nick Bartholomew. Inspired by the experimental Dandelion Pop-up, the project will be “an elevated and contemporary fried-rice shack.” Located near 13th and William streets by the old Bohemian Café, the restaurant will feature noodles, soups, and of course, a variety of fried rice, including kimchi and vegan. The kitchen will be an open one where people can sit and eat, and there will also be a late-night walk-up window for those looking to feed those midnight cravings. Bartholomew plans to have the restaurant up and running by early fall.

Hook & Lime Tacos + Tequila

735 N. 14th St.
402-933-4222
hookandlime.com

Finding authentic Mexican food in Omaha is pretty easy as long as you’re willing to look, but it does tend to be concentrated in South Omaha. The guys at Hook & Lime are helping change that. Their menu has lots of fresh fish and seafood offerings, along with an expansive drink menu of tequila-based concoctions. They also try to work with businesses that are environmentally conscious, which gives you a good reason to get a little tequila-tipsy and still feel good about yourself.

Mercury

329 S. 16th St.
402-922-4222
mercury-omaha.com

While the tasty, capriciously named craft cocktails might be what draws you in to Mercury, the food they offer is not to be overlooked. Whether you’re in the mood for a quick bite or looking to try a few different tasty morsels, Mercury has you covered. They put their own stamp on classics like “crabs casino” and a “mushrooms thermidor.” But don’t pass up their slightly unconventional offerings, such as their jalapeño popper or bacon cheeseburger empanadas. These pair well with their “White Trash Wedding” cocktail, if you’re looking for recommendations.

Oma’s Deli

1217 Leavenworth St.
402-506-4334
omasdeliomaha.com

You may have driven or walked right by Oma’s Deli without really registering it. The location has gone through a few changes over the years, but this incarnation hits the mark. It’s worth walking the extra block or two to this small sandwich and coffee shop, that is just off the beaten path from the Old Market. The sandwiches are delicious, made with fresh ingredients, and topped with some unique combinations. Perfect for a quick bite in the morning, or an intimate lunch date with a friend.

Taste’s of Soul Cafe

709 S. 24th St.
402-346-2233
facebook.com/tastesofsoulomaha

If you want to have a comfortable dining experience in an inviting, laid-back atmosphere while chowing down on some homemade, Southern comfort food, you need to get to Taste’s of Soul Café down on 24th Street. The fried chicken is delicious, and if you’re a little more adventurous, you should try the frog legs. But don’t go here if you only have 45 minutes to get to a show. It is homemade and can take a minute. But once you get your food, you’ll taste the love.

Via Farina

1108 S. 10th St.
402-502-9880
goviafarina.com

This quaint yet stylish restaurant just south of the Old Market has become a favorite among foodies, families, and friends. A collaboration between local industry entrepreneurs Ethan Bondelid and Paul Kulik, it should be no surprise the eatery quickly became a success. Pizzas, pastas, and sauces all made in-house and adorned with locally sourced ingredients—combined with an incredibly knowledgeable staff—certainly didn’t hurt. “The team has done a good job,” Bondelid says. “They impress me all the time.” By design, their European-style dishes aren’t the kind of Italian you typically find in Nebraska. Portions are appropriately sized rather than heaping, and sharing several is highly recommended, because you will want to try a little of everything. The shaved Brussels sprouts salad, the cauliflower appetizer, tajarin pasta, and the fritti pizza are just a few must-try items. (Side note: “fritti” essentially translates to “fried.” Tempted yet?) Really, with executive chef and co-owner Kulik giving direction, and chef de cuisine Kye Adkisson taking the wheel, you would be hard-pressed to find any misses here. They have a full bar with a small, thoughtful cocktail menu and a hand-picked wine list that’s affordable, with all bottles running at $30. The décor is nothing to scoff at either. Bondelid worked with Lester Katz of LK Design to create the clean lines and color palette that only helps bring focus to the heart of any pizza place—the oven. The wood-fired beast was constructed in the Northern Italian style and covered with bright orange tile (to hold the heat in). The restaurant celebrated its one-year anniversary in May. Keep an eye out for possible new food-related projects from Bondelid. “I hope to open a few more,” he says.

Dundee

Baela Rose

4919 Underwood Ave.
402-991-5363
baelarose.com

Baela Rose’s offerings are as unique as the name (a tribute to owners Kyle and Rose Anderson’s daughter of the same name). They serve elegant, seasonal food you would expect to find in a high-end restaurant. But here, the price tag is closer to what you would find at a more casual place. That’s part of what makes Baela Rose a must-try Omaha restaurant. Add in the friendly service and diverse wine list, and one has to wonder, “What’s stopping you?”

Dundee Dell

5007 Underwood Ave.
402-553-9501
dundeedell.com

Did you know the Dundee Dell—one of Omaha’s longest-running drinking establishments—was sold? No need to panic, though. You can still catch their famous fish and chips, or sample from one of the country’s largest single-malt Scotch whisky collections at the pub. On your next visit, try some of their new additions, including Faroe Islands salmon and shepherd’s pie. In 2016, the pub’s previous owner, Pat Goebel, sold to Greg Lindberg (the owner of Absolutely Fresh Seafood, Shucks Fish House & Oyster Bar, and Bailey’s Lunch & Breakfast).

Kitchen Table Central

4952 Dodge St.
402-933-2810
kitchentableomaha.com

Good, made-from-scratch food available at a movie theater might sound strange, but that’s what Omahans will get with this new venture. Film Streams’ takeover of the old Dundee Theater has resulted in this ingenious pairing between the nonprofit and Kitchen Table owners Jessica and Colin Duggan. This second location will be a pared-down version of the downtown location’s menu, with an expanded dessert and beverage menu. They also hope to eventually have themed movie nights, matching the food with what’s showing that night.

Lonchera El Milagro

665 N. 46th St.
402-515-2807
facebook.com/loncheraelmilagro

This favorite Midtown Mexican food truck (normally parked in the Aksarben area at 55th and Center streets) now has a brick-and-mortar home on Saddle Creek. So, you can get their authentic tacos and tortas no matter the weather. The best part is, the food comes out quick and the prices are still very reasonable, especially if you get the daily special. Editors suggest the “torta de cachete.”

Mar Cafe

4646 Dodge St.
402-905-9834
marcafeomaha.com

Mar Café introduced a unique mix of authentic Mexican dishes and American classics (such as burgers) when it opened last August. Two chefs came up with the concept. Chef Jose Orozco came to Omaha from California, bringing more than 30 years of culinary experience with him. Chef Arturo Vargas has been cooking since he was 7; he was heavily influenced by his parents, who owned and operated a bakery in Mexico.

Paragon

5018 Underwood Ave.
402-991-1552
paragondundee.com

Paragon is an elegant, cozy restaurant in Dundee. It’s situated right across the street from owner Willy Theisen’s former place, Pitch Pizzeria. Theisen opened Paragon in the summer of 2016, and the venue briefly closed in January 2017 to relaunch the menu. His involvement with Pitch lasted from the 2009 launch until selling his controlling stake in 2012. Theisen made his reputation as a genius food entrepreneur after creating (and selling) the national pizza franchise Godfather’s. For a change of pace, the food at Paragon is influenced by the American South rather than Italian (pizza).

Tasty Pizza

5423 Leavenworth St.
402-933-9392
tastypizzaomaha.com

New name, same owner, still delicious. Tasty Pizza, formerly Tasty Pastry, has remained nestled on Leavenworth Street in the same, cute little house for almost five years. Owner Mary Joseph decided to change things up when she discovered the joys of running a pizza line. Customers seem to enjoy the change, too. Hours are somewhat limited, though, so make sure you check them out before heading down.

Elkhorn

Maximo’s Cantina

2613 N. Main St.
402-289-4062
maximoscantina.com

Elkhorn isn’t exactly known for Mexican food, but this restaurant is definitely worth checking out. The food is good and fresh, the servers are friendly, and if you’re lucky enough to snag a table on their endearing patio, it’s one of the most pleasant experiences you could ask for. As a bonus, they also offer breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Florence

Enzo’s Italian

8510 N. 30th St.
402-933-9755
enzositalianomaha.com

If you’ve been feeling the hole left by the closing of the iconic Mr. C’s in North Omaha, Enzo’s Italian restaurant may be just the thing to fill it. Their well-rounded menu is filled with classics that hit all the right notes. It may not be as flashy as Mr. C’s was, but it is cozy, comfortable, and welcoming. Basically, everything you could hope for in a classic, Italian restaurant. Chef Enzo Zurlo opened the restaurant in summer 2015.

Midtown X-ing

Della Costa

220 S. 31st Ave., Suite 3101
402-614-5100
midtowncrossing.com

Della Costa is the latest project from the Halbert brothers and their uncle, Ron Samuelson. The restaurant, which opened in May, features a Mediterranean-inspired menu where fish are the star. The Midtown Crossing space previously housed Brix, a local wine bistro that closed its two Omaha stores in January amid financial troubles.

Leadbelly

3201 Farnam St., Suite 6101
402-502-1713
getleaded.com/omaha

A “contemporary American” restaurant with branches in Lincoln and Omaha, LeadBelly offers a wide variety of, well, everything. Appetizers, salads, burgers, or steaks—whatever you’re looking for—chances are they have it. This includes many gluten-free options and a rather diverse kid’s menu. Whiskey lovers be sure to save room for the Jameson chocolate cake. In 2009, LeadBelly first opened in Lincoln’s Haymarket neighborhood. It came to Midtown Crossing in 2016.

Ray’s Original Buffalo Wings

220 S. 31st Ave., Suite 5103
402-884-5300
rayswings.com

The first Ray’s Original Buffalo Wings opened back in the ’90s but had to close in the early aughts, despite its incredible success. Now they’re back and everything is right in the wing-world again. Ray’s moved from The Lemon Drop Bar in South Omaha during the summer. You will not find better wings anywhere, and the Cocaine Blue Cheese dressing is aptly named. (Disclaimer: No real cocaine was used in the making of this dressing. It’s just that addictive.)

Ugly Duck Ramen

3201 Farnam St., Suite 6107
402-934-7262
uglyduckstreetfood.com

What started as a pop-up at Nite Owl (in Blackstone) has become a go-to place for ramen. Located in the old Pana 88 space, Ugly Duck Ramen is the brainchild of chef A.J. Swanda. His partner, Charlie Yin, is the former owner of Pana 88. Yin decided to go in a different direction when he saw the interest in ramen skyrocket after Omaha’s Ramen Fest. It’s not just about the ramen, though. This “Japanese-Americana street food” eatery serves ramen for both lunch and dinner. But that’s not all that’s on Ugly’s menu. For lunch, they usually have several sandwich options and a few tasty salads. Appetizers can range from yellowtail sashimi to pork-belly fritters. Chef Swanda says they’ve become known for their spicier dishes, like the super-spicy pork ramen bowl. “Any time we do seafood, that really goes over well,” he adds. In true Omaha fashion, he says anything fried (for example: a recent hot wing offering) also does well. Swanda says the menu changes seasonally, or as inspiration strikes. “Whimsically” might be a better word, he says. “There’s no real set time.” Swanda says he’s excited that the farm-to-table movement in Omaha is here to stay. Ugly Duck’s ever-changing menu featuring fresh, delicious dishes made with food that comes from “totally rad” local farmers is part of that movement. “If you’re opening any good restaurant here, you need to work with local farmers.” He says he excited about people stepping out of their comfort zones and can’t wait to see what new ventures come out of it. Bonus: Thanks to Skip the Dishes and Grub Hub, you can have it delivered.

Millard

Shirley’s Diner

13838 R Plaza
402-896-6515
shirleysdiner.com

Shirley’s Diner is everything a diner should be. Kitschy, affordable, and satisfying. The rock ’n’ roll theme abounds, though the décor has been modernized a bit since moving (in 2017) to their new location, just across the way from the old location. This also gave them a little more room to work with, which is definitely a plus. The portion to price ratio is spot on, and the food is what you expect from your favorite, hometown diner–decadently comforting. Also, their chicken-fried steak is Omaha-famous.

Tired Texan BBQ

4702 S. 108th St.
402-991-9994
tiredtexanbbq.com

The old Perkins building on 108th Street near the Best Western may not be the first place you would think to find great barbecue, but it will be. Owners Chip and Christine Holland opened Tired Texan BBQ in May. Holland says he swore off the industry some 24 years ago but, as is often the case, it pulled him back in. He named the restaurant after the owner of his favorite barbecue joint back home in Birmingham, Alabama. “It was in the worst part of town you can imagine,” he says. “There were all sorts of people hanging out there—from the criminal element to doctors just getting off from [University of Alabama]. We all sat outside at picnic tables in a rough part of town and ate barbecue.” Holland says the owner, Ira (aka “Tex”) ran the place on the pure love of cooking, opening at 11 p.m. and closing at 4 in the morning, despite having a day job. He passed that passion and knowledge on to Holland. This Tired Texan will have somewhat more conventional hours, though. They’re open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.  The family-owned restaurant has what Holland describes as a basic menu, with three types of meat—Texas sliced brisket, Texas pulled pork, and hickory-smoked St. Louis spare ribs. Made fresh every day, you’ll want to make sure you get there early if you want the brisket or the pork. They offer plenty of sides, from dressed-to-order coleslaw to their “outlaw creamed corn.” There are two appetizer offerings—Texas loaded fries and Texas tumbleweeds, which are anything but basic, made from potatoes, bacon, and cheddar cheese. And what would a barbecue be without a little dessert? “I’m a redneck, and I’ve made caramel pie my whole life,” Holland says. So naturally, you’d better leave some room for that.

North Omaha

Big Mama’s Kitchen & Catering

2112 N. 30th St.
402-455-6262
bigmamaskitchen.com

You’ll no longer head to 45th Street to eat at Big Mama’s. That’s because the Omaha favorite has moved to North 30th Street, in the Highlander Neighborhood, an area that’s being rejuvenated by the 75 North revitalization project. Big Mama’s is now located in the Community Accelerator building. Big Mama’s was born 30 years ago in the home kitchen of Patricia Barron (aka Big Mama). Barron’s buttermilk-batter-fried chicken was so popular that her part-time, home-based catering business evolved into a full-service restaurant in 2007. Besides her famous fried chicken, Mama’s also offers all the comfort foods you could ask for—meatloaf with brown gravy, smothered pork chops, fried catfish, and a traditional cheeseburger. For those who are not faint of heart, there’s the pig ear, referred to as “natural bologna” on Mama’s website. The “Afro Burger” is another tasty surprise—a burger that’s rolled to look like a bratwurst. This burger-dog is loaded with fiery-hot seasonings and cooked in Big Mama’s spicy barbecue sauce. On the breakfast menu, which is served daily, you’re gonna wanna hit up the made-from-scratch biscuits and gravy. It also needs to be noted that about four years ago, Barron opened a sandwich shop inside the Carver Bank building at 24th and Lake streets, which is not moving (and features a truly epic cold chicken sandwich). While there’s not much crossover between items at the two separate locations, you can get Big Mama’s famous homemade sweet potato pie and red velvet ice creams at both restaurants. So, now you have no excuse for not trying Big Mama’s crunchy, homemade, oven-fried chicken. Wash it down with her signature cranberry sun tea, and you are destined to enjoy a meal that will keep you coming back.

Fair Deal Cafe

2118 N. 24th St.
402-932-2776
fairdealcafe.net

If the name sounds familiar, it should. The earlier version of this soul food eatery was an iconic meeting place for the North Omaha community for decades, until it closed in 2003. Though the original building was demolished in 2008, this reincarnation opened in winter 2016. The cafe is part of the Fair Deal Village MarketPlace, a structure built out of shipping containers. Its décor incorporates items salvaged from the former structure. The look may be more modern, but the atmosphere still inviting, and the food is still flavorful and satisfying.

Omaha Rockets Kanteen

2401 Lake St.
402-281-3858
facebook.com/omaharocketskanteen

Named for Omaha’s own independent, semipro baseball team of the 1940s, the Omaha Rockets Kanteen is serving more than meals. You can also soak in a little history while you wait for their healthier versions of classic soul food dishes. Photos, paintings, and articles documenting the history of Negro League baseball adorn the walls. The healthy curveball comes in the form of their baked wings and their use of turkey or chicken as a substitute in dishes that would normally call for a fattier meat. And eating these healthier versions means you don’t have to skip the desserts—which is a good thing, because their sweet-potato pie and peach cobbler are definite home runs.

Old Market

Dandelion Pop-up at the Greater Omaha Chamber Courtyard

1300 Howard St.
dandelionpopup.com

Dandelion Pop-up is a pop-up restaurant that features all your favorite local chefs. Located in the Greater Omaha Chamber Courtyard, the venture was started after the Old Market fire took out local favorites M’s Pub and The Market House. Nick Bartholomew, owner of The Market House and Over Easy (in West Omaha), partnered with Secret Penguin after the explosion damaged his downtown brick-and-mortar restaurant. The pop-up happens every Friday (11 a.m.-2 p.m.), with the start of warm weather.

Jackson Street Tavern

1125 Jackson St.
402-991-5637
jacksonstreettavern.com

The Old Market has long been a go-to destination for intriguing food in Omaha. Until recent years, though, most of the restaurants were pretty centrally located between 10th and 12th streets along Howard Street. That’s changed. You can now find tasty local bars and restaurants dotting the streets around the periphery. Jackson Street Tavern is one such place. Brothers Ross and Jimi DiPrima took over as new owners in 2016. While it may sound like it’s just a bar, the food is anything but typical pub fare. From salads to osso bucco, visitors are bound to find something to satisfy.

Java Daddies

409 S. 12th St.
402-871-9489
javadaddies.com

Java Daddies may technically be a food truck, but once you’re there you wouldn’t know it. Located on the north side of downtown staple The Diner, this food truck has a lovely deck patio set up in the parking lot. (Yes, the parking lot.) They have barbecue, Brussels sprouts, and beer (three good reasons to head downtown and check it out).

M’s Pub

422 S. 11th St.
402-342-2550
mspubomaha.com

When fire devastated M’s Pub in January 2016, it wasn’t just the Old Market that was hit hard. Since the fire, Omaha foodies have been holding their proverbial breath, waiting to hear when this local favorite would return. Their prayers and positive vibes have been answered. M’s Pub will return to the same location, says general manager Marta Kellers (an 18-year veteran at M’s). Kellers says that while some things must change—the restrooms and prep kitchen will now be upstairs—the overall look and feel will be kept much the same. “We’re trying to recreate what Omaha knows and loves,” she says. Chef Bobby McKinley will also return, and regulars can expect many of their favorites to remain on the menu. The restaurant plans to be up and running again by the end of August or the beginning of September. Kellers recommends following M’s Pub on Facebook and Instagram as they document their journey. Those who were lucky enough to be regulars at the pub can expect to see some familiar faces. “Some [former employees] have reached out to us; I’ve reached out to others,” she says. “Obviously, some have moved on, which is more than understandable.” Patrons may have moved on as well, for now, but there’s little doubt that most will return, and the hole that was left when fire pierced the Old Market’s heart will finally heal.

The Grey Plume at the Old Market Farmers Market

519 S. 11th St.
402-934-7690
thegreyplume.com

If you’ve been to The Grey Plume, then you know the quality of food is outstanding. It was a special treat, then, when they opened Provisions by The Grey Plume right across the street. Now, they’ve made it even easier to enjoy their house-made offerings when they became one of the vendors in the Omaha Farmers Market in the Old Market.

The Market House

1108 Howard St.
402-342-2050
markethouseomaha.com

With a little luck and a lot of hard work, The Market House will return to the Old Market by the end of this summer. The restaurant was just starting to get its legs when the horrific explosion and ensuing fire at M’s Pub made it a casualty. Speculation was immediate about whether the building that housed two of downtown’s favorite restaurants—one old, one brand-new—would be salvageable. Thankfully, despite the extensive damage caused by the blaze, both restaurants will return to their former homes, and managers expect to be up and running by August. The Market House’s owner, Nick Bartholomew, says it’s been a struggle, but he is happy to report that they will return, perhaps better than ever. He says the overall look of the restaurant will change quite a bit. Inside, diners will have a better view of the kitchen and there will be more separation between the dining room and the bar. Perhaps the most exciting change is that there will now be double the patios. “The two will accent the space beautifully,” Bartholomew says. Initially, they had just the one outdoor area on the sidewalk, as it did back when the space was occupied by Vivace. Now there will also be a back deck, overlooking 11th Street, which will feature its own bar. “The Market House 2.0 will bring the pop back to the new Old Market,” Bartholomew says. The neighborhood will welcome that “pop” back with open arms and ready palates.

O Asian Bistro

1015 Farnam St.
402-884-0400
facebook.com/odininglounge

O Asian Bistro is back with a fresh take on modern Asian fare. The restaurant closed a little over two years ago due to family matters. Happily, the family is doing better, and owner Lance Wang  reopened in the Old Market in December. They are no longer open for lunches, focusing instead on dinners with a monthly menu rotation. Each month will highlight a different regional cuisine of Asia: Chinese, Vietnamese, etc. Wang’s ancestry is Chinese-Korean. A Korean menu launched the new rotation of dinner specials.

Papillion

Le Petit Paris French Bakery

120 Olson Drive, Suite 101
402-934-0131
lepetitparisfrenchbakery.com

Le Petit Paris French Bakery opened a second location in Papillion just about two years ago. In March, the Papillion location added a bistro featuring some favorites from their flagship restaurant, Le Voltaire. Their terrine du jour and coq au vin are featured on both menus. There is also a wine list featuring French wines and the classic Kir Royale. The bistro is only open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, so be sure to plan ahead.

Ollie & Hobbes Craft Kitchen

310 East Gold Coast Road
402-884-3338
ollieandhobbes.com

In an area in which chain restaurants abound, Ollie & Hobbes Craft Kitchen is a refreshing option (since opening in fall 2016). The décor is modern yet warm, and the food is crafty, American comfort food with a little flair. This extends to the cocktail list, which has its own special section devoted to tasty variations on the Moscow Mule.

Ponca Hills

Surfside Club

14445 N. River Drive
402-457-4000
thesurfsideclub.com

If it’s been awhile since you trekked out to the Surfside Club, or if you just thought it floated away after the catastrophic 2011 flood, you need to put this Omaha favorite back on your places-to-go list. The food hasn’t changed much—fried chicken, fried catfish, and fried pork tenderloin—and everything is still served with steak fries and corn fritters. However, they now have their own boat docks, an outdoor stage, and an updated outdoor bar area. Plus, they are adding a campground with 99 RV slots, scheduled to open in spring 2018.

 

South Omaha

Apollon Art Space

1801 Vinton St.
402-884-0135
apollonomaha.com

Apollon’s goal is to provide creative space and resources for local artists, whether they be painters, writers, or chefs. To that end, their performance events feature meals that incorporate the theme of that evening. The themes are constantly changing. New menus will be created for their July board game concept, A Tabletop Gaming Throwdown, and the fairytale-themed Into the Wicked Woods in September. As this issue of Omaha Magazine went to press, the upcoming menus were still in development. If you like a little dinner with your show, this is the place you need to check out.

Chiltepes Restaurant

4833 S. 24th St.
402-932-5889
facebook.com/chiltepesrestaurantomaha

If you are looking for authentic Guatemalan food in Omaha, well, chances are you haven’t had much luck. Fortunately, it’s changing. Chiltepes is located in the heart of South Omaha and if you ask around, you’ll quickly learn that it’s very popular with the local residents. Fried plantains, pupusas, and chuchitos can all be found here. This is the real deal.

Howard’s Charro Cafe

4443 S. 13th St.
402-731-3776
howardscharrocafe.com

Howard’s Charro Cafe has been a South Omaha landmark for more than 60 years, a destination for families celebrating birthdays, graduations, or anniversaries, or those just wanting a break from cooking at home. Rumors that the restaurant might close began circulating last year. Luckily, new owners decided to take on the task of keeping Howard’s alive and thriving. The new owners, Araseli and David Murillo, also own Sam’s Leon Mexican Foods (at 5014 S. 20th St.).

Smoking Jay’s BBQ

2524 S. 13th St.
402-763-9071
jayssmokinbbq.com

While this spot has been a barbecue joint for many years, (formerly Big Horn Mountain BBQ), the current incarnation, Smoking Jay’s, is heads above the rest. Their meats are tender and juicy without the sauce. But the sauce is delicious, so don’t miss out. If you’re looking for something a little different, the pork nachos are tasty and unique, made with waffle fries and covered in barbecue pork, cheese, onions, and even jalapeños. Come for the meat, stay for the fried Oreos.

West Omaha

Charred Burger + Bar

1150 Sterling Ridge Drive, Suite 107
402-779-8430
charredburgers.com

Wagyu burgers made from local meat are the focus at this new West Omaha spot (which opened in April). But that’s not all they have to offer. They have appetizers like onion rings and a pound of wings, or salads with tasty dressings, like their charred scallion vinaigrette. If you’re a traditionalist, they have a classic burger for you with all the fixin’s. But if you like a unique twist on burgers, they also have a peaches and cream sandwich, which is a chorizo-spiced pork burger with peach jam and sour cream cheese. Sounds strange, but it works.

Pan Asian Terrace

1201 S. 157th St.
402-502-0518
panasianterrace.com

From pho to pad thai to sesame chicken, Pan Asian Terrace has something to satisfy whatever Asian craving you may have. Often with large, varied (Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese) menus such as theirs, there are bound to be some misses, but so far it’s gotten rave reviews since opening in fall 2016. The service is attentive and the décor is clean and modern. The pho seems to be a particular favorite, so if you’re a little overwhelmed by the choices, start there.

Stroud’s

301 N. 175th St.
402-973-9950
stroudsrestaurant.com

New to Omaha, Stroud’s Restaurant has been a Kansas and Missouri favorite for decades. Known for their simple, yet delectable pan-fried chicken, it was an instant hit here, as well. It opened in October 2016, and so far they’re living up to their reputation. Which is saying something, considering they’ve won a James Beard Award for Excellence in the “Home Style” category and a Zagat Award for excellence.

Tavern 180

203 N. 180th St.
402-905-0153
tavern180.com

Don’t let the unassuming, strip-mall appearance deceive you. Once inside Tavern 180, it’s clear that this polished, upscale restaurant will offer a different experience than your typical suburban mall eatery. The menus arrive on digital tablets, which allow the kitchen more freedom to change and update their offerings. The Vegas-style bar is impressive, with several unusual drinks that have delighted guests since opening in fall 2016. The “Tavern Bubbles” cocktail (along with a few other drink options) feature dry ice pellets that produce smoke and bubbles.

This concludes our food tour.
Thanks for stopping by and Stay Classy Omaha!

Do you have questions, complaints, and/or suggestions? Let us know on social media (@omahamagazine) or by e-mail at editor@omahamagazine.com. Your feedback will help us to plan next year’s food issue.

Food For Thought

June 26, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When it was my father’s turn to “cook,” during my childhood in Omaha, he usually took us to eat pizza or Chinese food. He taught me to use chopsticks during one of these trips. That skill would come in handy when I was living and working in Hong Kong.

More useful than the ability to eat with chopsticks, however, was the spirit of adventure with which he approached food. Any special occasion was an excuse for the family to try a new restaurant in town.

I feel grateful to have inherited my father’s enthusiasm for eating. Although, as my metabolism seems to slow inversely with my zeal for sampling food and drink, some might see this as a character flaw. Never mind.

Whether you are a foodie, a picky eater, or just a plain ol’ glutton, there are lots of tasty tidbits to sample in the July/August issue of Omaha Magazine.

The entire issue is dedicated to food. From our regular departments and profiles to our long-form features, all of our articles include some angle on food.

There’s an in-depth exploration* of recent, new, and upcoming restaurants titled “Where to Eat Now.” There’s a personal narrative* about the international reach of Omaha’s beef industry, written by an award-winning journalist who lives and works in Egypt. There’s a local hip-hop duo who rap about having lunch with the Oracle of Omaha.

Whatever your appetite, there’s something for you.

Support Local Journalism

Do you enjoy reading our articles? Do you appreciate the high-quality photography and design? Does our brand of local journalism enrich your relationship with the city? We hope so. The staff and contributors of Omaha Magazine strive to provide an entertaining and informative glimpse behind the scenes of our shared community.

Our journalistic work would not be possible without your support. Subscriptions to Omaha Magazine allow us to deliver award-winning journalism to your doorstep every two months.

In fact, Omaha Magazine recently racked up several notable recognitions at the 2017 Great Plains Journalism Awards in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The magazine received 12 honors—including four first-place finishes—for work produced in 2016.

Bill Sitzmann pretty much swept the magazine photo categories, and he brought home the “Magazine Photographer of the Year” trophy. Congrats to Bill and all the other amazing staff/contributors who were recognized, and thanks to the subscribers (and advertisers) for making this possible.

Winners and Finalists at the 2016 Great Plains Journalism Awards

Magazine Photographer of the Year

Bill Sitzmann

Best Magazine Portrait

First-Place Winner: Bill Sitzmann

Finalist: Bill Sitzmann

Best Magazine Feature Photo

First-Place Winner: Bill Sitzmann

Finalist: Bill Sitzmann

Best Magazine News Writing

First-Place Winner: Greg Jerrett, Sam S. (anonymous), and Doug Meigs (for “Dying for Opiates in Omaha: What does the national crisis of opioid and heroin abuse look like in Omaha, Nebraska?” and “My Battle With Opiates,” a two-part in-depth look at opioid abuse in Omaha.)

Finalist: Doug Meigs (for “Gone Girls: Human Trafficking in the Heartland,” a former prostitute’s narrative story woven into examination of current efforts to combat sex trafficking in the 2016 March/April issue).

Best Magazine Specialty Photo

Finalist (x2): Bill Sitzmann

Best Magazine Cover

Finalist: Matt Wieczorek, Kristen Hoffman, Bill Sitzmann (for the September/October cover of Omaha Magazine. The two-part cover featured English text translated into the Omaha language).

Best Multimedia Project or Series

Finalist: Christopher Marshall, Charles Trimble, Marisa M. Cummings, James Vnuk, and Doug Meigs (for “Omaha Language Revitalization,” a multi-part series in the 2016 September/October print edition, which paired with online translated video of elders speaking Umoⁿhoⁿ and an online-exclusive essay by Omaha-resident Charles Trimble on indigenous language revitalization from his Lakota vantage).

Magazine Column Writing

Finalist: Douglas Wesselman (Otis Twelve), “Not Funny”

Doug Meigs is the executive editor of Omaha Publications.

 

New & Now

June 20, 2017 by
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

Omaha is a foodie’s dream, but like a dream, the panorama is always changing. Omaha Magazine presents this special package as a guide to sampling the newest local offerings from the culinary scene. Many of the restaurants are brand-spanking new. Others are longtime favorites with new locations, new food concepts, and/or different management. A few of the dining concepts are still works in progress.

Our “Where to Eat Now” guide (written by Tara Spencer) covers a broad spectrum of regional and international cuisines, while including Omaha neighborhoods from across the greater metropolitan area. We consulted with industry insiders, sought feedback from the general public, and organized several editorial meetings to plan our approach to the mouth-watering package.

The list is organized alphabetically and by region/neighborhood. Some neighborhoods with ambiguous boundaries are grouped together under more general geographical headings.

Fifty years ago, Countryside Village was considered way out west. Not anymore. We have grouped it under the vague “Central Omaha” category, which also includes the former Peony Park area. Similarly, businesses that straddle Saddle Creek between Dundee and Blackstone are difficult to pin to a specific neighborhood. So, to keep things simple, we have extended our Dundee category to include restaurants abutting the western edge of Saddle Creek.

Other neighborhoods with overlapping boundaries are broken apart. For example, we draw a distinction between the Old Market from the greater downtown area (even though the Old Market is part of Omaha’s downtown). Our category for “Downtown” includes areas west of the Old Market along with NoDo, SoDo, Little Italy, and the emerging Capitol District.

Alphabetical organization separates the geographically close “Downtown”/“Old Market,” and a similar disconnection occurs with North Omaha, Florence, and Ponca Hills heading north of town.

Limited page space prevented Omaha Magazine from featuring photos of every restaurant included in the text. Editors gave a short list of restaurant names to contributing photographer Joshua Foo, who further narrowed the selection, to capture the essence of our quest for new food in the city. The result is his serial portrait spanning various types of cuisine and different areas from the metro.

This resource, however, is not an exhaustive compilation of every single new restaurant in every Omaha-area neighborhood. Let us know if you think we’ve missed any important new (or newly improved) local eateries. Share your feedback with us on social media at @omahamagazine. Your advice could help inspire our approach to the next annual food issue already in the works for 2018.

Bon appétit!

For the full story, visit Where to Eat Now

We Can’t Drive 55

June 8, 2017 by

I have a little pinback button with a red flag emblazoned with the words “Safety First.” It was produced in 1915 by the Nebraska Safety League, which seems to have been one of a number of grassroots efforts to improve public safety.

This was in response to the nationwide development of a group called the National Council for Industrial Safety, which initially focused on workplace safety, but expanded its scope in the next few years to include traffic and home concerns (changing its name to the National Safety Council).

About that time, Omaha’s city commissioner, John J. Ryder, visited New York and discovered something called the “American Museum of Safety,” which functioned, in part, to instruct school children about street safety. He was enamored with this idea and advocated for a local version.

Both recommendations came at the end of an era of almost unbridled carnage in the streets. To read the newspapers of the era, crossing the street sometimes sounded like a game of Frogger, with pedestrians dodging carriages, streetcars, automobiles, and runaway horses. Auto fatalities had skyrocketed—a total of 54 people had died in crashes in 1900, but by 1915 nearly 7,000 Americans had been killed on the roads.

The first talk of speed limits in Omaha seems to have occurred as far back as 1903, when an automobile ordinance was proposed. There weren’t many car owners in town, and they tended to be wealthy, and tended to get their way as a result. When the ordinance suggested a low speed limit of six-to-eight miles per hour, the car owners rebelled. Included among them was Gurdon Wattles, who made his fortune in transportation. He complained that cars only went two speeds, slow and fast, and slow was too slow to be much good, and fast was too fast for the speed limit. He suggested 12 miles per hour would be satisfactory.

They got their way, but almost immediately advances in auto technology rendered this limit moot. By 1905, cars were speeding around Omaha at 40 miles per hour, and police were complaining it was nearly impossible to enforce the limit—to tell a car’s speed, police had to watch a car travel from one area to the next and count seconds, and then do some quick math. In 1909, there was even a proposal to reduce the speed limit again, back down to six miles per hour, to discourage cars driving at dangerous speeds.

Instead, the speed limit crept upward. By 1911, it was 15 miles per hour. By the 1920s, with the advent of highways built specifically for automobiles, the maximum speed jumped to 25 miles per hour. By 1935, it was 35. And in 1969, speeds on the highways leapt to 60 miles per hour.

So it has been ever since, but for a brief period in the 1970s when, in response to spiking oil prices, there was a national maximum speed limit off 55 miles per hour, which proved unpopular enough for Sammy Hagar to enjoy chart success with a song titled “I Can’t Drive 55.”

The federal limits were repealed in 1995. Currently, the maximum speed limit in Nebraska is 75 miles per hour, a speed that Gurdon Wattles probably would have enjoyed.

This article was printed in the May/June edition of 60 Plus.

A New Day Arisen

June 7, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Kelly Hill stands on the corner of 30th and Lake streets admiring Salem Baptist Church’s towering cross, which looms over the landscape. A member of the church for more than 15 years, Kelly grew up in the now-demolished Logan Fontenelle Housing Projects not far from the area. He can remember a time before Salem sat atop the hill, when the Hilltop Homes housing projects occupied the area.

“I left Omaha to join the military in 1975, and I didn’t return until 1995. I missed all of the gangs and bad stuff in Hilltop,” Hill remembers. “When I was a kid, it wasn’t a bad area at all. Me and my sister would play around there all the time.”

Within those 20 years, Hill was fortunate to have missed Hilltop’s downfall, as it would eventually become one of Omaha’s most notorious housing projects.

A major blight on North Omaha’s image in the 1980s to mid-1990s, Hilltop Homes would eventually be the second major housing project demolished in the metro area after Logan Fontenelle.

Before Hilltop Home’s razing in 1995—which had the unfortunate consequence of displacing many lower-income minority residents—the plague of drugs, murders, and gang activity had turned the area’s housing projects into a localized war zone.

It was a far cry from their humble beginnings as proud housing tenements for Omaha’s burgeoning minority population that exploded in the 1940s.

Edwin Benson

Built around Omaha’s oldest pioneer resting place, the neighborhood takes its name from Prospect Hill Cemetery on 32nd and Parker streets. Prospect Place was repurposed by the U.S. government to house a large influx of minority and low-income residents, mostly African-Americans, who migrated to Omaha seeking opportunities outside the oppressive South during the mid-20th century. Some 700 units of public housing emerged across the city in the 1940s, including Hilltop Homes and the nearby Pleasantview Apartments.

The projects were conveniently situated. Hilltop’s 225 units were positioned in a centralized location along 30th and Lake streets, near the factory and meatpacking plants on 16th Street to the east, with Omaha Technical High School to the south (the largest high school west of Chicago at the time).

Multiple generations of families would come to call Hilltop and Pleasantview their first homes; however, the collapse of the job structure on the north side of Omaha in the late 1960s would be a major catalyst in Prospect Place’s eventual downfall.

Successful factories and stores that kept the area afloat—such as The Storz Brewery and Safeway Grocery Store—closed their doors. At the same time, new civil rights laws prohibiting job discrimination were being passed. Some believe that fear of change, and fear of civil rights era legislations, motivated major employers in the community to move from northeast Omaha westward. A disappointing trend of joblessness and poverty would eventually devolve the community into a powder keg ready to blow.

Multiple riots at the tail end of the 1960s would take an additional toll on North Omaha. Four instances of civil unrest would erupt from 1966 to 1969, decimating the community.

“Too many kids were getting shot, killed, it was pretty bad in Hilltop.” Benson says.

The last North Omaha riot would happen a day after Vivian Strong was shot and killed by Omaha police in the Logan Fontenelle Housing Projects not far from Prospect Place. Rioters would go on to fire-bomb and destroy a multitude of businesses and storefronts in the neighborhood.

The local chapter of the Omaha Black Panthers would stand guard outside of black-owned businesses like the Omaha Star building at 24th and Lake streets in order to prevent its destruction. Many businesses would never recover from the millions of dollars in damages caused by the riots.

These disturbances would mark an important time-frame for Hilltop and Pleasantview’s gradual downfall. The turbulence within the community, spearheaded by systematic racism and poverty would take its toll on the area.

The Prospect Place projects would devolve into a dilapidated ghetto, with even harsher times awaiting the neighborhood as gangs and crack-cocaine would hit the city hard in the 1980s.

Omaha wasn’t a place people would have thought the gangs of Los Angeles, California, would make a strong showing. Quite the contrary,  gang members from the West Coast would eventually discover Omaha’s smaller urban landscape to be an untouched and lucrative territory.

Ex-gang member Edwin Benson can remember the switch taking hold in his later teenage years.

“The Crips came first, I’d say around the mid-to-late 1980s. They took over areas like 40th Avenue and Hilltop,” Benson says. “The Bloods’ territory was further east, big in the Logan Fontenelle projects and up and down 16th Street. So, gang-banging kind of took over the city for a long while.”

The isolated, maze-like structure of Hilltop and Pleasantview, along with the high-rise apartments added in the 1960s by the Omaha Housing Authority, would make them ideal locations for the burgeoning Hilltop Crips and other smaller street gangs.

“I can remember kids from Hilltop coming over to Pleasantview and starting trouble.” Benson recalls. “We would fight about who had the better projects! We fought with our fists, rocks, sticks…whatever was close you got hit with!”

A refuge for illicit activity had sprung to life within Prospect Place in the 1980s. Members of the community, as well as police officers, grew hesitant to venture into the area. Hilltop became a forgotten segment of the city, lost to the surrounding metro’s progress, marred by a decade of violent crime and drug offenses.

Hilltop would see an unfortunate trend of senseless homicides and gun violence that would peak in the early ’90s.

In 1990, two young men from Sioux City were shot outside of Hilltop when they stopped to ask for directions to the Omaha Civic Auditorium on their way to an MC Hammer concert.

In 1991, a 14-year-old boy was arrested for stabbing a 13-year-old boy during a fight. That same year, a local Crip gang member was gunned down at the 7-Eleven on 30th and Lake across the street from Hilltop.

In 1993, the pointless murder of another teenager may have finally spelled Hilltop’s doom. 14-year-old Charezetta Swiney—known as “Chucky” to friends and family—was shot in the head from point-blank range over a parking space dispute on Oct. 22. A sad occasion at the beginning of the school year, Benson High School was gracious enough to host the high school freshman’s funeral with more than 700 people in attendance. She was the 31st person slain in Omaha that year.

Jay W. Green, 27, would eventually be found guilty of Swiney’s homicide, charged with second-degree murder and use of a firearm to commit a felony in the summer of 1994. At the end of that same year, Omaha’s City Council would begin laying the groundwork for Hilltop Homes’ eventual razing in 1995.

Benson, the former gang member, believes Swiney’s murder and the rampant gang activity within Prospect Place were the main reasons for Hilltop Homes’ demolition.

“Too many kids were getting shot, killed, it was pretty bad in Hilltop.” Benson says. “Once the projects were gone, I think the Hilltop Crips just kind of faded out. We would joke and call them the ‘Scatter-site Crips’ since everyone was being moved to the scatter-site housing out west! If you hear someone claiming Hilltop these days they are living in the past.”

The demolition would leave a desolate space in its wake. Fortunately, the barren eyesore would not last long, as Salem Baptist Church would make their ambitious proposal for the site in 1996.

“I can remember me and my sister marching from the old church grounds on 3336 Lake St. to the new site on the hilltop,” Hill says, reminiscing with vivid recollection of April 19, 1998, the church’s groundbreaking. It was a glorious Sunday for church members, led by then-senior pastor Maurice Watson, a culmination of Salem’s proposed “Vision to Victory.”

Salem’s groundbreaking ceremony was heralded, marking the once-troubled land of Prospect Place as an “oasis of hope.” The community witnessed the progress as the newly razed 18 acres of land transformed from a vestige of poverty into a church sanctuary seating 1,300 people, in addition to classrooms, a multi-purpose fellowship hall, a nursery, and ample parking. Prospect Place was undergoing a new renaissance which would continue well into the new millennium.

Othello Meadows is the newest pioneer at the head of changing the image of Prospect Place. Having grown up on Omaha’s north side, Meadows remembers the projects as “a place not to linger if you weren’t from there.” After years away from his hometown, seeing the remnants of Hilltop Homes and Pleasantview Apartments was eye-opening.

“When I came back to Omaha, I was surprised by the disinvestment in the area after the projects were gone,” he says. “It went from housing thousands of people, to a sense of abandonment; like, only two houses were occupied on the entire block.”

Meadows’ words ring true. Other than Salem’s deal with Walgreens, which acquired acres of land for around $450,000, no additional development had taken place for years within Prospect Place. Fortunately, Meadows and the 75 North Revitalization Corp. are looking to reinvigorate the area.

As the executive director of 75 North, Meadows refers to Prospect Place as the “Highlander” area, which helps to separate the land from its troubled past. His goal is to bring life back to the area.

The development company now owns the land where the Pleasantview apartments resided before being demolished in 2008. A plan for a new neighborhood with continued growth is the main focus for the area, and he expects tangible progress in the coming months.

“If you drive down 30th Street between Parker and Blondo, you’ll see real work happening and real things going on.” Meadows says. “We have about 12 buildings under construction that are 50-70 percent complete [as of early February 2017], including a community enrichment center called the Accelerator that is 65,000 square feet, a very beautiful building. By late April to early May 2017 we should have some apartments up, and we already have people putting down deposits and signing leases. People are excited to be moving into the neighborhood.”

When asked about the targeted clientele for the new apartments and retail space, Meadows provides a broad answer: “The motto that we follow is—trying to create a mixed-income community. We’re not trying to recreate the projects, of course, but we also don’t want to create a neighborhood where longtime residents can’t afford to live. We have to balance the prospects of affordability and aspirational thinking.”

Indeed, when looking at the seventyfivenorth.org website, the ambitious vision for the Highlander Apartments is a far cry from the projects. Photo galleries and floor plans envision a renewed community akin to Midtown Crossing and Aksarben Village. The images are cheerful, depicting people riding bikes and walking dogs, even an imagined coffee shop.

In a way, the renewed development, optimism, and potential for economic growth in the Highlander area can trace its roots back to the members of Salem and their desire to build a signal of hope where it once was lost.

But Hill (the former Logan Fontenelle Housing Projects resident who left Omaha in 1975 and returned in 1995) doesn’t think the church is given adequate recognition for its contributions.

“If a person didn’t know this place’s history of violence and poverty before Salem was built, they would only see the progress in this area as simple land development,” Hill says. “Salem doesn’t tend to broadcast the things they do for the area other than to its members, so those on the outside don’t necessarily recognize its lasting influence.”

It’s undeniable that the soaring church spire on the hill is a spectacle to behold on a bright, sunny day. It stands as a symbol of hope and belief. Benson still looks at the former site of Prospect Place with a hint of longing.

“I know it might sound crazy, but I was a little sad when Hilltop was torn down.” he admits. “A lot of good memories were made in those projects. But I love seeing the church up there. I hope whatever comes next is good for the community.”

Visit salembc.org for more information about Salem Baptist Church. Visit seventyfivenorth.org for more information about 75 North.

Salem Baptist Church

Broom Man

June 1, 2017 by
Photography by Kent Sievers

Sculptor John Lajba has made a name for himself by documenting Omaha’s most iconic figures. His subjects range from joyous to somber.

One of his bronzes, The Road To Omaha, is a familiar image broadcast during ESPN coverage of the College World Series.

When police officer Kerrie Orozco was killed in 2015, hundreds of mourners left flowers and mementos at the foot of Lajba’s fallen officer sculpture, just outside of Omaha police headquarters.

Now, a group hopes another unforgettable figure will join the ranks of Lajba’s definitive sculptural portraits of Omaha history.

Family and friends knew the bronze-to-be as the Rev. Livingston Wills. For the rest of the city, he was “The Broom Man,” a man born with only 5 percent of his vision who traversed the city on foot, for decades, selling his brooms.

The Broom Man Project—formed in March 2016—is an effort by David Jensen, Jim Backens, Marc Kraft, and Lajba to memorialize Wills, who died in 2008 at the age of 91. Almost 10 years after his death, people still vividly recall Wills selling his brooms on routes that took him through North Omaha, Benson, and up through Countryside Village.

The Broom Man Project launched a GoFundMe campaign last October to fund a sculpture in honor of Wills. Since its launch, the site has raised approximately $9,000 of its $150,000 goal. Downtown Omaha Inc. has almost matched that amount, bringing the total raised so far to about $15,000.

“Our very first contribution was five dollars,” Jensen says.

A Facebook page, dedicated to Wills, is filled with posts recounting memories of meeting him. One post called for people to post pictures of brooms purchased from Wills.

While many fondly recall long conversations with Wills, at times, he could be very business-oriented: Get the sale. Move on to the next customer. Get another sale.

Jane’s Health Market in Benson is situated at the location of one of his many regular stops. Owner Jane Beran says she bought several brooms from Wills.

“I can’t remember him sticking around much. I would just buy a broom from him, and he’d be on his way,” Beran says.

Wills was born in Brownsville, Tennessee, about 60 miles northeast of Memphis. In Brownsville, he began making brooms out of cornstalk. He eventually moved to Nebraska, where he studied English and history at Union College in Lincoln. He then moved to Omaha, where he was a pastor at the Tabernacle Church of Christ.

For decades, to support his family, he would sell brooms, going door-to-door and to businesses. Toting brooms over his shoulder, and using a cane for support, he would use his whistle as a sort of a sonar to detect nearby obstacles. Lance Criswell, grandson of Wills, would see him when he was done with a typical workday.

“I’d say, ‘What have you been doing, Rev.?’ and he’d say ‘scratchin,’” Criswell recalls. “‘Scratchin’—that means he’s been working.”

In 2006, Barbara Atkins-Baldwin wrote a book based on her family’s experiences with Wills. The book, The Blind Broom Salesman, was reissued with a new cover last year. Atkins-Baldwin pledged to donate all of the profits from her book to The Broom Man Project. In November, Leavenworth Bar posted a check for more than $550 to go toward the sculpture on The Broom Man’s Facebook page.

When it came time to choosing a location for the proposed statue, Lajba wanted the Douglas County Courthouse because of the building’s downtown location and its historical significance. When he first heard about making a sculpture in Wills’ honor, Lajba envisioned him in his usual routine: walking the streets of Omaha with his array of brooms.

“I want him to be well dressed,” Lajba says. “I really want to show how he cared about himself.”

Criswell says his grandfather had more than a hundred suits. “He’d always like to look professional when he was out selling his brooms,” Criswell says.

Criswell sat with Jensen, Lajba, and Tom Hanus at Tourek Engraving to discuss his grandfather and his impact on the Omaha community. As they conversed, the temperature outside was a crisp 18 degrees, much as it would have been when Wills walked his routes in winter.

Tourek Engraving has become sort of a centralized headquarters for the Broom Man Project, with copies of The Blind Broom Salesman stacked beside flyers that detail the Broom Man Project’s ambitions.

“If he walked through this door right now, he’d squeeze through the door, because the brooms would be over his back, and he’d say, ‘My friends!’” Criswell says, pointing to the front door. “He’d always come in with that presence. He became a part of the fabric of Omaha.”

Visit gofundme.com/thebroomman and facebook.com/livingstonwills to learn more about The Broom Man Project.

The Return of the Midnight Movies

May 25, 2017 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

Let’s respect our inverted pyramid and get this out of the way: 4925 Dodge St., née the Dundee Theater, will once again play movies at midnight. They will be regular affairs, maybe/maybe not weekly, and they will be appropriately subversive.

But they’re not going to attempt to recreate the showings that took place there every weekend from 2000 till 2013, when the theater “closed for renovations” (but everyone sort of understood that was that).

It’s probably for the best.

Because part of what made those midnight shows great, let’s admit, was that they took place in that time between cars and bars: when a generation of millennials learned the world was their oyster, when they were amenable to going anywhere, but piddling few places would let them in.

Even now, most theaters’ “late” showings start before 11 p.m., the same time it becomes illegal to step foot in city parks. Come 11:30 p.m., unless there’s a concert somewhere, your options are a lone donut shop and a slew of diner chains, convenience stores, and Wal-Marts. It’s a bleak affair. There are even reports of teenagers gathering in parking lots, like those Polish wood ants that made a go of it in an abandoned nuclear bunker.

With that backdrop, knowing the basics of supply and demand, it’s little wonder that midnight movies were such a success. Midnight movies had long been off-again/on-again during the life of the Dundee Theater. But their most recent incarnation began in 2000, when two employees approached owner Denny Moran with the idea.

“An old theater like the Dundee just sort of screams MIDNIGHT MOVIES,” says former manager Matt Brown.

Moran agreed, but only as an experiment, only for a couple months.

The crowd shifted depending on the film. Fight Club brought the meatballs, Nightmare Before Christmas turned out the Hot Topic set. Sometimes parents would come with their kids. Then, there were the loner old guys clutching dog-eared sci-fi paperbacks.

To a kid, the city felt cold and conservative and corporate, says Jon Tvrdik, an Omaha filmmaker. Midnight movies were a blinking neon XXX sign in a town of church marquees. Tvrdik and his friends basked in the oppositionality.

“It was a nod from the establishment—which was any business that didn’t sell records—almost as if to say, ‘We see you out there, weirdos of all stripes, and we have a home for you and your cinema obsessions at night,’” Tvrdik says.

After two months, the good outweighed the bad. Midnight movies stuck.

Slowly, they evolved into more than just movies shown at a time when most people are hitting the hay.

One night Brown was showing a new employee, Jon Sours, the theater’s collection of trailers. Inexplicably, there were several for Changing Lanes, that overwrought 2002 movie that premised a whole plot out of Samuel Jackson getting into a fender bender with Ben Affleck. As the movie trailer’s narrator describes it: “An ambitious attorney. A desperate father. They had no reason to meet—until today.”

Sours insisted that this was one of the better bad trailers, and made the case for playing it before each and every midnight movie. Brown upped the ante, suggesting they play it twice.

And things sort of snowballed from there. Before long, they were playing it three or four times, upside down, in the wrong aspect ratio, backward.

The audience ate it up. Soon, they were shouting out lines from the film by memory.

“I felt like a proud father,” Sours says.

“Film,” by the way, means film. As in 35 mm. The Dundee Theater never went digital. The adherence to analog made for all sorts of charming hijinks. During Goodfellas, for example, the projector went haywire, so every scene became a weird game of Where’s Waldo? (Except with dangling microphones instead of a bespectacled guy in stripes).

It also meant that every week brought new and exciting questions about just how badly things could go wrong.

Film reels arrived to the theater scratched, spliced, and re-spliced. They were missing frames and wrapped thick with tape. And that was when they came at all. The delivery company lost a print of Jaws the day it was supposed to show, and staff had to scramble when the last remaining copy of Say Anything was destroyed; but sometimes the best ideas are borne of necessity—that night, they dug up a copy of Changing Lanes.

“We needed something to show, and we had been playing that trailer in ridicule for months,” Brown recalls. “I think some of our regular clientele were jazzed to show up and see that we were actually playing the film and not just the trailer four times in a row.”

For the most part, though, things were uneventful in the projection room. The real action was in the calamitous crowd. It was a party. A movie-watching party with a few hundred friends you didn’t know you had.

Rocky Horror Picture Show drew the costumed freaks. Purple Rain became impromptu karaoke, with people running to the front of the theater to take the lead on their favorite song. The Princess Bride was an odd communal script reading. And every now and then, during any movie, someone would kick over a clandestine bottle of something, and you’d have to listen as it slow-slow-slowly rolled all the way down the theater floor before coming to its merciful stop.

Maybe the end of the Dundee Theater was merciful, too.

Film Streams was competition, technically. But the truth is it was never close, and they were running up the score.

The Dundee had standing water in the basement and a heater rusting through. Film Streams had a brand new facility and a membership that paid to keep it shiny. The Dundee had day-glo  photocopies. Film Streams had a marketing budget.

The last midnight movie was The Room, widely considered one of the worst films ever made. It had been a regular in the repertoire.

Only about 150 people showed up that night—not at all capacity, and not even close to a record for a midnight showing.

But for Brown, who steered that ship for 13 years, it was the perfect payoff.

“They were so appreciative that we were taking some time to do a final screening of this weird little freak show movie that they all came to love, and they all came to party,” Brown says, fondly recalling the cult classic’s spoon-throwing ritual. “So many plastic spoons. It felt very communal. It was great.”

Even today, people tell Brown how much those movies meant. Their whole idea of cinema, their platonic ideal of a moviegoing experience, is based on seeing, say, Clockwork Orange or Fight Club at midnight at an art deco, formerly vaudeville theater in midtown Omaha.

Since announcing the acquisition of the Dundee, people have peppered Film Streams founder Rachel Jacobsen with questions about a reboot.

The first meeting with the Dundee neighborhood association was expected to be a dry to-do to discuss traffic flows and parking and other crushingly adult things.

Instead, people showed up specifically to advocate for the return of midnight movies.

Film Streams wants to pay respects to its predecessor, Jacobsen says, and midnight movies were a big part of what made the Dundee the Dundee. But she wants them to be different; she wants to dress up the basic concept in new clothes that are a little better fit for the new ownership.

She talks about a movie that might be the perfect balance—a French film with feminist undertones and cannibalism.

She could also open it up to “Members Select,” to let those dues-paying members pick the films they’d like to see.

Midnight movies are a big part of the theater’s recent history, sure. But Jacobsen seems well aware that much of the passion she hears could be standard-issue nostalgia.

“There’s not too many places that a teenager can go after midnight, someone under 21,” she says. “Maybe part of it is the age group that was going; they think of it as real glory days. We’re not going to try to recreate it. We couldn’t. But we’ll try to do our own version that honors the history.”

That’s no surprise to Brown.

“I seriously doubt they [Film Streams] are going to be laying out the red carpets for a bunch of 17-year-olds dressed like Frank N. Furter and Riff Raff with packs of hot dogs and bags of rice shoved down their pants to toss around,” Brown says. “I think that ship has sailed.”

Maybe it is all schmaltz for being young and dumb and the places that let you get away with it.

Tony Bonacci, a local film director, compares the midnight movies to that dive bar in stumbling distance from your front stoop. You know every nook and cranny and stain on the floor. You could pick the exact tone of green in the carpet off the Pantone color wheel. You nod to “Metaphorical Ed” who comes in after work and grabs his place at the bar, which is empty, because everyone else knows it belongs to “Ed,” too.

You love this place.

Then it goes under and is sold. Cheap draws give way to microbrews and craft cocktails. The new place is clean. There’s a great jukebox. The carpet is pried up and original hardwood restored. “Ed” found a new place to hone his alcoholism, and the new crowd is well-dressed and mannered.

It’s a good bar. A great bar. You like it. Still, something nags.

“It’s just a totally different vibe,” Bonacci says. “It’s like, ‘Man, can’t we just have that back?’”

Tvrdik, though, thinks the updated version will be, well, a lot like the rest of us—older and wiser. Still out to have a good time, it’s just what constitutes a good time has changed: less like you’re staying up past your bedtime to watch something scandalous and more like your favorite professor is playing your favorite film.

“A more mature version of what it was,” Tvrdik says.

Visit filmstreams.org for more information.

This article appeared in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Reach for the Stars

College has become increasingly expensive. A semester at the University of Nebraska at Omaha now costs more than $3,000, leaving many parents—and students—wondering how to increase their ROI on college expenditure.

One of the best ways is to go into a profession that relies on science, technology, education, or mathematical knowledge.

Young people with a bachelor’s degree and with three or fewer years of experience in their field earn less than $40,000, according to a study conducted last year by Forbes, but those in STEM occupations can earn much more. One of the highest paid STEM positions, a petroleum engineer, can earn more than $85,000 with only three years’ experience and a bachelor’s degree.

Unfortunately, those lucrative loan-repayment-worthy STEM professions are underrepresented by minority and women employees. Stereotypes persist, discouraging possible candidates based on the misconception that STEM fields of study are “hard” or “boring” or “unwelcoming.”

Neal Grandgenett, the Dr. George and Sally Haddix Community Chair of STEM Education at UNO, says it’s not hard to break those stereotypes. Engaging students in camps or extracurricular activities can be effective in establishing an interest in these fields.

“I think it’s critical that parents give kids the ability to get into some of these fun camps,” Grandgenett says. “There’s fun things like rocketry and robotics. They’d be better off doing that than getting kids into more traditional math camps.”

Part of the problem, Grandgenett says, is that the camp titles do not reflect experiences that are seen as great resume-builders. Parents who want to accelerate their students in their studies may actually benefit from allowing their student(s) to delve deeper into a subject.

“Parents may gravitate away from something like “The Science of Zombies,” because it doesn’t sound useful, but it might have practical applications,” Grandgenett says. “They might talk about disease transmission and how to prevent it. The title of the camp may not be reflective of how applicable to the STEM fields it really is.”

Even throughout the school year, Grandgenett says, there are a lot of ways that students can become interested in these fields. One way is to attend speaking engagements that are open to the public. Omaha Performing Arts, for example, showcases “National Geographic Live,” in which noted researchers, writers, and photographers spend an evening discussing their adventures. These guest speakers can make STEM subjects sound exciting.

As well as being fun, Connie O’Brien, director of the Aim for the Stars summer math and science camps at UNO, says making sure boys and girls are given an equal chance to succeed in these areas is essential.

O’Brien says, “In the last 10-15 years, we have caught on to the fact that we need to teach in ways that catch [girls’] brains. When we give kids a rocket to build, for example, boys will pull out one item, then another, then start putting the two pieces together. Girls take out all the pieces and make a picture in their minds, then assemble the project.”

Women make up 73 percent of all employees in the social and life sciences, such as psychology and biology, but make up less than 30 percent of employees in many of the physical sciences, such as engineering.

“I was expected to get a college degree in nursing or teaching,” O’Brien says. “That didn’t work for me.”

It didn’t work for Allison Sambol, either. Sambol is an environmental scientist at Felsburg Holt & Ullevig, and a prime example of using a college degree to dive into a STEM career.

“I am a geographer. I went to college and I took all general studies, and my geography course was my favorite,” Sambol says. “When I graduated, I was looking for jobs; I looked for anything that had consulting in the title.”

Eventually, Sambol realized that her work decisions affected many aspects of people’s lives, and she began to see the benefits to sticking with environmental science.

“On a day-to-day basis, I’m researching physical settings,” Sambol explains. “What’s around it? What type of things might affect building it? Does it contain contaminated soil or groundwater? Wetlands, do they need to be mitigated? Are there permits that needs to be maintained?”

Being in a STEM-based career, however, does not mean that she researches alone all day.

“Part of my job is in development,” Sambol says. “Working with my clients, developing relationships, and determining communities’ problems, and how people can solve those problems.”

The possibilities for a student who becomes interested in STEM subjects are limitless. Those working with computers, specifically, are much needed in Omaha and nationwide.

“The number of computer science positions is far outpacing the number of graduates we will have in those careers,” Grandgenett says. “One in five positions in computer science will not be filled due to not having the people with the skills.”

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of Family Guide.

 

Omaha Magazine Helps Fight Deforestation

May 24, 2017 by

Did you know that Omaha Magazine Ltd. has joined an innovative program to help fight deforestation?

The initiative, called Print Relief, plants the number of trees equal to our printing needs by calculating the trees consumed by the printing of our magazine. They plant the number of trees equal to our tree usage in endangered forests around the world.

In the next year alone, this international program will allow us to be responsible for the planting of almost 10,000 saplings in biomes around the globe that have been ravaged by deforestation.

We know that you’d never dream of tossing a copy of Omaha Magazine (heaven forbid), but you can do your part by recycling all of the other paper materials that pass through your home.

Just so you know: Omaha Magazine doesn’t clearcut the rain forest to get its paper stock. For the most part, the wood used to make the pulp for our paper is scrap wood, salvaged wood, or wood from trees that were planted like any renewable crop. It would be a lie to say the production and distribution of that paper doesn’t have an environmental impact, but it is much smaller than widely believed.

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