Tag Archives: Pink Poodle

Obviously Omaha

July 9, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For many food lovers, there’s nothing like a good steak. A steak with plentiful marbling and a ton of flavor. A steak perfectly cooked with a seared crust and tender, juicy center. While local gourmets and gourmands have embraced an influx of new restaurants, many still crave the city’s long-standing steakhouse tradition. For a timeless dining experience, it’s hard to beat a classic steakhouse dinner at one of these 10 spots (listed in alphabetical order) exclusive to the Omaha metro.

Anthony’s Steakhouse
7220 F St.

The family-owned-and-operated business has been satisfying steak lovers since 1967, when the late Anthony “Tony” Fucinaro Sr. opened the restaurant. A giant fiberglass steer hangs out front. Inside, diners savor tender, flavorful cuts of Nebraska beef, which the restaurant expertly dry-ages and hand-cuts. Pasta, seafood, chicken, and pork are also on the menu. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Anthony’s gets better with age.

Brother Sebastian’s Steakhouse & Winery
1350 S. 119th St.

Opened in 1977, this West Omaha eatery boasts some of the best rib-eye steaks in town, as well as an extensive wine list and classic steakhouse sides. Skip the baked potato and get the mashed spuds—they’re ridiculously good. Adding to the restaurant’s appeal is its monastery theme. Gregorian chant music echoes in the parking lot, and servers wear monk-inspired garb. The dark interior is divided into multiple dining rooms warmed by fireplaces and adorned with casks, bottles, and books.

Cascio’s Steakhouse
1620 S. 10th St.

The sons of Italian immigrants, brothers Al and Joe Cascio opened the steakhouse south of downtown in 1946, and a third generation of family members runs it today. Cascio’s uses certified Angus beef that’s hand-cut and aged. High-quality steaks, scratch-made soups and salad dressings, breadsticks baked on-site, and spaghetti sauce simmered for hours have kept the local landmark filled with faithful diners for decades.

The Drover
2121 S. 73rd St.

Generations of steak lovers have walked through the heavy wooden doors of this rustic, cozy central Omaha spot. It opened as a Cork ’N Cleaver in 1969 and became the Drover in the late ’70s. Featuring cowboy/Western decor, the restaurant is known for its whiskey steaks, which are soaked in a secret whiskey-based marinade for 15 minutes. A warm loaf of bread and a trip to the salad bar, complete with chilled metal plates, prime the appetite.

Farmer Brown’s Steak House
2620 River Road Drive
Waterloo, Nebraska

Located on Omaha’s outskirts, this popular Waterloo steakhouse has been wooing diners with slow-roasted, tender, and flavorful prime rib since 1964. That’s when Charles and Daphne Stenglein opened the steakhouse, which their sons now run. Customers love the no-frills, homey atmosphere and menu of comfort foods. For several decades, Daphne Stenglein and her identical twin, Dagmar Luenenburg, were fixtures at the restaurant, lending a hand and greeting guests. The sisters were inseparable and died 10 months apart in 2001 and 2002. A second Farmer Brown’s operated in Papillion for a number of years before closing, but the original is still going strong.

4917 Center St.

A meat lover’s mecca since 1944, Gorat’s is among Omaha’s old-school Italian steakhouses. Louis N. Gorat Jr., known as “Pal,” the son of founders Louis and Nettie Gorat, sold the business in 2012 to Gene Dunn. The beloved midtown spot—one of Warren Buffett’s favorite local restaurants—continues to attract locals and out-of-towners, including Berkshire Hathaway shareholders who dine here during the company’s annual shareholder weekend in May.

Jerico’s Restaurant
11732 West Dodge Road

Diners have been sliding into the button-tufted booths and digging the old-school vibe at Jerico’s since 1978. For many Omahans, this is the go-to spot for prime rib. There’s also New York strip, filet mignon, rib-eye, porterhouse, and sirloin. Bacon-wrapped shrimp makes a great starter, and a slice of house-made chocolate, banana, or coconut cream pie is the perfect finish.

Johnny’s Cafe
4702 S. 27th St.

An Omaha landmark, a time capsule, and one of the city’s oldest independently owned restaurants, Johnny’s has been operated by the Kawa family since the early 1920s. Guests love the succulent steaks, well-made cocktails, and kitschy décor, such as saddle-shaped bar stools. The longtime dining destination was featured in Alexander Payne’s 2002 filmAbout Schmidt.

Omaha Prime
415 S. 11th St.

An Old Market fixture since 1995, this upscale spot offers USDA Prime beef, the highest rating. Operated by local restaurateur Mahmood “Mo” Tajvar, Omaha Prime features an extensive wine list, attentive service, and an elegant ambiance. From the second-floor dining room, guests can enjoy their meal while taking in lovely views of the Old Market Passageway below. Seafood, chicken, and lamb are also on the menu, but steaks are the star. The restaurant’s star clientele includes Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffett and retired New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, who dined here together in 2006.

Pink Poodle
633 Old Lincoln Highway
Crescent, Iowa

It takes a bit of a drive to get here—about 20 minutes from downtown Omaha—but diners don’t seem to mind. Steak lovers of all ages have been coming to the Pink Poodle for more than 60 years. The casual, independently owned spot offers unfussy food in a modest setting. The longtime Crescent restaurant is known for its slow-cooked, deeply flavorful prime rib, but there’s also rib-eye, sirloin, seafood, chicken, and numerous side dishes. While waiting for a table, take a few minutes to check out the décor—an eclectic collection of dolls, pianos, knick-knacks, and, of course, pink poodles.

This article appears in the July/August 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Still Taking Orders

September 24, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The year: 1955.

Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower occupy the White House, gas costs 22 cents per gallon, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” hits the top of the record charts and Donna Malone greets the very first customers at the Pink Poodle Steakhouse.

Time has a relentless way of relegating things to the past, but both the waitress known simply as Donna and the Pink Poodle have outraced the last six decades. They have persevered through fire, flood, five owners, and an uncertain economy. How? With affordable prime rib and, in Donna’s case, a strong work ethic.

Excitement came to tiny Crescent, Iowa, in May 1955 when Jake Brummer, a local developer who owned three other restaurants in western Iowa, bought an establishment at 633 Old Lincoln Highway called the Black Glove and gave it a new name with a quintessential ’50s flair. The Pink Poodle served up a variety of steaks, chicken, and seafood, providing a quality entertainment venue across the Missouri River from north Omaha and a source of income for a teenage farm girl from just up the road in Honey Creek.

“The Brummers were real good friends with my mom and dad, and I’d known them forever,” Donna recalls. “Jake asked me if I wanted to work at the restaurant and I said, ‘Sure.’ I was 15.”

The new restaurant drew crowds immediately. Donna started out as a cashier and hostess, carefully observing how others did their jobs. One night Brummer asked her to fill in as a waitress. With her characteristic “I can do that” attitude, Donna found she liked waiting on tables—and the benefits that came with it.

“Back then, if you got a quarter per person per table it was a heck of a tip; a dollar from four people,” says Donna, 75, shaking her head at the thought. “One Saturday night I remember making $32. The other girls just couldn’t believe it, absolutely unreal. Of course, a lobster dinner back then was $7.95. Things have changed. But I still make real good money.”

It’s hard to pinpoint when Donna became as sought-after as the Pink Poodle’s signature prime rib (introduced to the menu in the early 1960s). The ease with which she talks to customers vanishes when asked to talk about herself. A private, humble person by nature, Donna will only credit “great food and a wonderful clientele” for the restaurant’s continued success. Current owner Doreen McNeil, who began as a waitress in 1983 and worked with Donna in the party room, shows no such reluctance in focusing the spotlight.

“A lot of people come in here because of you, Donna,” McNeil tells her friend. “People who were children when Donna first waited on them now bring their grandchildren to meet her.”

Even first-time customers like Marianne and North Witcher of Omaha find themselves easily drawn into Donna’s orbit.  “She’s fabulous as a waitress, very knowledgeable and courteous,” says North. “She got our orders exactly right, knew the specials and their prices by heart. We were floored when we learned how long she’d been there.”

Donna’s journey to a 60th anniversary hit a roadblock in January 1972 when fire ravaged the Pink Poodle. “One of our regulars spent too much time at the bar late one night,” recounts Donna in her slow, deliberate delivery, “and a lit cigarette got away from him and fell in a booth. It started smoldering. By 3 in the morning the place was on fire.”

In the four-year interim it took to secure the cash to rebuild, Donna worked at another Crescent establishment where she ran into Kenny Malone, a trucker she had met years earlier. They married in 1974. With no children of her own to raise, Donna continued waitressing at night in addition to her day job as a legal secretary.

“I’ve worked for the same lawyer in west Omaha for the past 45 years and one before him for 10,” she says, matter-of-factly.

Donna’s knowledge of Omaha came in handy during the Missouri’s record flooding in 2011. McNeil decided to keep the restaurant open despite closures from June to November of the Mormon Bridge leading into Crescent and sections of I-29. McNeil says whenever a customer from Omaha called asking for a way to get to the restaurant, “I’d just give the phone to Donna. She’s our resident GPS.”

A solid regular customer base that includes Chip Davis of Manheim Steamroller and KMTV meteorologist Jim Flowers helped keep the restaurant afloat during a tough time, one of many Donna has faced. Tall and thin with porcelain skin and blue eyes, Donna shows no interest in slowing down. “Not unless Doreen fires me,” she says, half seriously.

“Oh, Donna, I’ll never do that,” McNeil quickly responds. “I wish I could find 10 more of you.”