Tag Archives: restaurant

The Big Easy in the Big O

March 17, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

One of America’s great food cities, New Orleans, is steeped in history, culture, and fantastic flavors. From beignets to étouffée, the Southern city’s distinctive cuisine attracts food lovers worldwide. Perhaps the best way to satisfy one’s Cajun and Creole cravings is with a trip to N’awlins. But if that isn’t in your plans, a visit to Herbe Sainte offers a taste of the Big Easy without leaving the Big O.

The Aksarben Village cocktail bar and restaurant, which opened in late October 2016, is the creation of longtime restaurateur Ron Samuelson and his nephews, Aaron and Justin Halbert. For decades, Samuelson co-owned M’s Pub, the iconic Old Market restaurant that was destroyed in a January 2016 fire. His focus is now on Herbe Sainte and other new projects, including a French-focused eatery that he and the Halberts are working on.

muffuletta

For Herbe Sainte, the trio took inspiration from the food and drink of the Crescent City. “New Orleans has a great cocktail culture,” Justin Halbert says. Seafood purveyors from several Gulf Coast states supply the restaurant with fresh shrimp, crawfish, and oysters. Halbert, who used to live in Florida, says seafood from the region, particularly Gulf shrimp, boasts exceptional flavor and texture.

Shrimp is the star of one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, NOLA shrimp. One of a dozen items on the small menu, it features plump, succulent shrimp smothered in a rich, luscious sauce made decadent with cream, butter, and wine. It’s served with crusty French bread to sop up the sauce, which is sparked with a Creole seasoning blend for a palate-tingling heat. I would have liked a bit more spice, but I thoroughly savored each bite.

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Executive chef Jeff Owen leads the kitchen, showcasing an appreciation for the nuances of New Orleans cuisine while putting his own twists on the classics. The shrimp roll features boiled shrimp lightly dressed with Cajun remoulade, lettuce, onion marmalade, and cornichon. Lack of breading and frying allows the shrimp’s firm, meaty texture and sweet, clean flavor to shine. We liked the filling but thought the bun needed to be warmed or toasted a bit.

Oysters are abundant in New Orleans and on Herbe Sainte’s menu. They’re available shucked and served on the half shell, as well as broiled. For non-seafood lovers, there’s muffuletta (a signature New Orleans sandwich stuffed with cold cuts, cheese, and olives) and a cornbread and sausage plate. It features sliced boudin (pork-and-rice sausage), mustard, pickles, slaw, two types of cornbread, and honey butter. The restaurant’s boudin has a soft, crumbly texture and was milder than I expected.

Enhancing the dining experience is a stylish interior with local artwork, modern-meets-rustic décor, and an eye-catching bar with custom wood shelving. Several couches, coffee tables, and armchairs invite guests to linger. The high-ceilinged space is intimate enough for date night yet lively enough for after-work cocktails. “We wanted it to be really eclectic,” Halbert says.

The establishment’s name comes from Herbsaint, an ingredient Sazerac cocktails.

The drink menu offers classic New Orleans cocktails, such as the Sazerac. Bold yet balanced, it includes brandy, Peychaud’s bitters, simple syrup, and the restaurant’s namesake, Herbsaint, an anise-flavored liqueur used as an absinthe alternative. The long, spacious bar provides plenty of room to whip up craft cocktails and develop house-made ingredients.

Together with their design team and bar and kitchen staff, Herbe Sainte’s owners have created a delicious, inviting spot to savor a taste of New Orleans and let the “bon temps” roll year-round.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visit herbesainteomaha.com for more information.

NOLA shrimp

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Destinations

February 22, 2017 by

AKSARBEN VILLAGE

Horse stalls went bye-bye long ago. Now, Aksarben Village is losing car stalls, too. But that’s a good thing, as far as continued growth of the former horse-racing grounds goes. Dirt is overturned and heavy equipment sits on the plot extending north and east from 67th and Frances streets, formerly a parking lot for visitors to the bustling area. That’s because work has commenced at the corner on what will become HDR’s new global headquarters, which opens some time in 2019. The temporary loss of parking will be offset by great gain for Aksarben Village — a 10-story home for nearly 1,200 employees with a first floor including 18,000 square feet of retail space. HDR also is building an adjacent parking garage with room for ground-level shops and restaurants. But wait, car owners, there’s more. Farther up 67th Street, near Pacific, the University of Nebraska-Omaha is building a garage that should be completed this fall. Plenty of parking for plenty to do.

BENSON

A continental shift has taken place in Benson — Espana is out and Au Courant Regional Kitchen is in, offering Benson denizens another food option at 6064 Maple St. That means a move from now-closed Espana’s Spanish fare to now-open Au Courant’s “approachable European-influenced dishes with a focus on regional ingredients.” Sound tasty? Give your tastebuds an eye-tease with the menu at aucourantrestaurant.com. Also new in B-Town: Parlour 1887 (parlour1887.com) has finished an expansion first announced in 2015 that has doubled the hair salon’s original footprint. That’s a big to-do at the place of  ’dos.

BLACKSTONE DISTRICT

The newest Blackstone District restaurant, which takes its name from Nebraska’s state bird, is ready to fly. Stirnella Bar & Kitchen, located at 3814 Farnam St., was preparing to be open by Valentine’s Day. By mid-January it had debuted staff uniforms, photos of its decor, and a preview of its delectable-looking dinner menu. Stirnella (Nebraska’s meadowlark is part of the genus and species “Sturnella neglecta”) will offer a hybrid of bistro and gastro pub fare “that serves refined comfort food with global influences,” plus a seasonal menu inspired by local ingredients. Fly to stirnella.com for more.

DUNDEE

Film Streams (filmstreams.org) made a splash in January announcing details on its renovation of the  historic Dundee Theater. Work began in 2017’s first month on features including:

Repair and renovation of the original theater auditorium, which will be equipped with the latest projection and sound technology able to screen films in a variety of formats, including reel-to-reel 35mm and DCP presentations.

A throwback vertical “Dundee” sign facing Dodge Street.

An entryway that opens to a landscaped patio/pocket park.

New ticketing and concessions counters.

A store with film books, Blu-ray Discs and other cinema-related offerings.

A café run through a yet-to-be-announced partnership.

A 25-seat micro-cinema.

Oh, yeah, they’ll show movies there, too. And Dundee-ers won’t have long to wait—the project should be completed by the end of 2017.

MIDTOWN

In a surprise to many—especially those holding its apparently now-defunct gift cards—Brix shut its doors in January at both its Midtown Crossing and Village Pointe locations. It was not clear at press time what factor, if any, was played by a former Brix employee, who in late December pleaded not guilty to two counts of felony theft by deception after being accused of stealing more than $110,000 as part of a gift card scheme. Despite the closing, Midtown has celebrated two additions of late as the doors opened to the “Japanese Americana street food” spot Ugly Duck (3201 Farnam St.) and to Persian rug “pop-up shop” The Importer.

NORTH OMAHA

The restoration of North Omaha’s 24th and Lake area continues its spectacular trajectory. In January, the Union for Contemporary Art moved into the completely renovated, historic Blue Lion building located at 2423 N. 24th St. The Blue Lion building is a cornerstone in the historic district. Originally constructed in 1913, the Blue Lion is named after two of the building’s earliest tenants: McGill’s Blue Room, a nightclub that attracted many nationally known black musicians, and Lion Products, a farm machinery distributor. The entire district was listed as a federally recognized historic district in April 2016.

According to its website, “The Union for Contemporary Art is committed to strengthening the creative culture of the greater Omaha area by providing direct support to local artists and increasing the visibility of contemporary art forms in the community.” Founder and executive director Brigitte McQueen Shew says the Union strives to unite artists and the community to inspire positive social change in North Omaha. “The organization was founded on the belief that the arts can be a vehicle for social justice and greater civic engagement,” she says. “We strive to utilize the arts as a bridge to connect our diverse community in innovative and meaningful ways.”

The Union will be hosting the annual Omaha Zinefest March 11. Event organizer Andrea Kszystyniak says Zinefest is a celebration of independent publishing in Nebraska. Assorted zines—essentially DIY magazines produced by hand and/or photocopier—will be on display at the free event, and workshops will be offered to attendees.

OLD MARKET

M’s Pub fans had plenty to be thankful for in November following the announcement that the Old Market restaurant would rise from the ashes of the January 2016 fire that destroyed the iconic eatery. Various media quoted co-owner Ann Mellen saying the restaurant would reopen this summer. Construction has been steady at the restaurant’s 11th and Howard, four-story building, but customers weren’t sure M’s would be part of the rebirth until Mellen’s well-received comments. Mellen says the feel—and the food—will be the same. Even if the name may change.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Duck Call

February 21, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

To hear Omahan Dennis Schuett tell it, he has launched a new product that really is … all it’s quacked up to be.

It’s actually an old product—duck fat. The French have used the versatile, golden, subcutaneous deposit for ages, treasuring it for a dense, savory flavor and the crispy coat it adds to meats and vegetables.

What Schuett has done, though, is new. Until now, chefs scooped solid duck fat out of containers. Schuett has put it into a canister that delivers duck fat as a spray.

As far as Schuett can tell, no one else has done that.

“We have the only duck fat spray, we think, in the world,” Schuett says. “It’s pretty cool.”

Dennis Schuett

Their thought is correct. This is not Schuett’s first foray into food. A Grand Island native who moved to Omaha 27 years ago, he once had a career as a food broker. He also has part ownership in the Coney Stop restaurant at Millard’s Boulder Creek Amusement Park, a couple of pizza joints around the metro, and (until this summer) Jackson Street Tavern in the Old Market.

Such experience gave the 54-year-old, self-described foodie a good idea he was onto something with his duck fat spray.

Vegetables sprayed with it, then roasted, “taste like candy,” Schuett says. It also “floats an egg across a frying pan.” Its high smoke point (meaning it doesn’t burn as easily as butter or olive oil), makes it a great searing agent. Schuett says he also has heard from meat smokers who say it creates great “bark” when used as a rub base.

Schuett touts benefits beyond taste. Duck fat has 20 percent less saturated fat than butter and contains unsaturated Omega 3 and Omega 6, two body-essential fatty acids. It’s also high in monounsaturated fat, which can help lower cholesterol, and vitamin E.

To get such wonders into a can as a spray, Schuett bought state-of-the-art packing equipment that forces the fat into a bag sealed inside a canister. Compressed air evacuates 99 percent of the product and precludes the use of fluorocarbon or additives. “Keeping it simple yet as pure as possible,” Schuett says.

Duck fat spray can be used to flavor, and add fat to, a variety of dishes.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

René Orduña

October 13, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

According to René Orduña, a restaurant’s dishwasher is as key as its chef. “He knows what’s coming back,” says the head chef of Dixie Quicks in Council Bluffs. “What people aren’t eating. So if I wanted to work for a restaurant, I’d get a job as a dishwasher and see what’s coming back. And if they’re not enjoying the food, then I wouldn’t stay there very long.”The good chefs, he says, will always check the plates coming back. To this day, a half-empty plate prompts Orduña to ask the waiter if a guest disliked a meal.

Orduña co-owns the Southern-style diner known as Dixie Quicks with his husband, Robert Gilmer. The restaurant has been open in one location or another since 1995. So if Orduña says it’s important to check the plates, he knows what he’s talking about.

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While the chef has worked in a variety of restaurants across the country (New Orleans. Atlanta. San Francisco. New York City), it’s fair to say he’s been in kitchens his entire life.

Orduña was 1 year old when his mother opened Howard’s Charro in South Omaha. He started making tamales on Wednesdays when he was 6. “Spreading the masa, putting the meat in them, putting them in boxes to freeze,” he recalls. As a young adult, he waited tables around town and cooked in a few kitchens as well. “The Golden Apple, worked at M’s,” he recites. From 1971 to 1973, he worked at the French Café in Downtown Omaha before he began traveling.

Today, both he and Gilmer are elbows deep in Dixie Quicks from dawn till dusk. Orduña cooks, serves, buses tables, washes dishes, and Gilmer handles the art of the attached RNG Gallery (“That’s Robert Newton Gilmer,” Orduña clarifies) and the restaurant’s books. “You don’t want him cooking, and you don’t want me doing books,” Orduña says with an emphatic wave of his hand.

Patrons of Dixie Quicks are probably okay with that arrangement. After taking their seats, guests walk over to the gigantic chalkboard menu to decide among Cajun, Southern, and Southwestern options. Orduña says he’s careful about revamping the menu. “Every time I take something off that board, somebody gets …” upset, he says. “It’s almost like I have to open another restaurant to try another menu.”

Do tell?

“Maybe someday,” he dodges coyly. He’s chalking it up to a dream right now, his desire to open several restaurants in one. “A Cajun restaurant. And a barbecue restaurant. And a pizza place. Kind of like a food court.” A place like that, Orduña thinks, would get freshly graduated culinary students used to working in a professional setting. “You can have fine dining anywhere, at any kind of place,” he insists.

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Personally, he favors what he calls the Iron Chef method. “I like going to my refrigerator, seeing what I have, and figuring it out. That’s what I do most days when I go shopping at the grocery store. That’s what usually makes up the menu.”

Has anything new and exciting come out of this experimentation?

“Oh gosh. Just about everything,” he says. “I start playing back there with spices and flavors and textures…” It’s handy that he and Gilmer live just above the restaurant. He could be tinkering in the kitchen at any time of day.

Today, it’s a broccoli cheese soup. “The cheese just looked good,” Orduña says. “And the broccoli was plentiful and gorgeous, and I thought, you know, it’s the perfect day
for soup.”

Article originally published in March/April 2014 in Omaha Magazine.

Update 11/18/2016: After a short battle with Stage 4 cancer, Rene passed away in November 2016. A celebration of Rene Orduna’s Life will b held this Sunday 11/20 at The Max from 4-8 pm

The Matriarch Behind the Scenes

October 12, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The bright flavors and colors of Hidalgo, Mexico, pop at family-owned and operated Maria Bonita Mexican Cuisine. Matriarch and head chef Miriam Lopez authentically re-creates the food she recalls from her native land.

Tropical floral motifs by Omaha artist Mike Giron decorate the 5132 L St. restaurant, as well as the family’s two food trucks.

“The colors not only inspire us and make us remember where we come from but also transmit some of our culture and the way we envision life, which is colorful and positive,” eldest daughter Itzel Lopez says. “Our culture is really within us.”

She and her two sisters help mom continue a proud legacy of strong, accomplished Latinas.

Miriam and husband Miguel opened the eatery in 2011 at 20th Street and Missouri Avenue. Business boomed before Miguel fell ill.

“He was our backbone,” Itzel says. “For us, family’s always been more important than business, so we said, ‘Let’s take a break and get our dad where he needs
to be.'”

miriamlopez1Maria Bonita closed; however, the customers refused to leave. Itzel says, “Our customers really didn’t let us go, but the only way we could continue what we’d started was to go on wheels. So, we acquired our first food truck right in 2011, and in 2014 we acquired our second food truck.”

A new brick and mortar was sought to serve sit-down diners and to prep-host catering gigs. Thus, the former Sizzler site became the new Maria Bonita in 2015.

“Same food, same concept, just bigger,” says Itzel.

They opened it with help from the Nebraska Enterprise Fund. With Miguel recuperating in Mexico, Miriam wants it to be like coming to the Lopez casa for “a home-cooked family meal,” adding, “The kitchen is the home of the home.”

“These are dishes my mom will cook at home,” Itzel says. “Everything my mom does she makes with love. Mom wants to see tables full of families enjoying a good dinner. That’s something we grew up with. Every Sunday after church we come and enjoy our own food here.”

Miriam says she doesn’t use “complicated recipes, processes, and ingredients,” adding, “This is very different—this is simple food the way I remember when I was a kid. My memories are all about food—about my mom all the time cooking for everybody.”

She inherited her mom’s cooking talent, and her folks paid for culinary training. She worked as a line cook in Mexico and America. “All the time I was learning—I learned a lot.” Even though the hours are long, she finds joy. “All the time people ask me, why you work so hard? But I don’t feel like I’m working. It’s special—that’s the difference. They think it’s for the money, but it’s not for the money. It’s passion. I love this. It’s my dream.”

Miriam’s college-educated daughters have jobs and lives of their own, and she wants them to be successful.

“It’s my faith for them. Happiness is everything.”

“We move by faith in our family,” says Itzel. “We’re just hard working women. All we have to do is just follow that.”

Itzel says she admires her mother’s “consistency and perseverance” and how “she molds the family to the same mission.”

“We’re a good team, each with different roles and strengths, all of us guided by Mom and her passion for food.”

Mother and daughter are “proud” their family of “Mexican transplants and language learners” has come so far here.

A rotating traditional Mexican buffet is served daily from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Visit mariabonitaonline.com for more information. Sixty-Plus in Omaha

Decisions, Decisions

March 3, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In the last few years, southern food, including barbecue and Cajun, has been enjoying increased popularity nationwide. Here in Omaha the genre has remained relatively scarce. A little over a year ago, Ryan Ernst opened Mouth of the South: Southern Grub Bar & Grill. I had been hearing lots of great things about this restaurant and had been meaning to make it over there, but never found the time until recently. Now I can share my experience with you.

The restaurant is located in the heart of the historic Florence neighborhood on North 30th Street. It has a nicely decorated fuchsia-colored facade, and once you get inside you see it has a warm, folksy feel with unpolished wood floors, brick walls, and wood table tops. There is also a large counter/bar where guests may enjoy their meals, listen to the blues on the stereo, and watch sports on the TV.

Paying homage to Dixie, drinks are served in jars and the silverware and napkins are in a simple paper bag wrapped in twine. The restaurant has a really comfortable vibe, and on the night I was there it was packed with what I assumed were local people from the neighborhood.

The menu at Mouth of the South has a nice selection of appetizers, soups and salads, sandwiches, burgers, and entrees, and all are nice mixtures of Cajun, Creole, barbecue and soul food. They also offer a soup of the day and several tantalizing specials. The full bar features a very interesting list of southern-themed craft cocktails, an impressive beer list, and a nice selection of wines.

Just like the ambiance, the service is very casual and friendly.

Let me start by admitting my bias toward Cajun food in particular and a love for southern barbecue. I have eaten a lot of these types of foods and my bar is set pretty high for what I consider to be good. On this particular night my dining partner and I started off with gizzards ($7) and the boudin balls ($8). The gizzards were fried cajun-style and coated with a pepper jelly glaze and this yummy combination melted in our mouths. If you’re not familiar with boudin, it is a southern rice and meat sausage. The Mouth of the South’s rendition was formed into balls, breaded, deep fried, and served with an authentic remoulade sauce. It was perhaps the best boudin I have ever had.

Next we shared a bowl of gumbo ($5), and it would be no exaggeration to say that this is the best gumbo I’ve found in Omaha.

For entrees I tried the smoke pit sandwich ($12). This gut-buster of a meal had moist smoked brisket, tangy smoked pork, crisp coleslaw, barbecue sauce, and melted cheddar cheese served grilled on sourdough bread. I can describe this sandwich with
one word—“delicious!”

My partner tried the jambalaya ($13), which was loaded with Andouille sausage and chicken. There was no skimping on the meat with this memorably tasty, hearty plate.

I had no room left for dessert, but sacrificed myself for you, the reader, and ordered the bourbon pecan pie ($7). This homemade pie was crammed with pecans and had a lovely bourbon-flavored custard in a perfect crust. It was served with some very rich vanilla ice cream. Like everything else I tried that night, it also deserves top marks.

If you are getting the impression that I liked the Mouth of the South, you would be correct. Now sufficiently recovered, I’m already daydreaming about going back for more. Maybe the catfish poboy or the smoke stack burger?

Decisions, decisions.

Cheers!

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Fresh Seafood From Stem to Stern

May 23, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Article originally published in May/June 2015 edition of Omaha Magazine.

To say that Omaha is not known as a seafood town would be a huge understatement. In fact I can count the local restaurants that specialize in “fruits de mer” on one hand. It could be because we are so far away from bodies of water that produce good seafood? It could be because so many midwesterners don’t really appreciate good seafood and that could, in turn, be because it is so hard to find good seafood in the Midwest? Regardless of the reason, In the spring of 2013 the quest to find good seafood in Omaha got infinitely easier with the opening of Plank Seafood Provisions in the Old Market.

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The restaurant is operated by the same people who brought us Blue, Roja and Blatt, so you already know it will be good. Located on Howard Street, the restaurant itself has a modern yet comfortable look to it. Bright orange chair cushions, iron fixtures, and distressed wood paneling combine to make this a very attractive but casual restaurant. The bar features a full oyster bar where you watch your fresh fare be hand-shucked before sliding them down your throat. Fresh, live oysters are a big part of what makes Plank so inviting, and many people go there to just have a beer and some fresh oysters. I can’t say as I blame them.

On a recent visit I started off as I usually do with a half-dozen fresh Oysters on the Half Shell ($19.64). Many people think the Gulf Coast is where choice oysters come from, but that’s not really true. The very best come from the cold, clean waters of the Pacific Northwest or the icy East Coast bays of Massachusetts, Virginia, and Connecticut. Plank features top-notch varieties from both coasts. On this night they had six different varieties, and I tried one of each. All of them were extremely fresh and tasty. I like trying them one by one and noting the difference in texture, salinity, and flavor. The raw oysters on the half shell are served as they should be—on ice with cocktail sauce, horseradish, and mignonette. If raw oysters aren’t your thing, they will also cook them grilled BBQ style, baked Rockefeller style, or fried in Anchor Steam beer batter. To me it seems like a shame to cook them, but I have tried all of their prepared oyster dishes and can tell you they are all worth a go.

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There is more to plank than just great oysters. On this night we also tried the Shrimp Cocktail ($11.50). These perfectly cooked, flavorful white shrimp are boiled with creole spices and served with creole mustard and a housemade cocktail sauce. We followed that with a cup of Lobster Bisque ($7.00), which was expertly prepared and very enjoyable. For dinner I had the Diver Scallops ($28.00), which were pan-seared with braised bacon, creamy farro, braised kale, sherry reduction, and a carrot ginger purée. This was a truly stellar dish and the combination of ingredients worked perfectly together. My dining partner had the Shrimp Po Boy Sandwich ($15.00). This was the best example of this classic cajun sandwich that I have sampled in Omaha and, at least for a moment, transported me to the French Quarter. The bread was crisp and perfect, and the fried shrimp, tomatoes, dill pickles, lettuce, and creole mustard sauce were all spot on. I will be sure to have this the next time I come in for lunch. What perhaps most surprised me was the fantastic desserts at Plank. We tried the Bananas Foster Bread Pudding ($8.00) creatively presented in cubes on a banana brulee sauce with homemade brown sugar rum ice cream, and salted caramel sauce. Possibly the best dessert I have had this year. We also tried the Chocolate Torte ($8.00), which was also presented beautifully and featured chocolate ganache with a hazelnut wafer crust, homemade coffee ice cream cardamom, and crème anglaise. Yum!

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If you are getting the impression that I liked Plank, then you’re not far off the mark. I have not yet even mentioned how good the service was or talked up the impressive draft beer list, the creative craft cocktails or the seafood-friendly, curated list of wines. To learn more about those things, you will just have to the dive into the waters of Plank and find out for yourselves. Cheers!

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Brother Sebastian’s Steak House & Winery


April 10, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in March/April 2015 Omaha Magazine.

It’s no small feat for a restaurant to be successful for so much as a decade. Statistically speaking, very few make it that long. It’s even more unusual for a restaurant to make it for multiple decades.

Brother Sebastian’s is quickly closing in on four decades as one of the top restaurants in Omaha, which puts them in a very elite category. It is a generally accepted fact that to survive that long restaurants have to completely reinvent themselves every seven to 10 years to stay relevant. Brother Sebastian’s brings that point to question since very little about the restaurant has changed since they opened in 1978. This makes me think that if you get it right in the beginning there is no need to reinvent yourself. This place instead just relentlessly focuses on doing everything right every day. It seems to have worked for Brother Sebastian’s.

To test this theory I recently visited Brother Sebastian’s for dinner. As I walked up to the front door while being serenaded by a choir of monks singing ancient hymns, I was quickly reminded of the many great experiences that I have had there over the years. It truly is a beautiful restaurant and designed to look like a rustic French abby that has many different cozy, dimly lit dining rooms. My dining partner and I were seated by a friendly manager at a lovely, intimate booth in a small room that had a giant fireplace in the center. From our table we really could not even see any other tables, which made it feel like we were the only ones in the restaurant even though the place was nearly full.

We started off with an order of Escargot ($8.50) and Shrimp Scampi ($9.95). The Escargot was tender and moist served on a mushroom cap with rich garlic butter sauce. The scampi was also served “Escargot style,” but topped with bubbling Havarti cheese and the same garlic butter. Both were delicious. Next we made our trip to the salad bar, which is included with all entrees. In general I am not a big fan of salad bars and would prefer to have the kitchen make my salad, but this salad bar was as nice as any I have seen, with plenty of fresh ingredients to satisfy everyone’s tastes. For entrees I had the Rib Eye Steak ($27.95) and my partner had the Chicken Picatta ($21.50). The rib eye was served as ordered, grilled to a perfect medium rare. It was appropriately seasoned, very tender, and loaded with flavor. In fact, it was so good that I would go so far as to say it was the best steak I have had dinning out in Omaha in the last several years. The Chicken Picatta was equally good, with a pair of tender breasts of chicken breaded and served over angel hair pasta with an outline of sauteed spinach in a tangy piccata sauce. For dessert we tried the Chocolate Cake ($8.95) and Lemon Cake ($8.95), both house-made. Either of these would have been more than enough to share and boasted four or five layers topped by rich butter cream icing. Both were moist, decadent, and very memorable.

Throughout the evening we enjoyed our server and were impressed with her kindness, knowledge, and timing. The manager was ever-visible, making sure that everything was running like clockwork and that all the guests were enjoying the same great food and service that we were. Not once did we want for anything. Beverage service is also strong with a wine list that is incredibly expansive with just about every variety, style, and region well represented. There is also a good selection of fine liquors and beers.

Brother Sebastian’s has proved to me that it has managed to not only maintain its high standards for 38 years, but it may even be getting better with age! Cheers!

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Mula Mexican Kitchen & Tequileria

February 11, 2015 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha has always had its own unique take on Mexican food. Things like puffy tacos, enchiladas made with flour tortillas, and margaritas made with Rose’s lime juice can be found at just about every Mexican restaurant in town. Some may be surprised to learn that you would be hard pressed to find any of those things in Mexico. Mula, which opened in June, decided to buck this trend by serving authentic Mexican street food.

Owner Michael Sanchez is no stranger to the Omaha style of Mexican food. His Grandmother is Maria, the namesake of the famed Maria’s Mexican Restaurant in Ralston. Sanchez has been running Maria’s for the last several years and has shown his talents by upping the ante at Maria’s in most every way. Regardless of his local knowledge of the ins and outs of Omaha-style Mexican food, he has decided to take a risk and serve a much more traditional style of Mexican food at Mula.

The restaurant is located on the corner of 39th and Farnam. The outer brick building gives way to a beautiful modern interior that is well-designed but not “over designed.” I really liked the rustic wooden table tops, the pewter-colored bar top, and the bright orange walls. It’s a very handsome space.

The menu is straightforward and mainly consists of appetizers, tacos, and tortas, which are basically the Mexican version of a sandwich. There is also a variety of salsas, guacamoles, and side dishes to choose from and, of course, authentic churros for dessert just like you would buy on a street corner in Mexico. Everything is a la carte, so it’s fun to just order a taco or three at a time, kind of like you would do when eating sushi. At $2.50 a taco, it’s certainly a lot cheaper than sushi and, for me, much more enjoyable.

On a recent visit, we sampled the Queso Flameado Appetizer ($7). This delicious dip features boracho beans, queso chihuahua, ancho chili, chicharrones, and pepita (pumpkin seed) salsa. We also tried the Huevo Con Chorizo Appetizer ($6.5). This was soft boiled egg served with some of the best chorizo I have had in ages topped with a zesty salsa verde. We also tried a plethora of different tacos including Al Pastor Taco ($2.5), Carnitas Taco ($2.5), Baja Fish Taco ($2.5) and Carne Asada Taco ($2.5). All of the tacos were outstanding and went well with the Salsa Flight ($12) that I ordered to dress them up. The salsas included a Charred Pineapple Salsa, Roasted Tomato Salsa and a Tomatillo Salsa. All of which were top notch. We also tried the Machaca Torta ($8) and the Chicken Tinga Torta ($8). The tortas are much bigger than the tacos. Almost a meal in themselves, the tortas are suitable for sharing. They come on a freshly baked telera bread with sliced tomatoes, charred jalapenos, avocado, black bean spread, shredded lettuce, house crema, and roasted garlic mayonnaise. Combined with Mula’s great proteins, these sandwiches are incredible. Of course, we also had to try Mula’s Green Rice and Boracho Beans ($5). These were great and probably the most authentic beans and rice I have ever had in Omaha. As if all of this was not enough I also managed to take a couple of bites out of an order of Churros ($6). If you have ever had these on the street in Mexico, you know how good they can be. Mula manages to duplicate this experience.

The food at Mula is some of the best Mexican food I have had in Omaha or, for that matter, in the entire Midwest. Couple that with the service also being excellent. I was particularly impressed with my server’s knowledge of traditional Mexican flavors and ingredients. I have yet to even mention the bar, but I can tell you it has everything you could want in a Mexican Tequileria, including, by my slightly tipsy count, over 160 tequilas.

All of which combines to make Mula a place that everyone reading this should make a point of checking out. If you’re like me and favor a more traditional style of Mexican food, you’re going to love Mula! Cheers!

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Labor of Love

January 19, 2015 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In his first venture, The Grey Plume, chef/owner Clayton Chapman succeeds in proving an old-fashioned belief true: Food made with love truly tastes better.

Chapman now extends that truth across Farnam Street in Midtown Crossing, from what may be the nation’s most sustainable restaurant to Provisions by The Grey Plume, a retail store, artisan grocer, and private dining space opened last fall.

Those familiar with The Grey Plume’s magnificent house-made butter, preserves, and coffee, will swoon upon entering the lovely new space. Jars of jam, marmalade, mustard, apple butter, sauerkraut, and pickled beets with stylish labels denoting batch and jar numbers neatly line tall shelves, neighboring with coffee, bitters, chocolate, butter, baguette, and other inviting, house-made vittles.

“The [Grey Plume] menu is very seasonally driven and influenced by local farm supply,” says Chapman, “so to continue serving local food in winter months, we did a great series of pickling, canning, and preserving. We wanted to make those things that we’ve come to love so much available for home consumers.”

Chapman says he accounted for the short Nebraska produce season and forecasted demand to create a rather large Provisions inventory, which saw some late-fall additions including nut butters, charcuterie, and chocolate work (organic, fair-trade chocolate blended with locally sourced ingredients).

Beyond crystal-balling Provisions’ inventory, Chapman’s very hands-on with its creation. “The charcuterie production, the coffee roasting, the butter production, the chocolate-making,” he rattles off.

Provisions includes a private dining space accommodating 22 seats. It offers special menus and discreet A/V access, making it ideal for everything from birthdays to business. Provisions also offers a series of Saturday cooking classes in its kitchen, covering canning/preserving, knife skills, meat fabrication, and more. Chapman, his staff, and a series of guest chefs lead the sessions.

“We want to make local foods more approachable,” says Chapman. “It’s important to support your local farmers market; we can help people explore what to do with that food once they get it.”

Ceramic and wooden wares are also available alongside other select handmade goodies from local merchants. “We want to provide a well-rounded experience,” Chapman says, referring to non-edible items, like those from Black Iris Botanicals and Benson Soap Mill—vendors perfectly at home here. “The story behind their business practices are pretty wonderful, so we’re happy to partner.”

Provisions, like The Grey Plume, is certified by the Green Restaurant Association.

“It follows the same model—full recycling, full composting program, LED/CFL lighting, many recycled building materials,” says Chapman, pinpointing dining room fixtures and flooring made from recycled farm wood, as well as a gorgeous walnut table made from downed trees. “Besides just being common sense, we want to maintain authenticity and transparency in all our business practices that mirrors our food sourcing.

“It’s a labor of love,” says Chapman. And it’s true…you can taste the love.

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