Tag Archives: review

Sunshine Under Cloudy Skies

August 16, 2017 by
Photography by contributed

Chasin’ a Rainbow. That’s what it felt like at SumTur Amphitheater on Tuesday night, as the clouds covered the sky, and that’s why newgrass band Railroad Earth’s opening song to the opening performance of their August tour seemed appropriate.

Newgrass is a form of bluegrass that incorporates rock and jazz. Railroad Earth band took the stage following an hour-long performance by Vermont-based Twiddle. This opening act was a change from the originally announced Moe, who went on hiatus following the announcement that their bassist was diagnosed with cancer earlier this month. Moe itself was expected to bring a crowd to Papillion, but the venue still sold over 600 tickets.

Twiddle, led by Mihali Savoulidis, brought a distinctively reggae sound to many of the songs in their set, which blared deafeningly from the sound system during much of it.  Then there were songs that sounded fishy…actually, make that Phish-y. The crowd appreciated hearing instrumentals from the popular jam band mixed in with Twiddle’s original music.

But they really appreciated the main act, who brought sunshine to an overcast evening with many of their songs, such as “When the Sun Gets in Your Blood” and “Came Up Smilin’.” The jam band really proved their name with the combination of the songs “The Jupiter and the 119,” “Warhead Boogie,” and “Captain Nowhere.”

Performances lasted an average of 16 minutes each, offering dancers ample time to find the beat. Also of note was young Sophia, age 10, who joyfully hula-hooped throughout the show.

The band was missing Andy Goessling, who plays a variety of string instruments, flute, pennywhistle, and saxophones, as well as sings.

Learn more about Railroad Earth here: railroad.earth. Railroad Earth’s official video for their opening song is below:

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.

raw oysters

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.

Jason Brasch’s Epic Drink

February 10, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mary Tudor’s bloody reign over England in the 16th century—when she turned the nation back to Catholicism, burned heretics at the stake, and killed some 300 Protestants—is believed to have inspired the world’s most popular alcoholic hangover cure in the 20th century. But it was not until the new millennium that the drink was perfected by chef Jason Brasch at Report In Pub, located in Omaha’s Bel Air Plaza.

For in a world of concocted stunt drinks, Report In Pub has defied convention to manifest the most complicated and violent Bloody Mary since the Tudor queen herself.

Brasch, like a mad scientist, says he has tried many unusual cocktail recipes over the years.

“I usually try and make things off ideas I see randomly online,” he says. “Many of them I try and fail, but I always like to try them. I was always good at making Bloody Marys, so having a good mix was easy.”

When asked where the idea to make this particular Bloody Mary recipe came from—topped with a cheeseburger, fried pickle spears, onion rings, chicken wings, a non-fried pickle, olives, celery, and bacon skewered together, all levitating above a giant 36-ounce mug—Brasch admits there was indeed more to the story.

“The idea came because we were exploring the attic and storage spaces in the bar when we found the mugs,” Brasch says. “My friend was hungover and loved my Bloody Marys. He wanted a little sampler of a couple of the [menu] items, and a mini burger, because he was too hungover to eat too much of anything.”

Brasch says his groggy compadre told him a hangover special for people with all those snacks would make a great Bloody Mary deal.

“I had seen places do Bloody Marys with a bunch of food online,” Brasch says. “So I found a skewer and used it to make it look fancy. I still have the picture from my friend with the first one on Facebook.”

What started as a joke soon had neighborhood folks coming in droves.

“We made a Facebook post as kind of a joke, and people started coming in for it,” Brasch says. “We get a lot of nurses and people from the neighborhood who have been coming in since the ’60s.”

According to Brasch, he went to college to become a civil engineer, thus explaining how he managed to design a leaning tower of bar snacks that doesn’t tip over when served. Though his reasons for switching from engineering to hospitality are shrouded in mystery, Brasch says the career change has been lucrative.

“My grandmother had always told my mom to invest in alcohol, hair salons, and tobacco because she said they were all recession proof,” Brasch says of some of the legal things people do for money. “I graduated from the University Nebraska-Lincoln with a civil engineering degree in 2009, but my mom and I wanted to get into the bar business because we realized the potential for a neighborhood pub if run correctly.”

It was a good bet. Brasch says they got a “super-good deal” on the bar. With his mother retiring and looking for something new and fun to do, the bar has become a family investment project.

It’s the customers, however, who get a super-good deal—whether they need to deal with a bloody queen or a bloody-wicked hangover.

Visit reportinpubomaha.com for more information.

This article was printed in the Jan/Feb 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Birrieria El Chalan

January 3, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Step inside Birrieria El Chalan, and the sizzle of grilled meat along with the aromatic scents of cumin, chiles, and other spices are the first signs that Mexican food fans are in for a treat. And once they start digging into a plate of tacos, tortas, or tostadas, they will realize this place is not about Tex-Mex, fusion, or modern Mexican. Instead, the focus is on homestyle, traditional food that, for the most part, is flavorful and done well.

Although there is nothing fancy about the outside or inside of the small, locally owned spot near 24th and J streets in South Omaha. The spare, simple restaurant is a fun, casual, and welcoming place to eat.

El Chalan serves many of the classic favorites one would expect at a Mexican restaurant, but it also offers cuisine from the state of Jalisco in west-central Mexico. Dishes such as birria, a spicy, savory stew made with goat or beef are popular among many patrons. For our recent first-time visit to the restaurant, my dining partner and I skipped the specialties and stuck to more familiar fare.

Complimentary chips and salsa are a great way to start. I could have sat there all day munching on the crispy tortilla chips and fiery red salsa. Medium spicy with a hint of smokiness, the salsa is terrific both as a dip and drizzled on nearly everything. Equally addictive is the house-made guacamole. Slightly chunky with chopped onion, tomato, and cilantro, it boasts a salty, spicy, citrusy balance.

The kitchen does amazing things with tacos, too. My dining partner, a former South O resident who has eaten tacos all over the neighborhood, said they are the best he has tried locally. Diners can choose from more than a half-dozen meat options, ranging from marinated pork to beef tongue. We went with carne asada (grilled steak) tacos.

Warm corn tortillas, soft yet sturdy, hold a generous amount of tender, seasoned steak chopped into small pieces, dressed with onion and cilantro. Diners can add accompanying garnishes of sliced radish, lime, and a blistered whole jalapeño for added texture and flavor.

Tortas, a popular Mexican sandwich, are offered with a choice of meat, topped with lettuce, avocado, pickled jalapeño, and other ingredients on an oval-shaped roll with a pillowy interior and grilled exterior. We tried a torta con lomo (pork loin sandwich). The meat was tender and flavorful, but the bun started falling apart under the weight of all the filling before we could finish.

I’m a huge fan of chile relleno—a poblano pepper stuffed with mild white cheese, battered, and then fried until golden brown—but the restaurant’s version missed the mark for me. A zesty tomato-based sauce drowned the pepper, making the breading soggy. And I thought the sauce was too thin and watery. The entree comes with fluffy seasoned rice and creamy refried beans.

The restaurant takes cash only, but you won’t need much. Tacos cost $2; entrees run about $8. Despite the shortcomings, our overall dining experience was satisfying. Those looking for a casual, low-key spot that highlights traditional flavors of Mexico will find it at Birrieria El Chalan.

Rating:

Food- 3.5 stars

Service- 3 stars

Ambiance- 2 stars

Price- $

Overall- 3.5 stars

Visit http://Facebook.com/pages/birrieria-el-chalan/168661723148405 for more information.

This article was printed in the Jan/Feb 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

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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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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Mahogany Prime

December 4, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When you think about that special night out, celebrating a promotion, impressing a client, or perhaps your next anniversary, you want to pick a restaurant like this one.

Mahogany Prime is a restaurant that knows exactly who they are, and they embrace it. It is considered a premium Omaha steakhouse, a place for special events. They deserve the reputation they have cultivated, from making the reservation to the personal “Thank You” as you exit, they hang their hat on impeccable service.

My recent visit was no exception.

When we made our reservation, they asked if we were celebrating anything special. They understand the perfect way to welcome guests is to make their visit personal. Mahogany Prime is decorated like a traditional steakhouse, with dark woods, rich textures, warm colors, and a perfectly set white clothed table. The table and booths are arranged with intimacy in mind, and you feel as if you are the only ones there. It was full when we dined, but not noisy. We were able to enjoy our conversation, something that is difficult in many restaurants today. The lead server greeted us and offered our choice of water before discussing the wine and cocktail offerings. We selected a bottle Terra D’Oro Red Zinfandel from the Deaver Vineyards of California ($45). It was modestly priced and we enjoyed it thoroughly. There is an extensive choice of wines available and the staff is very well trained in assisting with the perfect selection for your preferences. If you want to pick a wine to impress, you’ll find it at Mahogany Prime.

The assistant server arrived to discuss the features of the menu, and her knowledge of the offerings and preparations bore the stamp of a good training program. On this occasion they had three bone-in steaks available, including a Bison steak. Her description of the Lobster Cargot ($29.99) made our selection of the appetizer almost an obligation; we knew we would miss out on something special had we not ordered it.

Just prior to our appetizer arriving they presented warmed plates. Cue the anticipation. In the typical Cargot preparation, the creamy Havarti cheese was toasted perfectly atop succulent lobster in piping-hot, melted butter. And it was served with freshly baked bread so you could enjoy every drop. It was that good!

Next we enjoyed the Mahogany Prime salad ($7.99), a mixture of five greens with slivered carrots, sliced radishes, tomato, tangy goat cheese, toasted candied nuts…all tossed in a house-made creamy parmesan dressing.

As is the way of a steakhouse of this caliber, steaks and the accompaniments are ordered a la’ carte. I selected a 14 oz. Prime New York Strip ($45.99) and my dining partner an 8oz Filet ($39.99). We elected to share the Au Gratin Potatoes ($9.99) and the Fresh Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce ($12.99).

When our steaks arrived sizzling from the grill and placed in front of us, we were asked to cut into the center of the steak to confirm they were prepared to our liking. Our savvy server looked at my dining partner’s steak and knew it was not as requested. She handled it expertly. Soon a series of managers were stopping by and, before long, the steak was returned perfectly cooked. You might think this would have distracted from a perfect evening, but the staff had been so expertly trained it somehow turned into a big plus. The beef was prime as advertised. The Au Gratin Potatoes were a masterpiece of spuds in a cream sauce topped with seasoned bread crumbs and golden brown cheese. The etherial, lemony Hollandaise sauce was served on the side of the fresh and perfectly
steamed asparagus.

At this point we absolutely could have (and should have) been done, but you can’t celebrate without a little dessert. We selected the house-made bread pudding with Cognac cream sauce to share, but it was a tough choice considering the five layer chocolate cake that was also on the menu. We enjoyed our dessert with espresso before learning that our server had taken the dessert off the check as an apology for the very slightly miss-cooked steak.

I mentioned earlier about the great service fueled by the team-style attention at every step of our visit. The thing about excellent service is that it is competent without being intrusive. It is woven into the fabric of the experience so that you don’t even notice when, say, a server deftly replaces a fork between courses, almost as if by sleight-of-hand.

Give Mahogany Prime a try for your next special dinner. You won’t be disappointed.

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Modern Love

December 3, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
If there’s any question about whether Omaha is ready for a new all-vegan restaurant, the first couple month’s of Modern Love’s dinner service seems like a definitive answer.

“We are packed nightly,” says co-owner Isa Chandra Moskowitz. “For the first month we were basically booked every night. So yes, apparently Omaha is receptive to vegan food. It’s awesome.”

The city has been buzzing about vegan food since Moskowitz announced last year she’d be opening a restaurant somewhere in the city—the biggest local news in vegan food since popular lunch spot Daily Grub closed in 2011.

Moskowitz, a Brooklyn native, co-creator of the Post-Punk Kitchen web series and website (with frequent collaborator Terry Hope Romero), and author of eight vegan cookbooks—her most recent, Isa Does It, was released in October 2013—relocated to Omaha a few years ago to be with her boyfriend. After consulting in Omaha’s dining scene, she engineered a meatless Monday menu at the Benson Brewery last year.

A venture of her own seemed inevitable.

“There isn’t a vegan restaurant here, or even really a vegetable-focused restaurant,” Moskowitz adds, “and it feels important to create something like that right in the middle of the country.”

Moskowitz leased the space on South 50th Street next to O’Leaver’s Pub in August 2013. She partnered with Krug Park owners Jim Johnson, Dustin Bushon, Marc Leibowitz, and Jonathan Tvrdik. She then brought on chef Michaela Maxwell, and started renovating.

“I’m still working on the décor,” Moskowitz said after her first month in operation. “I thought it would be better to start with simplicity and build on things when we saw how the restaurant actually looked and functioned once filled with people.”

And the name “Modern Love?”

“The plain truth behind the name was that I couldn’t decide on a name,” Moskowitz says. “As I drove to scout out a restaurant location a few years ago, the song “Modern Romance” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs came on. And I was like, ‘That’s a great name!’ But friends thought that was a bit much, and it became Modern Love.”

And with Modern Love’s menu of “swanky vegan comfort food,” it makes sense, Moskowitz says.

“It’s comfort food with a modern twist, made with love.”

Some of those modern takes on familiar fare include—for now, as the menu will change every few months—stuffed and fried zucchini blossoms with a zucchini slaw and grilled summer squashes; a modern nicoise salad with chickpea salad and devilled potatoes standing in for the traditional eggs alongside green beans, tomatoes, and olives; a marsala entrée that puts seitan (aka wheat gluten) at the forefront with a root vegetable mash, herbs, and greens; and desserts including pies and non-dairy ice creams.

“The Mac & Shews is far and away the most popular menu item,” Moskowitz said. “It’s our cashew-based mac and cheese sauce, pecan-crusted tofu, barbecue cauliflower and the most amazing sautéed garlicky kale and okra in the world in a tomato vinaigrette. Michaela did a really bang-up job
with that dish.”

For the first month, seating at the restaurant was by-reservation-only, Nice problem for a business owner to have. In order to encourage walk-ins, Moskowitz recently updated her online reservation system so the restaurant is only half-booked on any given day.

“I am not the type of person who’s going to give a speech to convince anyone that vegetables are delicious—which is good,” she says, “because people are just coming in and finding out for themselves.”

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Marks Bistro

August 18, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Dundee has always been one of my favorite Omaha neighborhoods. I just love all the magnificent old houses and perfectly landscaped yards. I am also a big fan of the Dundee restaurant scene.

Since 2003, Marks Bistro has been an important part of that scene. Chef/Owner Mark Pluhacek and his partner, Molly Romero, have been delighting Dundee diners for years with great cuisine and service. In February of last year Pluhacek decided to step back from the day-to-day kitchen operations and hired veteran Omaha Chef James Davis. I recently had a chance to dine there and thought I would share my
experience with you.

One of the cool things about Marks Bistro is that it is actually built on the second and third floor of an old Dundee house. The dining rooms are small and numerous, just like the floor plan of a home. The windows from the dining room overlook bustling Underwood Avenue, which is the heart of Dundee. The handsome bar is in the center of the main dining room. On the third floor there are even smaller private dining rooms that one must assume were bedrooms. The garden patio is one of my favorite spots, and it is just like eating in a gorgeous garden of an old, turn-of-the-century house. It is by no means the most beautiful restaurant I have ever seen, but all the elements do work together well to provide a really nice, comfortable, homey feel.

I was curious to see how much the menu had changed since my last visit and since Chef Davis’ arrival. As I expected, many of the selections seemed new, but I did recognize a couple of favorite dishes from past visits. I was intrigued to see that Davis has been doing a lot of experimenting with Sous Vide meats. Sous Vide is a French cooking technique that has recently become very popular in America. It is a method that involves vacuum packaging the food, then poaching it for many hours (sometimes days) in an agitated water bath at the low cooking temperature of 131 degrees. The results can be mind-blowing.

For appetizers, my dining partner and I started with the Bistro Fries ($4.50) and the Charcuterie Plate ($12). The Bistro Fries come with a house-made catsup as well as a rosemary truffle aioli for dipping. They were seasoned perfectly and had a great texture. The charcuterie plate was equally impressive with three excellent cured meats and a couple of artisan cheeses. For entrees I had the to try the Sous Vide-style 48 Hour Short Ribs ($24).

I’m sure glad I did. The boneless, short-rib meat was actually still pink in the center, but still incredibly tender. The cabernet demi glace went perfectly with the meat as well as the garlic mashed potatoes, roasted baby carrots, and sauteed spinach. My dining partner had the famous Macaroni and Cheese ($10). This dish has been on the menu for a long time, and many feel it is the best mac and cheese in Omaha. I’m inclined to agree, as it is hard to not like the cavatappi pasta, the rich, four-cheese sauce with cheddar, Havarti, Asiago and blue cheeses, all topped with a toasted panko crust. We finished off the meal with the Whiskey Bread Pudding ($6). This deliciously decadent bread pudding is smothered in caramel sauce and whipped cream. Yum!

The service at Mark’s has always been casual, friendly and good. This visit was no exception. Combine that with the expertly curated wine and beer list to complement the stellar food, and dining at Mark’s is a really solid experience. I plan to make a point of getting over there more often and encourage you to do the same. Cheers!

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