Tag Archives: seafood

The Big Easy in the Big O

February 23, 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.

Fat BBQ Shack

July 1, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Barbecue is gaining in popularity. It has become so popular that Europeans now consider barbecue to be the cuisine of America. I am OK with that. Real barbecue does not come from that thing on your deck used to create char marks on steaks. Real barbecue refers to the culinary style that involves slowly cooking tough, inexpensive cuts of meat over hardwood charcoal until they become tender, smoky, and delicious.

FatShack1Barbecuing is not easy. It’s an art form, and good barbecue technique is something that takes people years to master. Fat BBQ Shack owner Cary Dunn has perfected his style of barbecue. The original Fat Shack started as a food truck and has since become a brick-and-mortar restaurant at 30th and Webber streets. It’s easy to figure out where the restaurant is in the Webber Place shopping center, since the line often stretches out the door.

The inside of the restaurant is nothing fancy, but it’s clean and serviceable. Most folks might refer to the place as a barbecue joint. It’s a small place that looks smaller because it is usually packed. Wood chairs surround lacquered wood tabletops. A roll of paper towels and two bottles of the Fat Shack’s housemade barbecue sauce top each table. You order at the counter from a well laid-out menu board. Then you can either take your barbecue to go or eat it there—if you can find a table.

The menu is quite extensive for a barbecue joint. The Fat Shack has a large selection of sandwiches, burgers, hand-breaded seafood, and, of course, smoked meat dinners with all the sides. The meats include brisket, pulled pork, ribs, rib tips, sausage, smoked turkey, and smoked half chickens. The sides include baked beans, potato salad, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, green beans, corn on the cob, fresh-cut fries, fried okra, collard greens, and homemade potato chips.

On a recent visit, I braved the crowds and ordered a “Three Meat Dinner” ($14.99) which comes with two sides and choice of sliced bread or cornbread. I ordered brisket, pulled pork, and ribs. Brisket must be the chef’s specialty. It had a crisp black exterior, pink inner smoke ring, and a juicy, melt-in-your-mouth texture. It tastes incredible. The pulled pork is also good, but not on the same level as the brisket. The rib meat falls off the bones and tasted great, but I like ribs to stick on the bones a little more. For sides, I had the macaroni and cheese, and the collard greens. The macaroni and cheese is amazing—easily the best I know of in Omaha. The collard greens are also a real treat, perfectly seasoned and braised with smoky bacon. I also sampled the cornbread, which was hot, moist, and yummy.

FatShack3On another lunchtime visit, I tried the “Carolina Sandwich” ($7.99). This giant sandwich is piled high with moist smoked pork then topped with a vinaigrette pepper sauce and their crisp, creamy coleslaw. The combination is incredible, definitely a must-try. I also tried “The Shack Attack” ($8.99). This gluttonous dish is a giant mound of fresh-cut fries, nacho cheese sauce, choice of meat (I went with the brisket), barbecue sauce, shredded cheese, sour cream, ranch dressing, jalapeños, and chives. If this does not fill you up, nothing will. I have never enjoyed stuffing myself more than with this decadent and delicious pile of a meal.

If you’re getting the feeling that I like the Fat Shack, then you are right. The Fat Shack has moved itself to the No. 1 spot on my list of favorite barbecue joints, and that is really saying something. You owe it to yourself to go give it try.

FatShack2

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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