Tag Archives: Vidlak’s Brookside Cafe

Chili and Cinnamon Rolls

January 9, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Pairing chili and cinnamon rolls is a Midwest point of pride that may perplex visitors from less-centered states. When the cold weather hits, warm chili and gooey cinnamon rolls are a familiar combination that comforts Midwestern bellies.

“The Midwest is about comfort foods,” says Brent Ganey, co-owner of Garden Café in Rockbrook Village. “Warm, hearty chili topped off with a sweet sticky roll is just what we need to get through the winter.”

Garden Café has a chili and cinnamon roll recipe that originated from school lunch ladies in Dow City, Iowa. Garden Café founder Ron Popp had an aunt who worked in the kitchen and wanted to share her recipe with the world.

“I love a big bowl of chili on a cold, wintry day, wrapped in a blanket with my family on the couch, a good football game on the set, and the good old feeling of love,” says Ganey, who had his first experience of chili and cinnamon rolls when his grandmother took him to Garden Café as a child.

The origins of this unique meal are unknown, but Mix 97-3, a Sioux Falls radio station, speculated that it began in logging camps of the Great Lakes region, where cooks poured leftover chili on top of cinnamon rolls. The heartiness of the meat in the chili and the sugar in the frosting supposedly gave loggers the boost they needed to complete their workday. Other accounts suggest that cinnamon—a common ingredient in chili—led to this delicious discovery.

People are eating chili and cinnamon rolls all over the Midwest, and each cook says theirs is the best—even at fast-food franchises. Chili and cinnamon rolls appear on the menus of Runza restaurants every winter, making the Lincoln-headquartered company a power player when it comes to public perception.

The Midwestern fast-food restaurant began selling chili and cinnamon rolls in 2007 after the success of their partnership with Miller & Paine, who provided cinnamon rolls at Runza’s fast casual concept Braeda Fresh Express Café, says Donald Everett Jr., the president of Runza. 

Everett has worked at Runza since he was 12. His grandmother started the restaurant in 1940, and his father expanded the family food empire with additional locations.

Runza has served chili for over 40 years, and Everett says the recipe has remained the same: “Until you’ve really dipped a chunk of cinnamon roll in that chili, you have no idea. It’s kind of like chocolate and peanut butter. Once you’ve tried it, it’s actually pretty tasty.”

Everett says his elementary school, Ruth Hill Elementary, served the combo when he was a kid. He often hears from fellow Nebraskans who first tasted the gooey-sweet combo in their own school cafeterias.

“It’s a common combination here, and that’s why we don’t think it’s weird,” he says. “But it’s like our state slogan: It’s not for everyone.”

Many Omaha-area restaurants offer chili and cinnamon rolls separately on their menu, which can be ordered together.

Wheatfields Eatery & Bakery is also acclaimed for their cinnamon rolls. If they seem familiar, it is probably because the recipe comes from founder Ron Popp’s hometown of  Dow City, Iowa. (Yes, the same Popp who founded Garden Café.)

“I love chili and cinnamon rolls together. It’s one of my top-10 meals,” Popp says.

As with speculation on the origin of chili and cinnamon rolls, there is not a clear consensus on how to eat them. Some prefer dipping the roll into chili, others prefer eating them separately, and a particular few scoop the chili directly on top of the roll. This is what makes the dish so special—everyone can pick their own way to dig in.

“I think chili was a staple item in the days of people being a lot less available to cook, either because of availability or expense,” Popp says. “Our rolls are soft and pillowy and large. And chili is reasonable cost-wise, and everyone could be a little creative with how they make it.”

Local varieties of chili abound, though not every restaurant offers cinnamon rolls.

“Cinnamon rolls are a nod to hearty school lunches. The sweet frosting makes a perfect complement to the savory soup.” says Molly Skold, a marketing executive at Mutual of Omaha who helped organize the Midtown Chili Crawl & Cookoff on Nov. 4.

The cookoff showcased eight of Omaha’s top chili chefs representing area restaurants. Vendors competed for the vote of Best Chili in Town. Culprit Cafe and Bakery, which offers chili and cinnamon rolls at their restaurant, offered discounted cinnamon rolls at their booth to add to the experience.

Chili and cinnamon roll pairings also can be at found Vidlak’s Brookside Café, Panera Bread, 11-Worth Cafe, LeadBelly, and other locations around town.


This article was printed in the January/February 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Restaurant Review: Vidlak’s Brookside Cafe

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

On the corner of Bob Boozer Drive and West Center Road, you will find one of West Omaha’s favorite breakfast and lunch hot spots.This would be the family-owned Vidlak’s Brookside Cafe, which has been serving the happy masses since 1996. I recently rediscovered this busy, little cafe and thought I would share my thoughts on it with you.

Vidlak’s sits in a corner endcap of a strip mall with limited parking, but that does not seem to deter guests from circling around the parking lot until they can find a spot and going in to wait for a table. Inside, it’s obvious that Vidlak’s will not be the recipients of any design or decor awards; but the restaurant is well-maintained, clean, and brightly lit. One thing that I really like about the layout of Vidlak’s is that the tables are not too crammed together, and there’s room to spread out, as well as enough light to read your Sunday newspaper.20121129_bs_5813 copy

The weekend staff at Vidlak’s is mostly young and inexperienced, which can present some issues at times. What the young staff lacks in experience they make up for in friendliness, and they never seem fazed no matter how ‘deep in the weeds’ they may actually be. Every time I have eaten at Vidlak’s, I have waited for at least 15-25 minutes for the food to come. It’s hard to tell if this is a slow service issue, slow kitchen issue, or just bad luck on my part. My hunch is that it’s probably a little of each. That being said, the regulars do not seem to mind the delay and must just chalk it up to the cost of a good, fresh-cooked breakfast after church.

The food is the reason this restaurant is so popular. The breakfast and lunch dishes are cooked fresh to order and are quite good. The menu is fairly expansive and has pretty much everything you could want in a breakfast/lunch café, as well as several signature dishes that are actually quite creative. I should also note that the portions are generous and prices are on the inexpensive side, which are both good things in my book. On a recent visit, I tried the Omaha Omelette ($7.99). This fresh-cooked 3-egg omelette has diced chicken, diced tomatoes, and broccoli topped with melted mozzarella cheese. The omelette was made the proper way, using a pan instead of a flat grill, cooked perfectly, not greasy, and was very enjoyable. The accompanying hash browns were also delicious. My dining partner had the Eggs Benedict ($7.99). Anyone who regularly orders this dish at restaurants can tell you that it’s an easy one to screw up. Not at Vidlak’s, though, as it was executed perfectly and also recommended.20121129_bs_5819 copy

Lunch at Vidlak’s is very good as well. In the past, I have tried their burgers, sandwiches, and salads, and every time the food was excellent. So if you’re looking for an inexpensive, family-friendly, fresh breakfast or lunch, and you’re not in too much of a hurry, then Vidlak’s Brookside Cafe is a place that you really must try.

Cheers!

Vidlak’s Brookside Cafe
15668 W. Center Rd.
402-330-0914
vidlaksbrooksidecafe.com

RATING (5 Stars Possible)

Food & Beverage: ***
Service: *1/2
Ambiance: **1/2
Price: Inexpensive
Overall: **1/2