Tag Archives: España

Little Espana

April 9, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann


Taking advantage of an unseasonably warm, 70-degree day in late February, I settled into an outdoor table at Little España to enjoy the sunshine, sip sangria, and savor the flavors of Spain. The Rockbrook Village restaurant is one of Omaha’s many great ethnic spots where diners can transport their taste buds—no passport or plane ticket needed. Talented chefs, careful technique, and fresh ingredients result in flavorful, beautifully plated dishes that celebrate Spanish cuisine.

Omahan Carlos Mendez opened Little España in December 2014 as a sister restaurant to the original España, a fixture of the Benson neighborhood for 13 years. Mendez, a Benson España employee, purchased the business from owner Bill Graves in 2009 and operated it until it closed last fall. In its former spot at 60th and Maple streets is Au Courant Regional Kitchen, also run by Mendez and Omaha chef Benjamin Maides.

Serrano ham wrapped stuffed dates

Fans of the original España will find all their favorites at the Rockbrook Village location. The Spanish restaurant specializes in tapas (small, shareable plates) and paella (a rice-based dish with a variety of seafood, vegetables, and meat). For our visit, we focused on tapas. There are dozens of cold and hot tapas, divided into vegetarian, seafood, and meat. Only a few tapas are listed at more than $10 on the menu.

Sharing is part of the fun of small-plates dining, and a good rule of thumb is two or three tapas per person, depending on one’s appetite. My dining partner and I chose five tapas to share, selecting a mix of hot and cold, hearty and light. Our favorites included serrano ham and chicken croquettes—crispy on the outside and pillowy on the inside. Another popular tapas, the serrano ham platter, features thinly sliced dry-cured Spanish ham served with pickled vegetables and garlic confit, accompanied by slices of warm, crusty bread.

Fresh mozzarella plate

A fresh mozzarella plate had a nice balance of flavors and textures, with its firm, mild mozzarella balls, basil, olive oil, and zesty sun-dried tomato puree. Those with a taste for meat and potatoes may want to try the solomillo fries—crispy diced potatoes topped with shaved steak, melted cheese, spicy aioli, and pickled onions to cut through the richness. Serrano ham-wrapped fried dates stuffed with blue cheese and marcona almonds satisfied, but we wished the bite-size morsels were more savory-salty than sweet. The dish could easily pass for dessert.

All the tapas we tried worked well with a fruity, refreshing glass of house sangria—red or white wine infused with orange, lemon, lime, and apple. One quibble with the drink: None of the fruit made it into the glass. The restaurant’s cozy, inviting dining room features decorative ceiling tiles, Spanish music, wood and brick details, and Spanish-inspired artwork. Diners can catch a glimpse of the chefs working in the semi-open kitchen.

Serrano ham and chicken croquettes

For food lovers who are into sharing and trying new dishes, enjoying tapas at Little España is a fun, delicious experience. The hard part is narrowing down the choices. After our meal, we left stuffed, happy, and ready for a siesta.

Visit espanaomaha.com for more information.


February 22, 2017 by


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Melissa Dundis

February 9, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In a dim corner of Dundee’s Blue Line Coffee, Melissa Dundis places petite fingers to six nylon strings. A strum, followed by the coo of her voice, and the windowless back half of the café is aglow. Her hand glides up, down, over, and across the thick neck of her classical guitar as her nails pluck out a slow, steady rhythm. “I get by with what I have/Like a caveman,” the 26-year-old’s lyrics and melody are spellbindingly simple.

“Sometimes the song happens all at once. Once I pick up a vibe, I just start singing,” says Dundis.“I’ll write a verse then find what key I want the song in. It really starts from inside.”

By day, Dundis serves as the only female disc jockey at an independent radio station, but by night she’s a classical guitarist and vocalist, performing at venues across Omaha from España to the Side Door Lounge to Pageturners. A graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Music Education program, Dundis also teaches private guitar lessons on the side.

Dundis first began playing when she found an acoustic guitar in the basement. Her grandfather, a former bar owner, obtained the instrument after a drunk gave it to him in trade for a bottle of whisky. She picked up classical guitar as a student at UNO. At first, she only performed one hour a day. This evolved to four hours a day as her senior recital approached.

“I couldn’t have been happier to witness her success in the classical program,” says Michael Saklar, Dundis’ former guitar teacher. “I’ve had close to a thousand students over 25 years, and she stands out at the top.”

Even as a kid growing up in Springfield, Nebraska, Dundis was obsessed with the rhythmic flow and simplicity of folk rock. At age 4, Dundis remembers requesting her first song on the radio—Neil Young’s “No More.” While her peers sang “I wanna zigazig-ah” along to the Spice Girls, Dundis listened to songs created for older audiences and looked for ways to share her connection to this music with others.

More than 20 years later, she continues this as a part-time DJ at KVNO, a station primarily devoted to classical music. As one of the youngest staff members, she writes her own scripts and plans to help KVNO reach new audiences by playing unique interpretations of classical music, creating playlists that mix opera, video game theme music, and compositions by the Talking Heads.

Dundis hopes to release a self-penned EP soon, but for now her focus remains on radio. She’s vying for a full-time gig at KVNO and contemplating a future as a radio producer. Whether she’s holding a radio mic or her guitar, Dundis’ passion and belief in music is unwavering.

“Music has the ability to help us recognize our own artistic gifts,” she says.

Visit soundcloud.com/melissa-dundis to hear her work.