Tag Archives: fresh

Pla Too’s Thai Cuisine

September 18, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In a state covered in cattle and dominated by steakhouses, restaurants that serve quality fish may appear few and far between. But those who have eaten at Pla Too’s Thai know better.

Chinna Pat, the newest owner of the former Tas’s Thai Pepper, is working to change the face of Thai food in Omaha. With a nickname like Pla, (the Thai word for fish) there is no doubt that it’s her specialty, and she is serving it up fresh every day.

Originally from a small town north of Bangkok, Pla was taught how to cook authentic Thai from her mother. One of three children, she decided to come to the states in 2003 as a foreign exchange student in Shenandoah, Iowa.

A few years later she moved to Omaha to attend the University of Nebraska-Omaha, where she worked as a waitress in a Thai restaurant downtown to help pay for her school. With her degree in international business from UNO, she responded to a online post about needing help with visas.

The poster, Tassanai Kaitkaiwansiri and known as Ta, soon became one of Pla’s closest friends in the states. He had taken over the restaurant from its original owner and made it into Tas’s Thai Pepper before offering to sell it to Pla in 2013.

Now, one year later, Pla has made the former Pizza Hut building into a real Thai experience. The staff is small—just Pla and two of her cousins. One helps in the kitchen and the other works the dining floor.

“We are a family,” Pla says with a beaming smile, “and I treat all of my customers like friends and family. That’s what brings people back every day.”

Pla believes in not only great-tasting food, but also keeping things healthy. Any guest with dietary needs is tended to by Pla herself, who then prepares a meal tailored just for them. And for those nervous about trying Thai food, don’t believe all the stereotypes.

“Some people believe Thai food is all about spices,” Pla says. “If you went to Thailand and expected spice in your Pad Thai, they would laugh. We will prepare your food to your preference—spice or no spice.”

Along with fresh fish, the produce served is all from local farmers markets. It’s all about helping each other, Pla explains. Buying locally not only ensures fresh flavors, but it helps other business owners.

“Omaha is my second home,” Pla adds. “I’ve lived here for over ten years and I love it.”

Pla Too’s also does a brisk business in take-out and also offers catering services. A separate, more health-conscious menu is in the works to meet the demands of dining trends. And Pla hopes to one day have a food truck so she can reach other parts of town.

Thailand is known as “The Land of Smiles,” and Pla is determined to send every customer home with a satisfied grin.

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Colin and Jessica Duggan

November 11, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The next time you sit down for dinner at Kitchen Table, one of the newest restaurants in Downtown Omaha, you might want to take a closer look at the diners next to you—your salad might have come from them.

Husband and wife owners Colin and Jessica Duggan started Kitchen Table to highlight local food. They’ve been touched by the relationships built with local customers and farmers, eager to bring the Duggans everything from rabbits to peaches to use in their restaurant.

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“We wanted to embrace the trend of local, organic products but in a more casual and all-accessible setting,” Colin says. Even the couple’s menu planning is casual. They decide what to cook based on what’s in season and what’s local.  But they also just want to share with customers what they like to eat. Jessica likes tacos, and Colin likes pasta, so a recent dinner menu included chile verde chicken tacos one night and potato gnocchi with a local tomato vodka sauce the next.

Colin is the head chef at Kitchen Table while Jessica handles everything else. They met 12 years ago after Colin returned home to Omaha from working in Boston. His work later took them both to San Francisco, but Omaha was calling them back.

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“We really started to realize the potential of local food in Omaha and how it was kind of a missing piece in Omaha,” Colin says. “The idea was to bring it [the local food movement] back—to go out in the world, gather tools, and come back and build a house.” In October, the Duggans found a space and began building their “house”—a comfortable restaurant that served homemade food and showcased local produce. On June 4, 2013, they opened to the public, and Kitchen Table was born.

There’s no question as to what goes on in the kitchen, due to its open format located right in the center of the restaurant. Seated at the bar, customers can order their food, watch how it’s cooked, and be served all without leaving their seats. The open kitchen was one of the Duggans’ must-haves, in order to make Kitchen Table a “home away from home, where anyone can find something to eat,” according to Jessica.

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Fortunately for Colin and Jessica, home isn’t far away. Both Omaha natives, they say they’ve received tremendous support from family members in the area. They can always call on Colin’s mom or Jessica’s dad if they are out of paper towels or forgot something at the farmers market. Meanwhile, the bar at Kitchen Table has its own history with the family. The bar originally came from Jessica’s cousin in Bennington, who was looking to get rid of it.

While the Duggans cherish the relationships they’ve built during their short time so far at Kitchen Table, the one they cherish most is their relationship with each other. Colin says that opening Kitchen Table was “always about us being able to work together,” because they rarely saw each other in their previous jobs. Both admitted with a laugh that they still like each other, even after working together almost all day, seven days a week.

Although word has spread about Kitchen Table, Colin and Jessica currently have no plans to expand. They are focusing on keeping their menu fresh and simple and continuing to share “slow food fast” with Omaha.

Restaurant Review: Lot 2

November 7, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Benson is fast becoming one of Omaha’s most revitalized old neighborhoods. Maple Street now offers some of the best dining and nightlife experiences in the city. In May 2012, Brad and Johanna Marr opened Lot 2, and in doing so raised the bar for fine establishments in Benson and throughout Omaha.

The space itself is simply stunning. A beautiful brick wall lines one side of the restaurant and an inviting wood bar lines the other. In between are attractive wood tables and a lavish wood-paneled ceiling. There is also a nice patio seating area in the back. I really like the look of this place. Neither over-designed nor over-decorated, it is just plain comfortable and warm.

Meat and Cheese Boards

Meat and Cheese Boards

Executive Chef Joel Mahr is seemingly a big proponent of the “buy fresh, buy local” movement since he sources pretty much the entire menu from local farms and producers. The slate of offerings changes frequently and has something for everyone’s taste, including a variety of sandwiches, appetizers, main dishes, meat and cheese boards, and desserts.

On a recent visit, my dining partner and I started off with one of their often celebrated meat and cheese boards ($9) that included two local cheeses and their house-made pork rillette, along with spiced nuts, garlic confit, tomato jam, Dijon mustard, stuffed dates, and Le Quartier baguette. It’s easy to see why they these boards are so acclaimed. If I had known the serving was going to be so substantial, I probably would not have also ordered the crab fritters ($12) as an appetizer. But it’s a good thing I did, for I would have otherwise missed out on these crispy morsels with a spicy jalapeno aioli and cool cucumber salsa verde. The combo was fantastic.

The Bourbon Chocolate Malt

The Bourbon Chocolate Malt

For entrees, we had the bangers and mash ($14), which was perfectly cooked house-made sausage, lumpy mashed potatoes, and a tasty, stout onion gravy that perfectly complemented this dish. We also had the Truebridge Farms pork chop ($23), which had been brined, making it very moist and nicely seasoned. It was topped with a cherry pistachio relish and served with creamed leeks and a potato confit. I give this dish my top marks. At this point, I must admit I was getting very full, but as an unselfish service to you, the reader, I persevered and also sampled a dessert. The bourbon chocolate malt ($6) is a decadent concoction with small chunks of rich chocolate brownie suspended within. Yum!

Brick and rich wood hues set the tone at Lot 2.

Brick and rich wood hues set the tone at Lot 2.

I have to admit that the wine list at Lot 2 really surprised me. I was not expecting such an extensive and well-curated selection from so many growing regions and varietals. The beer list is also quite remarkable and, like most of the nicer places in Omaha these days, Lot 2 also had a good selection of craft cocktails.

As you might have deduced by now, I am a big fan of Lot 2’s food and beverage. That being said, I think it is possible that the service is its best feature. The style of service is warm, friendly, and casual. The level of understanding among the service staff regarding their array of food and beverage is unmatched anywhere else in Omaha. If this sounds too good to be true, then go check it out for yourself. Just be sure to make a reservation because the word is already out on how good this place is.

Cheers!

 Lot 2
6207 Maple Street
402-504-4200
M-Th/4-11pm, F-Sat/4pm-12am, Sun/10am-2pm
lot2benson.com

 RATING (5 Stars Possible)

Food & Beverage: ****
Service: ****
Ambiance: ****
Price: $$
Overall: ****

Tomato Tomäto

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Tomato Tomäto, a year-round, indoor farmers market whose name plays off the debate over how to pronounce the name of the versatile fruit (Yes, it’s a fruit, not a vegetable), is a must-stop-shop for many in the Omaha area who enjoy fresh produce, eggs, nuts, many organic goods, and more.

Tucked back from street view near 156th and Bob Booser Drive (just north of West Center Road) in West Omaha, the store carries products from dozens of vendors, all of them local. However you say it, it’s a win-win for the entire Omaha community.

Jody Fritz and her husband, Jeremy, were no strangers to the local farmers markets. As regular weekend representatives of Jody’s father-in-law’s O’Neill, Neb., farm, Garden Fresh Vegetables, the couple got to know the other vendors pretty well.20120904_bs_9299 copy

As the weather grew cooler and the outdoor markets closed up shop, the couple realized they and their fellow vendors still had plenty to offer would-be consumers. “There still is a lot out there when the markets end, so we kind of came up with this idea,” says Fritz. That idea was to utilize the front portion of the Garden Fresh Vegetables’ Omaha warehouse as a year-round farmers market. Vendors bring their products into the shop and set their own prices, and Tomato Tomäto receives a commission off of everything that sells.

“We didn’t really have any capital to start, so that’s where the consignment idea came from, and it’s worked out well,” explains Fritz. “Consumers pay a little less than they would at Whole Foods…and the producers make more money than they do selling wholesale, so it’s kind of a nice middle place for everybody.”

“We’ll have winter squashes and greens that grow in greenhouses—lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes, some peppers, those kinds of things—all year round.” – Jody Fritz, co-owner

Since the store opened nearly five years ago, the number of vendors has grown from five to 100. “As more vendors come in, each kind of has their own following, so then all their customers come in and they become customers of a lot of the other vendors,” says Fritz.

Products range from-fresh produce, eggs, milk, and meats (farm fresh chicken, beef, fish, ostrich, and more) to local wines, salsas, soup starters, breads, and pastas, just to name few. “There are always a lot of things going on.” All inventory is fresh and local; organic, as well as gluten-free, options are available.20120904_bs_9295 copy

Regarding the year-round produce selection, Fritz says that, understandably, there is an ebb and flow throughout the year. “We’ll have winter squashes and greens that grow in greenhouses—lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes, some peppers, those kinds of things—all year round.”

But Fritz concedes that because Tomato Tomäto specializes in locally produced foods, there are certain items that her store will never be able to offer her customers. “We won’t ever have bananas in Nebraska,” she says through a chuckle. “I get that there are limitations to the place, but I’m just going to embrace those rather than trying to be something we aren’t. I can’t compromise…there are so many foods you can eat in season.”

The colder months bring with them opportunities for customers to order free-range, organic turkeys for Thanksgiving, as well as buy homemade holiday pies and find locally produced spirits to ring in the New Year and celebrate Valentine’s Day. “There’s always a season for everything, it seems,” says Fritz.

Alyssa LeGrand has been a customer of Tomato Tomäto since the market opened and says the quality of the produce is fantastic. “I like to support local farmers and anybody with their own business,” she says. Appreciating the competitive prices, LeGrand says she often stops in on a weekly basis.20120904_bs_9291 copy

On the supplier side, Ryan Pekarek, owner of Pekarek Produce in Dwight, Neb., has been bringing his produce to Tomato Tomäto for three years and says he looks forward to continuing to work with Fritz in the future. “[Tomato Tomäto] is nice because you come back with an empty truck every time.”

In addition to the market side of the business, Tomato Tomäto also runs a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Program in which customers can become members of the CSA by purchasing shares in the program and, every week, receive fresh produce and local products. “I just didn’t have enough room for everything people wanted to bring in, so we were trying to find a way for the farmers to bring their food here and to get it into the hands of people quickly.”

For some, this indoor farmers market may just be the best-kept secret in Omaha. For others, specifically the approximately 100 vendors that supply a wide variety of products to Tomato Tomäto’s devoted customers, it’s the answer to their prayers.

Tomato Tomäto
2634 S. 156th Cir.
402-933-0893
tomatotomato.org