Tag Archives: Joel Mahr

What a Crock!

October 8, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Most people of a certain age have tucked-away memories of crockpot cuisine. Usually, that involves a bright orange appliance—maybe avocado green or harvest gold—with a border decoration of cartoonish vegetables. Mom deposited a symphony of canned goods, placed the glass lid on top, and six to eight hours later the components had synthesized into dinner.

Somewhere along the way, the handy-dandy crockpot gained a gauche stigma (Here’s looking at you, condensed Cream of Mushroom soup.) But children of the 20th century should make new memories this millennium, because the crockpot is back. Nowadays the look is sleeker, the term “slow cooker” preferred, but they’re ever the effective kitchen tool and can elevate your home cooking.

Just ask Joel Mahr, head chef at Lot 2 in Benson, and mastermind behind the restaurant’s outstanding fare, which is at once fine dining and comfort food, laidback and sophisticated, local and global.

“I use one about twice a month,” he says, going on to describe his favorite crockpot meal.

“In the morning we’ll put a roast in…come home to potatoes, carrots, celery, onion—a really nice meal,” says Mahr. Sometimes he’ll defat the liquid and reduce it with red wine to create a sauce, but beyond that, just add baguette, maybe a salad, and you’re set, he says.

“It’s perfect,” he adds. “I love it.”

Mahr’s wife, Jill, is from an Iowa farm where family gatherings often mean an infantry of slow cookers and roasters. At the couple’s wedding, they subbed crockpots for expensive chafing dishes and had an awesome spread, including a whole hog, shrimp boil (with potatoes, kielbasa, and carrots), beans, cheesy potatoes, and more. Mahr says it was delicious and easy.

 “A lot of people think, ‘I don’t know how this thing works,’ or it’s taboo for some reason,” he says. “But it’s great. You start the meal in the morning, then when you come home, it’s done. It’s vintage, but it’s vintage cool,” Mahr continues. “Everything comes full circle.”

Mahr says crockpots are great for making stocks, tenderizing trimming cuts, and making kids or vegetable-phobes eat their veggies—they’ll love the simmered-to-perfection mirepoix. They’re also your go-to appliance for beans, Indian dishes, oatmeal, soups, breads, desserts, and mulled wine—they do it all. And cleanup is easy.

“Especially in the fall,” Mahr says, “they’re great for those comforting, homey meals; football game food, that kind of thing.”

Mahr, who’s also worked at V. Mertz, Dario’s, and The French Café, is no stranger to gourmet grub, and says crockpots can create wonderful levels of flavor. It just takes a little more time.

“You can develop a richer flavor by taking your time with a meal, and crockpots [let you] develop really great flavor, just by walking away from it,” he says, joking about the old “set it and forget it” tagline.

Mahr says that even though it’s “still that thing that grandma would dust off,” people might be surprised by the modern wonder of the crockpot.

“In our fast-paced society,” Mahr says, “something simple like this can bring your family together around the table.”


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.


 Lot 2
6207 Maple Street
M-Th/4-11pm, F-Sat/4pm-12am, Sun/10am-2pm

 RATING (5 Stars Possible)

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