Tag Archives: local food

The Grey Plume

September 25, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A few years ago it would be hard to believe that Omaha would be home to one of the top three greenest restaurants in America, let alone a James Beard Foundation award semi finalist. In the past you would have to visit cities like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco to find restaurants and chefs with accolades such as these, but The Grey Plume has been in the national spotlight since the day they opened in 2010.

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Chef/Owner Clayton Chapman has racked up more James Beard nominations than any Omaha chef in history. “Farm to Table” and “Eco-Friendly” restaurants are quite common in many large American cities, but in Omaha it’s still a relatively new phenomenon. The Grey Plume takes all of this to a new level with the close collaboration Chapman has with his growers and ranchers.

The restaurant is quite handsomely designed with a formal but still comfortable feel. White tablecloths and velvet-covered bench seats give the restaurant a plush, luxurious look.

Great care was taken in the design to use reclaimed and recycled materials as well as special low-energy kitchen equipment with a small carbon footprint. The artwork featured around the restaurant comes from local artists, as does some of the plateware made from recycled wine bottles.

Chef de Cuisine John Engler’s menu is constantly changing, but on a recent visit I saw several dishes that fondly recalled previous visits. My dining partner and I started off with one of my favorites, the Duck Fat Fries ($9). As the name implies, these crispy hand-cut fries are fried in duck fat and served over aioli with a farm-fresh egg on top. The combination is incredible. We also tried the Smoked Housemade Ricotta Gnocchi ($12). This beautifully presented appetizer features pumpernickel bread crumbs which provide flavor as well as texture. It also has a cherry purée and fresh leeks. I am certain I will be ordering this one again. Next we tried the Cold Potato Soup ($9). This concoction had a velvety cream texture and was garnished with truffle powder that gave it a great umami boost. We also had the Heartland Organics’ Spring Greens Salad ($8), a nice light salad featuring local mixed greens, feta cheese, radish, and lavash with an olive oil dressing. For entrees I had the Morgan Ranch Wagyu Beef ($36). It featured perfectly cooked “petite filet” or teres major cut. The dish also had some oxtail, tongue, and an amazing sausage, all from Morgan Ranch in Burwell, Nebraska. A light demi glace sauce, shaved asparagus, shiitake mushroom, and Yukon gold potatoes made this dish a delicious combination. My dining partner tried Plum Creek Farm’s Chicken Roulade ($27). This moist chicken was served with baby bok choy, snap peas, farro, and a savory strawberry puree—another stellar entree. For dessert we had TGP Hand Crafted Chocolates ($13.50) and the Ice Cream Trio ($8.50). The ice cream dish consisted of a trio of scoops: salted caramel, orange chamomile, and sorrel. The sorrel, at first, seemed an odd flavor for ice cream, but I was instantly hooked.

 

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At times in the past I felt that the service at The Grey Plume was perhaps a bit stuffy and overly formal. Servers sometimes make your head spin with their immense knowledge of food and wine while using French words and terms that most diners have never even heard of. But this was not the case on this particular evening. Our server was friendly, humorous, and casual, but provided excellent service. He went out of his way to explain the dishes to my dining partner using layman’s terms. He also earned extra points on his wine recommendation of an exquisite French bordeaux that went perfectly with my Wagyu beef.

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There is no doubt in my mind that The Grey Plume is one the best restaurants in Omaha. Unfortunately my income bracket does not allow me to frequent places in this price range often enough. But don’t relegate this special place to birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions. You owe it to yourself to experience The Grey Plume, the hot spot that has so deservedly received so much critical acclaim all across America.

Cheers!

The Grey Plume, 220 S. 31st Ave.

402-763-4447 or thegreyplume.com

Food=4/5 Stars

Service=3 1/2 /5 Stars

Ambiance=4/5 Stars

Price $$$$

Overall=4/5 Stars

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Brave New Prairie

May 1, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article originally appeared in Omaha Magazine’s May/June 2015 issue.

A small sign in Summer Miller’s kitchen speaks volumes about her mission: “Love people. Cook them tasty food.”

Seated in the cozy kitchen of her charming Elkhorn-area country home (formerly a one-room schoolhouse), the love is on full display as Miller flits throughout the room, doing a dance many home cooks and parents know well. She canters left, stirring a pot of homemade soup, then right, fetching milk for her daughter, Juniper. After pausing for a hug with her little “Junebug,” coffee is poured for the adults; its aroma mingling with the lingering scent of fresh-baked bread.

Tasty food is also achieved as Miller, a local journalist, author, and foodie, serves up a preview of the edible delights featured in New Prairie Kitchen, her seasonally driven cookbook that connects home chefs to the local food movement by weaving together the recipes and stories of 25 chefs, farmers, and artisans from Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota. In the book, nationally recognized restaurants and Beard-nominated chefs sit at the same proverbial dinner table alongside humble farmers, bakers, and artisans, all united in a passion for local food done right.

“The book celebrates our regional food community through stories, photography, and recipes,” says Miller. “I started [it] at a time in my life when I needed inspiration. From that perspective, I personally needed to find these people and places. Once I did, I was so moved by the experiences I had—the stories the farmers, chefs, and artisans shared, and the beauty of the food—that I wanted to share it with as many people as possible.”

The beauty Miller found over four years traveling and collecting stories is palpable in her preparation of Dante Ristorante Pizzeria chef Nick Strawhecker’s strawberry jam and The Grey Plume chef Clayton Chapman’s ricotta, which team up atop a honey-oat bread recipe from Hastings’ Back Alley Bakery. An earthy, savory braised chicken soup follows. It’s a seasonally adjusted version of a Strawhecker dish from the book, featuring carrots from Rhizosphere Farm (located in the Loess Hills of Iowa just south of Missouri Valley) and chicken from Plum Creek Farms (Burchard, Neb.), and it’s a bowl-tipper to be sure.

George P. Johnson, owner of George Paul Vinegar, says New Prairie Kitchen offers readers “treasured recipes to hand down through generations.”

The recipes and producers here are indeed treasures, and the book is the treasure map.

“I love being around creative, innovative people because they infuse everything and everyone around them with a sense of possibility,” says Miller. “When those personalities exist in the food world we benefit as home cooks and shoppers. Rather than eating food only for sustenance, we get to eat food that nourishes us, yes, but also teaches us about a certain corner of the world. The act of preparing, sharing, and eating food becomes a cultural and emotive experience. When we connect to places, and, more importantly, the people of those places, whether that place is our dinner table, the farmers market, or a restaurant, and the people, family or new friends, we build our community, making it a more enjoyable place to live. Our experiences become more profound.”

The vibrant pages of New Prairie Kitchen, which is set for release later this month, are illuminated with stunning images from the talented photographer Dana Damewood. Wide landscape shots, close-ups of chickens, vegetables, smiling chefs, a red tractor, a handful of grain, exquisitely plated meals, an old Dodge Ram van with the license plate reading “GARLIC” — all a familiar yet striking array of Midwestern artifacts representing a contemporary take on classic Americana. The book manages to simultaneously represent old and new, sophisticated and simple.

“It’s difficult sometimes to get a good sense of the local food movement and what it truly looks like,” says Terra Hall of Rhizosphere Farm, “particularly the connections that make such a strong community. Telling food stories from a particular region, you can really see how everything is connected and the powerful impact of keeping food and its economy local. Summer did an amazing job highlighting the people changing the foodscape in the prairie region. The food we grow and how it is prepared is a true representation of a place, a people, and a climate. Which, frankly, is what I think food should be.”

And you needn’t be from the area to appreciate its riches. Taryn Huebner, Oprah Winfrey’s private chef, calls New Prairie Kitchen “a gift” and its recipes “mouthwatering” and “soul-quenching. This is more than a cookbook—it’s a love letter to the heartland,” Huebner writes.

The French Bulldog’s Bryce Coulton says the book celebrates individual and shared connections to food, as well as a “back-to-basics” approach.

“More than being prideful,” Coulton says, “Midwesterners exhibit an appreciation for the sincere efforts of their neighbors, be they farmers, artisans, or cooks. And Summer has told their stories: stories of relationships, collaboration, working toward a goal outside of our immediate selves.”

“I hope the book inspires people to cook at home and frequent restaurants that support our local farmers and artisans,” says Miller, “but also to explore their communities and discover the resources available to them. We are surrounded by so many wonderful people, flavors, and places. It’s a shame to overlook the diamonds in our own backyard.”

Sarah Wengert, the author of the story above, will moderate a panel at Summer Miller’s reading, discussion, and book-signing event at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 9 at the Bookworm.

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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: ****