Tag Archives: Mark Pluhacek

Al Fresco Fever

May 27, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The stars and seasons have aligned, giving you free time on a beautiful day. Birds chirp, parks bustle, flowers bloom. Eager to enjoy a cage-free couple of hours, you urgently text friends from your desk: “Get thee to a patio!” The clock strikes 5 and you’re off quicker than a cardigan on a sunny, 80-degree day. But where to?

Omahans have access to many fine restaurant and bar patios, but here are some standout gems you’ll want to bookmark for those most patio-perfect days.

Marks Bistro, voted 2016 Best of Omaha Outdoor Patio (alongside Salt 88 and 1912), is a superb option for everything from sharing an intimate, open-air meal with a first date to unwinding with an old friend over a bottle of wine. As you summit the steps from Underwood Avenue you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped into a lush, romantic secret garden of sorts. However, Marks’ quality menu, wine list, and unmatched atmosphere is no secret. Tucked behind the second level of a stately 1906 Dundee home, Marks’ patio is elegant without putting on airs, and peaceful even when packed with diners clinking glasses.       

“Most of us spend the majority of our workweek inside,” says co-owner Mark Pluhacek. “Sometimes nothing’s more relaxing than dining al fresco and enjoying some good conversation.”

Each spring, Pluhacek and his wife Kristin personally choose and plant the many colorful flowers that, alongside beautiful trees and ivy-covered fences, provide Marks’ trademark garden feel.   

Pluhacek says Marks is currently developing an additional street-level patio to allow guests a choice between the original garden patio and a more active, people-watching space along Underwood. But in both spaces, Pluhacek promises, “lots of flowers.”

Speaking of people-watching, La Buvette offers an excellent vantage point for taking in the sights and sounds of the bustling Old Market while simultaneously transporting patrons to France. Since 1991, this European-style cafe, wine bar, and market has been a popular spot to meet friends for a leisurely afternoon of wine, cheese, and chatting. The ever-changing menu is both basic and epicurean, with divine, fresh, house-baked bread perhaps the sole daily guarantee. The vibe here is “don’t worry, don’t hurry,” so come prepared to adapt to the pace and daily offerings. If you can’t nab a spot on the popular patio proper, don’t fret. When the weather’s right, La Buvette throws open wide doors on either side of its main entrance allowing a flood of sunshine and fresh air inside.      

El Aguila has an under-the-radar patio with high brick walls, colorful plants, and a Spanish colonial courtyard vibe. Lovers of Mexican food and jumbo margaritas will have no problemo finding patio paradise here—occasionally made even more magical by a roving Mariachi band.       

Nicola’s offers quaint romance, the Surfside rustic riverside atmosphere, and 1912 a rooftop option. More great al fresco dining options include Benson Brewery, Jimi D’s, Tracks Lounge, Salt 88, Corkscrew Wine & Cheese Blackstone, Upstream Old Market, Brix Midtown, Dante Pizzeria, and Varsity Sports Cafe & Roman Coin Pizza on the lake at 145th and F streets.

On the bar side of things, O’Leaver’s Beer Garden is Omaha’s outdoor space rookie of the year. Open since September 2015, the high-fenced, spacious outdoor area is a true oasis. O’Leaver’s already had a modest front patio, with a delightfully oddball Friends-themed fence (bearing the names Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Joey, and Phoebe) and new ownership over the past few years has made several upgrades to the indoor space including the addition of a tiki bar area.    

“We wanted to create a whole new vibe outdoors and offer our customers the same special experience, but one that’s very different from the inside of the pub,” says co-owner Ted Stevens.

Indeed, the dimly lit pub contrasts with the bright beer garden, which has a full-service bar on Friday and Saturday nights. Varied seating lets patrons choose between laid-back Adirondacks, barstools, wooden banquettes and benches, small tables, and long, communal picnic tables under an attached pergola. Nature is a key design element, with built-in flower boxes lining the seating area, a miniature weeping willow tree, small pond, and other nice natural touches. Strings of lights hang overhead, twinkling at night with a just-right light.

O’Leaver’s is known for hosting live music inside, and Stevens says they hope to add outdoor movie nights and weekend brunch cocktail parties in 2016, also possibly opening the beer garden bar occasionally for weeknight shows.

Mister Toad’s Pub is a classic with cozy woodwork, stained glass, and book-lined walls, but in warmer months, it’s all about Mr. Toad’s Courtyard. Flower boxes stud the patio and wooden tables interlock around trees, offering the opportunity for privacy or neighborliness at your discretion. The passing action of the Old Market provides plenty to see.        

The Rose & Crown patio is a divey delight with large trees—some even decorated with woodsy faces. Other solid bar patio options include Dundee Cork & Bottle, Krug Park, Marylebone, Havana Garage, and LIV Lounge.

Whatever beer garden, courtyard, or veranda you land on, raise a glass to the patio season and enjoy greater Omaha’s great urban out-of-doors.


Marks Bistro

August 18, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Dundee has always been one of my favorite Omaha neighborhoods. I just love all the magnificent old houses and perfectly landscaped yards. I am also a big fan of the Dundee restaurant scene.

Since 2003, Marks Bistro has been an important part of that scene. Chef/Owner Mark Pluhacek and his partner, Molly Romero, have been delighting Dundee diners for years with great cuisine and service. In February of last year Pluhacek decided to step back from the day-to-day kitchen operations and hired veteran Omaha Chef James Davis. I recently had a chance to dine there and thought I would share my
experience with you.

One of the cool things about Marks Bistro is that it is actually built on the second and third floor of an old Dundee house. The dining rooms are small and numerous, just like the floor plan of a home. The windows from the dining room overlook bustling Underwood Avenue, which is the heart of Dundee. The handsome bar is in the center of the main dining room. On the third floor there are even smaller private dining rooms that one must assume were bedrooms. The garden patio is one of my favorite spots, and it is just like eating in a gorgeous garden of an old, turn-of-the-century house. It is by no means the most beautiful restaurant I have ever seen, but all the elements do work together well to provide a really nice, comfortable, homey feel.

I was curious to see how much the menu had changed since my last visit and since Chef Davis’ arrival. As I expected, many of the selections seemed new, but I did recognize a couple of favorite dishes from past visits. I was intrigued to see that Davis has been doing a lot of experimenting with Sous Vide meats. Sous Vide is a French cooking technique that has recently become very popular in America. It is a method that involves vacuum packaging the food, then poaching it for many hours (sometimes days) in an agitated water bath at the low cooking temperature of 131 degrees. The results can be mind-blowing.

For appetizers, my dining partner and I started with the Bistro Fries ($4.50) and the Charcuterie Plate ($12). The Bistro Fries come with a house-made catsup as well as a rosemary truffle aioli for dipping. They were seasoned perfectly and had a great texture. The charcuterie plate was equally impressive with three excellent cured meats and a couple of artisan cheeses. For entrees I had the to try the Sous Vide-style 48 Hour Short Ribs ($24).

I’m sure glad I did. The boneless, short-rib meat was actually still pink in the center, but still incredibly tender. The cabernet demi glace went perfectly with the meat as well as the garlic mashed potatoes, roasted baby carrots, and sauteed spinach. My dining partner had the famous Macaroni and Cheese ($10). This dish has been on the menu for a long time, and many feel it is the best mac and cheese in Omaha. I’m inclined to agree, as it is hard to not like the cavatappi pasta, the rich, four-cheese sauce with cheddar, Havarti, Asiago and blue cheeses, all topped with a toasted panko crust. We finished off the meal with the Whiskey Bread Pudding ($6). This deliciously decadent bread pudding is smothered in caramel sauce and whipped cream. Yum!

The service at Mark’s has always been casual, friendly and good. This visit was no exception. Combine that with the expertly curated wine and beer list to complement the stellar food, and dining at Mark’s is a really solid experience. I plan to make a point of getting over there more often and encourage you to do the same. Cheers!