Hotel restaurants often get a bad rap. Some see them as a last resort, a place with high prices and uninspired food. But many hotel chains across the country are upping their culinary game and creating onsite, full-service eateries that boast creative menus, modern and inviting surroundings, and talented chefs running the kitchens.
On a dinner visit in late August, my dining partner and I both were pleasantly surprised by some of the food at Society 1854, the in-house restaurant at the Omaha Marriott Downtown Hotel in the Capitol District at 10th Street and Capitol Avenue. Opened in 2017 and named for the year Omaha was founded, Society 1854 offers approachable, regionally inspired fare with fine dining touches and attention to details.
The menu changes seasonally, but maintains several staples. There’s a decisive focus on using what’s fresh and local, says Wil Witters, assistant restaurant manager. The kitchen sources ingredients from area farms and suppliers, including Imperial Wagyu Beef, Truebridge Foods, Plum Creek Farms, TD Niche Pork, and Squeaky Green Organics, among others.
The concise but varied menu is divided into snacks, shared plates, salads and soups, and main plates. There are vegetarian options, as well as comfort food dishes such as fried chicken sandwiches, burgers, and wings.
The restaurant’s burger features a hefty patty crafted with domestic Wagyu beef that’s tender and flavorful. Served with French fries and a pickle spear, it’s topped with bacon jam, iceberg lettuce, pickled onion, and melted cheese on a brioche bun. Although I’m not an iceberg fan, it was crisp and added a crunchy element to the dish, which arrived perfectly cooked to medium as ordered.
Steak, chicken, pasta, and seafood are also on the menu. My dining partner liked his Faroe Island salmon entree but thought it was salted a tad too much. Served with roasted fennel, radish, and spaetzle, the salmon was flaky and moist, but the dish needed a sauce to tie everything together.
A starter of fried Brussels sprouts — the outer leaves pleasingly charred and the insides crisp-tender—had robust flavors and textural variety thanks to sweet, crunchy bits of cashew praline, and a drizzle of creamy mayo flavored with fish sauce, a southeast Asian condiment.
Crab hush puppies are enhanced by pickled ramps and Old Bay aioli. Each hot and crispy hush puppy featured a golden brown exterior and pillowy middle, but we didn’t get much crab flavor from the deep-fried fritters.
Of the items we tried, our favorite was the chilled cantaloupe soup (featured image), a seasonal offering that put the sweet, summery melon front and center. Poured tableside for an elegant presentation, the colorful soup featured compressed cantaloupe, sorbet, fresh basil, and just a hint of black pepper. Light, refreshing, and not too sweet, the luscious soup was a wonderful balance of fruity, tangy, and herbal flavors.
A well-edited beverage list features an array of fine wines, local brews, and craft cocktails prepared by the adjacent bar, Burdock + Bitters. The restaurant’s culinary team includes chef de cuisine John Engler, whose fine dining background includes the Grey Plume, and sous chef Chris Furse. Despite some awkward service and mistimed food, our server was friendly and helpful with recommendations.
Society 1854 not only draws hotel guests but non-guests, as well. “We’re very quickly building up local followers,” Witters says. The restaurant’s proximity to several entertainment venues, including the CHI Health Center and Holland Performing Arts Center, makes it a popular spot for dinner and drinks before or after a show. Visitors can also enjoy private dinners, tasting menus for groups, wine pairings, special holiday menus, and more.
Guests staying at the Omaha Marriott Downtown can choose from dozens of delicious dining options within easy walking distance, including the one right downstairs from their hotel room.
Visit society1854.com for more information.
This article was printed in the October 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.