For most, Nebraska is symbolized by several legacies: steaks (as in Omaha Steaks), corn, Warren Buffett, and football (University of Nebraska Cornhuskers). Of course all are found there. As someone that did not grow up in Nebraska, but has lived there from time to time, it took a while to understand. Simply put, no one in Nebraska actually eats Omaha Steaks (they butcher their own or buy local), and even during “rebuilding years” you still cannot buy seats at the ticket office for a Husker football game, ever.
When I came to college in Lincoln many years ago, I realized quickly it was a different cuisine and culture (Midwestern meat and potatoes, simply cooked, and always with corn). Many years later I returned, and can happily report that there are several restaurants, particularly in Lincoln and Omaha, that are brilliantly presenting local product, comparable to meals I have had in New York, Chicago, and afar.
Selections from the Omaha area:
FOOD & WINE
The Grey Plume. (@TheGreyPlume) Located in downtown Omaha, this certified GREEN restaurant opened in late 2010 and is the creation of Chef Clayton Chapman and Co-Owner/Managing Partner Michael Howe. Both come from formable culinary training and experience and have brought that along with the concept of seasonal, resourceful, and creative cuisine to Omaha. Simply put the food and service is outstanding. Sommelier John Laloganes has created a wine list that is well thought out with a nice variety of BTG as well as sustainable selections. A must: Duck fat fries, bison burger, pappardelle pasta, Honey Creek Farm salad, and the French press (in house roasted) coffee. Chef Chapman’s beef agnolotti was recently published in the “Pasta Porn: 101 of America’s Most Delicious Noodle Dishes” on Grub Street NY (Page 52).
The Boiler Room. (@BoilerRoomOmaha) Located in the historic Old Market area of downtown Omaha, this is a phenomenal restaurant. The space itself sits on two levels, the main level overlooking the kitchen. The walls are blanketed with (expertly printed) artwork and FOH staff is fantastic in presenting a memorable evening. Chef Paul Kulik and his team have outdone themselves not only in presentation but technique and use of local product. Master Sommelier Jesse Becker (Peripherique Wine Merchants) has built a fantastic wine menu that will make anyone happy, including myself when I found a bottle of Chateau Musar (2001), paring it with the house charcuterie, squid ink spaghetti, and Atlantic char with baby octopus. There is no question why Kulik and Becker were recently featured at a James Beard Dinner in March 2011, their immense talent and passion for food and wine show in every plate and glass presented.
HOTEL & TO DO LIST
Magnolia Hotel Omaha. Located in downtown Omaha, a fantastic option for a hotel stay in the area. Architecturally delightful, it is unusual for the area, and they provide comfort, and convenience for a very affordable price.
If you’re in the Omaha area, take heart, and enjoy a bit of local talent.