Article and Photos By Lazelle Jones
The food renaissance that began a-half dozen years ago and continues unabated has laced Omaha’s culinary and spirits landscape with opportunities that until now could not be imagined. Be it the downtown area called Midtown Crossing where Fortune Five Hundred Companies and a growing collection of high rise condos are found; in Old Market with its loft apartments, boutiques and street-side dining; or in Omaha’s timeless old neighborhoods like Dundee and Benson where food and drink mean fun and comfort, those who use their palates and olfactory senses to navigate will not go wanting. The only angst that may occur is when it comes time to triage or determine which among the many choices will be first on your culinary hit-list!
Many places pay lip service to the idea of “farm to table” but without equivocation Omaha is “the real deal.” For example at The French Bulldog (a charcuterie in the Dundee Neighborhood) only locally grown hogs and beef are used in the handcrafting of smoked and cured meats (prosciutto, sausages, bacon, etc.). In the prosciutto process for example, first the quarter is bathed in brine and then periodically hand rubbed with salt as it air/dry ages at 34-degrees for a full 18 months. Complementing their charcuterie is a selection of gourmet local and imported cheeses, French wines, and just-out-of-the-oven bread that for the “foodie” in everyone makes this experience pure Heartland America.
Two doors down is PITCH Pizzeria, a fusion style Italian bistro whose genesis lies with proprietor Willy Thiesen, who started God Father’s Pizza circa 1975 and built it into 987 stores before selling this behemoth success story. Today Thiesen’s passion is focused on one and only one eatery that he’s named PITCH. The flour he uses in his pizza dough and pasta he imports from Italy. Nothing but the finest cold pressed extra virgin olive oil finds its way through these doors. He buys the bituminous coal from Pennsylvania to fire his brick pizza ovens and he carries Napa Valley red and white wines that he has bottled with the PITCH label (Pitch White & Pitch Black). Sandwiches, calzones, live lobster from Maine (a pizza toping), locally raised fresh (ground in-house) Angus beef, homemade sausage and gumbos, PITCH takes casual, fun dining to the next level. On occasion Warren Buffet (Berkshire Hathaway Omaha headquarters) dines here. His favorite beverage is cola of which he may consume a five or six per visit.
In between and just steps from The French Bulldog and PITCH is the Dundee Dell that has the largest selection of single malt scotches in North America. Fifty years of serving excellent fish and chips is also part of their mystic.
Chef ^2 is a Midtown Crossing gourmet shop specializing in oils (olive, pistachio, almond, grape seed, avocado, flaxseed) that are available with or without herbal infusion. They also feature balsamic vinegars from around-the-world. Stainless steel containers (each with a tap at the bottom) protect quality while allowing patrons to sample the contents by drizzling it via the tap onto diced freshly baked French baguettes. Closely associated with the Metropolitan Community College Institute for Culinary Arts, Mike Combs who is the Executive Chef at the Institute, hosts cooking demonstrations using Chef ^2 products.
Across the street The Grey Plume menus are patterned after those found in the Burgundy Region of France. A casual but upscale ambiance complements the excellent dining. Tasting menus can be custom tailored for each guest that can include locally raised in-house smoked trout and trout roe, tenderloin of pork, salmon, rabbit, locally grown seasonal garden vegetables, and in-house fashioned pastries. Ordering off the menu or choosing the daily special (both continuously change) is also an option.
Midtown Crossing also hosts Brix that features wine dispensers (they accept pre-paid cards) so wines can be tasted before purchase. The package sale of spirits (all kinds) is huge and the dining opportunities are many. Presentations of the menu selections are nothing less than a culinary version of Monet or Renoir. They tease the eye as the palate is satiated. Choose a quiet alcove with a burning fire place; sit adjacent to natural gas fire pits outside on the terrace; or view the world (be it during the winter or summer) from inside through the floor to ceiling glass windows that offer an unimpeded view of the city. Sweet!
At the corner of 36th and Farnam is the Crescent Moon Original Alehouse (aka Beer Corner USA) where Oktoberfest is celebrated year-round. With three separate beer venues inside and a package sales store (Beertopia), 3000 different beers are available (many are on tap). The lunch crowd is huge for their bistro has long been recognized for its excellence. Particularly popular is their Reuben Sandwich, created decades ago by the chef at the old Blackstone Hotel that back-in-the-day was located across the street.
“Omahanians” are very serious about their brew-ski and in the old neighborhood of Benson two micro-breweries (a block apart) are particularly popular. One is Infusion Brewing Company that offers half a dozen-plus micro brews on tap (also growlers) and the other is Benson Brewery that does exactly the same thing. A short walk from here is Lot 2 Restaurant & Wine Bar that two years ago opened its doors and because of their cutting edge menu, the wines they elect to serve and an ambience that screams “enjoy me,” Lot 2 has experienced meteoric success.
Papillion (a suburb of Omaha) is where Nebraska Brewing Company hand crafts beer and combines it with an energized fusion style menu. In Springfield (minutes away) Soaring Wings Vineyard and Brewers (yes, good red and white wines are being produced in Nebraska) is located, and in nearby La Vista The Lucky Bucket serves both hand crafted brews and a single malt (Nebraska) whiskey made by their sister company, Cut Spike Distillery.
The historic Old Market with its 19th century brick buildings that once warehoused goods received by riverboat and railroad, today house shops, bistros and boutiques of every ilk. For those who seek a sophisticated dining experience, or the casual visitor who simply wants to see what Old Omaha once looked like, both will leave pleased. Here Le Bouillon (Paul Kulik, chef/owner) serves French “comfort or common” fare that originated in the Pyrenees Region of Southern France. However, don’t be fooled by the words “comfort or common,” for Le Bouillon offers elegant dining in a setting where patrons are as pleased with the contemporary art Kulik as selected as the culinary skills he is gifted with.
Adjacent to Old Market, Embassy Suites is a great lodging to use as basecamp. Cross the street and immediately you’re in the heart of Old Market. Their other location (Omaha-La Vista) has on several occasions been rated the “Number 1” Embassy Suites in the world (that’s right, the entire world). It’s not the biggest or the newest, but with the La Vista Nines Restaurant that is famous for its seasonal menus, the hotel itself and the staff’s attention to detail, it’s simply “the best.” Check it out!
Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau
Embassy Suites Omaha – Old Market
(402) 346-9000; www.embassysuites.com
The Grey Plume
(402) 763-4447; www.thegreyplume.com
(402) 502-6816; www.bouillonomaha.com
The Nines La Vista Restaurant
(402) 331-7400; www.embassysuitesomahalavista.com
Brix – A Wine and Spirits Experience
(402) 991-8466; www.brixomaha.com
(402) 991-5656; www.midtowncrossing.com/retail/shop/chef2/
(402) 553-9501 telephone; www.dundeedell.com
The French Bulldog
(402) 850-1825; No website;
Infusion Brewing Company
(402) 916-9998: www.infusionbrewing.com
Lucky Bucket Brewing Company
(402) 763-8868; www.luckybucketbrewing.com
Nebraska Brewing Company
(402) 934-7100; www.nebraskabrewingco.com
Soaring Wings Vineyard & Brewing
(402) 253-2479; www.soaringwingswine.com