Chow Town

Creativity, innovation are just the beginning at Omaha’s chef-driven restaurants

By my GPS, if you left Kansas City right now, you could be in Omaha in a little under three hours, just in time for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

No matter what meal you’re lucky enough to eat in this steak-town gone wild, it is bound to have the cutting-edge sass and personality that is now de rigueur in our once-pigeonholed city.

Just like Kansas City, Omaha rails against the chains: Neighborhoods once defined by urban blight with boarded-up buildings, jagged windows, broken spirits and the smell of decay in the air are spiffed up and brushed off, vibrant with art and a sense of community and food conceived and prepared by a group of originals.

And panache. Oodles of it.

You see, independent Omaha chefs and “foodpreneurs” are mastering what Kansas City chefs started serving up years ago: heaping helpings of heritage.

It seems once a city smack-dab in the Midwest breadbasket embraces its agrarian roots, rather than dismissing its indisputable lineage as uncool or old-fashioned, people take note.

There are many delightful similarities between Kansas City’s accessible food culture and its sister city’s smaller scene up north off Interstate 29 — locally grown produce, artisan meats, house-made charcuterie, expansive wine lists, creative camaraderie, heavily-tatted chefs, friendly and knowledgeable waitstaff and a casual celebration of regional bounty.

Chefs behind Omaha’s hottest stoves, cut from the same cloth as Kansas City’s boisterous culinary fraternity, adopt a pioneer-to-table philosophy — one that’s working quite well, according to a recent three-day tasting whirlwind I experienced in Omaha.

Midtown Crossing, Dundee, Benson and the Old Market are amongst Omaha’s sizzling destinations, each offering unique concepts.

There are so many stop-worthy restaurants in Omaha that a long weekend just might not do it. Here are some standouts I experienced … with more to come in a future Chow Town post.

What are you waiting for? Pack up an overnight bag and bring your appetite to Omaha. You’ll need it.

The Grey Plume

is contemporary fine dining (come as you are) and located just blocks from Mutual of Omaha’s headquarters in Midtown Crossing. Chef/owner Clayton Chapman and his crew draw national buzz for the artful food they turn out of the restaurant’s kitchen laboratory.

Chapman celebrates the region’s pork, beef, fish and fowl and invests the time, precision and care it takes to produce world class in-house cured meats and sausages and also pickles, preserves and cans. His dishes are beautiful, complex and innovative.

During a tasting menu at The Grey Plume, I went on a sublime ride from a show-stopping Clam Egg on a bed of butternut squash linguine with truffle and cheddar to a Blue Valley steelhead trout with crème fraiche spätzle and seasonal vegetables to signature confections such as truffle, divinity, pate de fruit and gingerbread.

Lot 2

in the gently simmering neighborhood of Benson is a 50-seat stunner that turns out unexpected fare from ingredients grown on an area family farm, including an impossibly delicious kale salad (yes, kale is approaching overexposure, but this rendition is truly memorable) that you can order a la carte or as part of the inventive Little Red Barn Steak and Frites platter.

Owner/operators Brad and Johanna Marr, also certified sommeliers, lovingly restored a street-front building in this up-and-coming neighborhood and along with chef Joel Mahr, spin culinary magic for an adoring crowd.

Don’t miss Mahr’s fresh interpretation of a charcuterie board that includes some house-made jewels and a dreamy tomato jam or his divine butterscotch panna cotta.

The Old Market is an Omaha landmark that happily continues to evolve, sprinkled with boutiques, bars, restaurants (La Buvette, The Boiler Room and M’s Pub are hometown and tourist favorites) and brewpubs.

Chef Paul Kulik opened

Le Bouillon

in the Old Market in late November, which occupies the space the iconic French Café held court in for more than 40 years, and explores the comfort foods of rural France.

The amuse-bouche at Le Bouillon is inedible — a magnificent Niki de St. Phalle tree is the dining room’s centerpiece and the walls feature watercolors by Old Market’s visionary entrepreneur, Sam Mercer.

Kulik’s inspired menu includes cassoulet with garlic sausage, crispy sweetbreads with chèvre and honey and Nebraska heritage pork with glazed carrots. The decadent, satin-smooth dark chocolate pot de crème was a luscious treat to end a perfect dinner.

Back at Midtown Crossing,


— which bills itself as a wine and spirits experience — is the toast of the town. A trifecta of retail, dining and gorgeous event space, Brix is a fresh concept from wine industry veteran and Omaha resident Dan Matuszek.

Brix’s original West Omaha location is about twice the size of its urban sibling, but both are warm, inviting and feature highly imaginative and well-executed bistro fare.

Shop for wine, brews, single malts, cheese and charcuterie and more, belly up to the bar for a craft cocktail or martini, relax in front of a deconstructed fireplace or self-dispense one of 64 wines served by the ounce or glass through the Enomatic and WineEmotion Wine Serving Systems.

Kimberly Winter Stern — also known as Kim Dishes — is an award-winning freelance writer and national blogger from Overland Park and co-host with Chef Jasper Mirabile on LIVE! From Jasper’s Kitchen each Saturday on KCMO 710/103.7FM. She is inspired by the passion, creativity and innovation of chefs, restaurateurs and food artisans who make Kansas City a vibrant center of locavore cuisine.