May 18, 2017

Old School Omaha: Johnny’s Cafe

Kim’s Note: While working on a book about Omaha restaurants that have closed, I started to notice a trend about the more recently shuttered spots. I hadn’t dined at most of them, and I missed out on some gems. So I’ve decided to make it a goal to visit Omaha’s oldest restaurants before any more shut down. Don’t miss the other posts in the series, Gorat’s Steakhouse and Orsi’s Italian Bakery & Pizzeria!

 

Johnny’s Cafe has a lot of supporters. When I asked which restaurant should be on my tour of Omaha’s oldest restaurants, people suggested Johnny’s. You ask where to get a good steak in Omaha, and Johnny’s Cafe is on the list.

Friends rave about Johnny’s

It had the Hollywood allure, having a scene from Alexander Payne’s “About Schmidt” filmed there.

I’d never been, so I figured now’s the time to go.

It wasn’t what I had expected.

Unfortunately.

History of Johnny’s Cafe

Johnny's Cafe exterior

Johnny’s Cafe opened in Omaha in 1922, making it one of the oldest restaurants still in operation.

Johnny’s Cafe opened in 1922. Frank Kawa, a Polish immigrant, expanded the restaurant in spite of Prohibition and the food rationing of the 1940s. A large part of the success was its proximity to the booming Stockyards.

A lot of the features people associate with Johnny’s Cafe were added during remodeling in the 1970s, including the memorable front doors and a new look to the interior.

It’s still a family-owned establishment, with Frank’s granddaughters running things.

Johnny’s Cafe Atmosphere

Johnny's Cafe interior

The dining room at Johnny’s Cafe is unforgettable in its retro cool way.

I want to focus on the atmosphere because that is something Johnny’s does remarkably well. Every room at Johnny’s is a time warp, right down to the yellow and orange tiles in the bathroom.

The retro dining room is large, and even on an early lunch visit, it was fairly busy. Lights were dim, but the large backlit wall mural added some additional light to things. 

It looked so cool in there, I wanted to walk around and take a picture of everything. It totally makes sense why a movie would have a scene here. It’s evocative of an era and you won’t forget how it looks inside.

Johnny’s Cafe may just have the coolest entrance in Omaha. The front doors are so interesting.

I liked the lobby, too, with a massive chandelier and the restaurant’s history framed on the walls for you to read while waiting.

Don’t skip peeking into the bar area. My photos can’t do it justice.

Food at Johnny’s Cafe

The chicken and mashed potatoes entree at Johnny’s Cafe.

The food at this legendary establishment was a letdown. There’s no way around it. Having heard so many great things, and suggestions on what to order, nothing lived up to everyone’s enthusiasm.

It started out rocky. The famous cottage cheese spread appetizer was a hit with half of our table. I didn’t like it much.

Most dishes ordered was served overcooked, from the orange roughy to the chewy chicken. I tried one of the beef specialties, the chicken fried steak. It was pretty chewy, salty and not much else to note about it. The worst offense was my mashed potatoes, which tasted straight out of a box. A sad piece of parley accompanied my entree. I sampled food off two other plates around the table and I could not find one thing to recommend.

What Johnny’s does right when it comes to food is the kid’s menu with a good variety in a range of $2.95 to $7.95, including steak, shrimp, burgers, and grilled cheese. The best thing I tasted was the dessert my son ordered, the Dirt Shake, complete with a gummy worm.

I take that back. The bread pudding was pretty delicious, too.

One last thing about Johnny’s Cafe

Johnny’s Cafe is such a neat looking place, and it’s a part of Omaha’s history, so I hate to say the dining experience was a disappointment, but it was.  

It’s lasted more than 90 years, I suspect, out of loyalty from regulars. My hope is the food gets back on track and begins to live up to its reputation. 

If you go

Johnny’s Cafe

Where: 4702 S. 27th St.

Note: Getting there is tricky. Take the L street exit of the Kennedy Expressway and head south like you’re about to get back on the expressway.

Website

 

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May 3, 2017

Old School Omaha: Orsi’s Italian Bakery & Pizzeria

Kim’s Note: While working on a book about Omaha restaurants that have closed, I started to notice a trend about the more recently shuttered spots. I hadn’t dined at most of them, and I missed out on some gems. So I’ve decided to make it a goal to visit Omaha’s oldest restaurants before any more shut down. Don’t miss the first post in the series about Gorat’s Steakhouse

Orsi's Italian Bakery

The longest running restaurant in Omaha is Orsi’s Italian Bakery & Pizzeria. Orsi’s started in 1919 and added pizza in the 1960s.

Let’s talk about Orsi’s. I’ve never been inside this tiny place in Little Italy until a rainy day this spring.

Orsi’s Italian Bakery & Pizzeria can be found just outside of the Old Market, in a neighborhood that was once a bustling Little Italy.

Orsi’s is a popular pizza to serve at public gatherings, and so I have tasted it before. 

However, I soon learned that eating a slice in a conference room pales in comparison to visiting in person.

Italian Food at Orsi’s

I brought my son with me to try Orsi’s and, so, while there were deli items on the menu, we were there for the pizza. I always figured I was a thin-crust kind of pizza lover, but Orsi’s has proven me wrong. This is good stuff, and so fresh. A medium was more than plenty for the two of us.

Orsi’s is more of a take-out restaurant than dine-in.

We also tried the garlic bread, which Jim, the friendliest guy behind a counter ever, added on to our order on the house. My son could’ve, and would’ve, only eaten that if I let him.

For dessert, there are cookies and cannoli to choose from, plus a lot of sweet stuff on the store shelves. We split a cannoli, half chocolate and vanilla. If you ask me, the vanilla was the best; my son would disagree.

Like anything good, there’s a wait. Order ahead of time if you are in a crunch over the lunch time.

They sell their fresh baked goods, plus meats and cheeses and a ton of imported goods, as well.

Little Italy Atmosphere

The deli counter at Orsi’s.

This is a deli and bakery and there is no permanent seating, besides some benches. However, they are prepared for people like me, who’ve never been there.

Jim set up a table for us in front of a bench, and we dined while looking at old photographs on the wall and people-watching as regulars came and went with their take-out.

The deli has imported goods and homemade pastas and baked goods.

Orsi’s maintains a neighborly feel to it, having been a part of Omaha’s Little Italy for decades. It is one of the few remaining establishments from what had been a very lively neighborhood.

It’s a comfortable place, and you feel like you’re stepping into Omaha history when you walk through the doors.

Final Thoughts

Orsi's sign

Orsi’s was a pleasant surprise for me. I was unsure about dining in, and as I suspected, there isn’t a technical dining room. But, I enjoyed our makeshift spot and liked the atmosphere of this neighborhood joint.

I’d recommend ordering takeout, for sure, but it’s not a bad thing to sit and watch a neighborhood bakery/pizzeria’s hustle.

If you go

Orsi’s Italian Bakery & Pizzeria

Where: 621 Pacific St.

Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Website

 

 

Let’s keep this old-school Omaha tour going. Where should I go to next?

 

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April 24, 2017

Old School Omaha: Gorat’s Steakhouse

Kim’s Note: While working on a book about Omaha restaurants that have closed, I started to notice a trend about the more recently shuttered spots.

I hadn’t dined at nearly all the ones that were still open in recent years. And I missed out on some gems. So I’ve decided to make it a goal to visit Omaha’s oldest restaurants before any more shut down before I’ve had a chance to sample their best.

Gorat’s Steakhouse

The first restaurant I ventured to after I made this pledge to dine at Omaha’s oldest restaurants has become an Omaha institution thanks to our city’s favorite billionaire, Warren Buffett. That’s right, we went to Gorat’s Steakhouse.

Food

What you’d expect for a steakhouse dinner.

Old Italian steakhouse entrees remained, even after new ownership. Prime rib au jus, chicken parmesan, and good old spaghetti and meatballs are on the menu, as are burgers, sandwiches and small plates. I tried the chicken piccata, which was pretty good though oddly served with the sauce on the side. It is a kid-friendly restaurant so there is a kid’s menu. The food, from cheeseburger to steak, on the kid’s menu is between $6 to $8.

There’s a plentiful bread basket brought to the table before your meal arrives. My kids were sure to fill up on that so they wouldn’t eat their dinner. Naturally.

Atmosphere

The exterior of Gorat’s Steakhouse still screams old school steakhouse.

The exterior hints at the bygone days, but once you’re inside that old school steakhouse vibe is gone. The restaurant has been remodeled since it first opened in 1944. It looks more modern farmhouse than old school Italian steakhouse, though the women’s bathroom still had an vintage feel to it. There were some pictures to call to mind older days.

There’s a lounge with live music, which attracted my kids (the live music attract them, that is, not the lounge).

Buffett Sightings

No Warren Buffett sightings at Gorat’s, not that my kids appeared to be noticing anything other than the kid’s menu.

It didn’t happen on the night we were there. Has it ever happened to anyone or is that a myth?

Final thoughts

The iconic Gorat’s sign.

I can’t speak for how Gorat’s once was, but I can stay there’s a reason people still dine there. I can’t quite put my finger on that reason – is it loyalty or the dream of rubbing elbows with Warren or love of the food?

Dining at Gorat’s was pleasant but it didn’t feel like I was experiencing a bit of Omaha history while being there. It was underwhelming. My 7-year-old, however, was impressed. As we left, he announced “That was one classy joint.”

Where does he learn these things?

 

If you go

Gorat’s Steakhouse

Where: 4917 Center St.

Website

 

What has been your experience at Gorat’s? Where should I head to next in this series?

 

March 27, 2017

Where To Find The Best Chocolate In Omaha

Chocolate wouldn’t be the first thing I associate with Omaha’s food scene, but let’s change that today.

Omaha has some pastry chefs out there with mad skills. And chocolatiers. And ice cream makers. I asked readers on my Facebook page and friends from the Omaha Foodies Group  to share their favorite Omaha places for chocolate because life is sweeter when there’s a new chocolate place to visit. Ready for a sugar high?

Keep reading to find the best chocolate in Omaha!

 

Chocolaterie Stam

Shadow Lake Towne Center, 7474 Olson Dr #123, Papillion, Neb.

Stam, as it’s known around here, was recommended more than once.

Adrienne S., a member of the Omaha foodies group I belong to, also recommended Stam. “Stam’s in Shadow Lake has the most amazing chocolate pieces and gelato!”

Danell T. wrote about his winter daddy-daughter date to Stam – note for those looking for hot chocolate!

 

Crave

200 S. 31st Ave., suite 4103

For a year-round taste of that craveable summer treat, the s’more, head Crave at Midtown Crossing. Crave has a s’more brownie. Shannon P. recommended it.

 

eCreamery

5001 Underwood Ave.

While I’m a purist and will 99% of the time choose good, plain chocolate ice cream, I do love added goodies to my ice cream from time to time. I have to let you know that eCreamery is ah-mazing, and you have to try Shark Bait when you’re there. It’s one of the flavors they fed to the “sharks” when they pitched to them on “Shark Tank.” Shark Bait is sea salt caramel gelato with chocolate-covered pretzels, and yes, it’s as tasty as that sounds.

 

Le Petit Paris – French Bakery

567 N. 155th Plaza

Laura I. said she had to recommend the pain au chocolat from Le Petit Paris because “everything they make is heaven!”

 

M’s Pub

Closed – but may reopen at 11th and Howard streets

Brian W. recommended an old Omaha favorite that has been closed for more than a year following a fire. But, once is does reopen, I bet he’ll be there because he says “the chocolate mocha fudge torte is No. 1 on my list of chocolatey things to eat in Omaha.”

 

The Omaha Bakery

608 S. 72nd St.

The Omaha Bakery is one of the newer kids on the block. I know you’re going to like them. They had made me at their motto on their T-shirts: “Legalize frostitution.” Carrie A. is a fan, too, and suggested you try the bon bons there. Jennifer B. seconded The Omaha Bakery, noting that “The brownies at Omaha Bakery are sinful. In a good way!”

 

Salt 88

3623 N. 129th St.

My husband’s favorite chocolate of Omaha, and possibly mine (I just can’t commit to one), was the chocolate cake at Salt 88. Cake has never left me speechless before, but this warmed slice was heavenly. It’s been two years since I had it at my birthday dinner and I still think about it.

 

Stokes

Two locations: 1122 Howard St. and 13615 California St.

I associated Stokes with killer enchiladas, but turns out, they have a craveable dessert. Debbie K. loves the flourless chocolate cake at Stokes.

 

Summer Kitchen Cafe

Three locations: 1130 Sterling Ridge Drive; 1203 Cornhusker Highway, Bellevue, Neb.; and 12010 Giles Road, La Vista, Neb.

You knew there was going to be at least one cupcake on this list if it was about chocolate in Omaha, didn’t you? Mary Eileen S. recommended the giant red velvet cupcake at Summer Kitchen Cafe. “I crave them.”

 

Ted & Wally’s

1120 Jackson St. and 6023 Maple St.

I love all kinds of flavor combinations for ice cream, but I have been known to school my nieces and children in recognizing that Omaha has the best homemade chocolate ice cream – with no add-ins – at Ted & Wally’s. I found another person, Cindy K., who agrees with me: “Simple but oooohhh so good.”

 

Twisted Cork Bistro

10730 Pacific St.

Gretchen H. said for the best chocolate in Omaha, look no further than the chocolate cookie at Twisted Cork. Though she added the word “cookie” does not do it justice.

 

V. Mertz

1022 Howard St,

Dana Z. (follow her at @omahadonewell to see great pictures of Omaha restaurants and businesses) recommended two desserts from V. Mertz. She said their candy bar and the chocolate dessert she recently had there “It was lick-the-plate yum.”

 

Whisk & Measure

2505 S. 133rd Plaza

Whitney G. loves the chocolate sea salt caramel cake at Whisk & Measure so much, she used eight exclamation points after telling me the cake was “absolutely divine.”

Please leave a comment with your recommendations!

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March 8, 2017

Where To Find Good Mexican Food In Omaha

Omaha has a vibrant Mexican community. Head to South 24th Street sometime and feel transported to Mexico, with its shops and restaurants advertising in Spanish,  and the colorful streetscape. There’s an abundance of great Mexican restaurants in Omaha thanks to that community, and not just on South 24th Street.

Ready to try some new Mexican food? I asked Oh My! Omaha Facebook fans to share their favorites, and they delivered a great assortment of options. Here’s are some local Mexican favorites:

El Dorado

5134 S. 24th St.

Katie L. and Krynn P. both recommended El Dorado. “The paradillas and seafood cocktails are INCREDIBLE. It is SO GOOD!!,” said Katie, who also wanted to point out the strawberry margaritas are “pretty yummy.”

Krynn said El Dorado was a household favorite. Her husband’s favorite thing to order there are the chicken enchiladas.

 

Maria’s Mexican Restaurant

7630 Burlington St.

For good soft shell tacos, Laura S. recommended Maria’s Mexican Restaurant, located in Ralston.

 

Fernando’s

380 N. 114th St. and 7555 Pacific St.

Donna W. recommended Fernando’s, though with two locations in Omaha, I’m not sure which one she’d steer you to. Her grandaughters’ favorite thing to order are the chicken enchiladas, but Donna’s can’t narrow it down (and no, Donna, the margarita doesn’t count!).

 

Rivera’s

12047 Blondo St.

“Rivera’s is the best! Hands down!,” said readerAmy B. “Their menu is amazing and the staff is great too!”

I asked her what she’d recommend there, and she suggested pastor tacos, and for more a unique variety, try the enchiladas potosinas, pollo a las brasas, or the carne asada. “You won’t be disappointed.”

 

Mula

3932 Farnam St.

Dana Z. from Mom’s Good Eats recommends Mula in the trendy Blackstone neighborhood, especially the guacamole and the strawberry margarita.

 

Dos de Oros Food Truck

3310 S. 24th St. (O’Reilly’s parking lot) and another parked near 24th Street and H Street

Two fans of Dos de Oros recommend a food truck called Dos de Oros. Brian W. said “Dos de Oros taco truck can’t be beat. I honestly don’t crave any other Mexican food anymore. Theirs is sooooo good.” His favorite are the tacos and burritos.

Laura S. agreed with Brian, “Their burritos and tacos are the  💣.”

 

Maximo’s Cantina

2613 N. Main St., Elkhorn, Neb.

According to Wendy S., everything at Maximo’s is good, plus a “rocking happy hour and amazing staff.”

 

Jacobo’s Grocery

4621 S. 24th St.

Yes, I agree with Lori S.  on this one, while Jacobo’s is a small grocery store and not a restaurant, its food counter should be included on this list. “The burritos at Jacobos are TDF! And the salsa! and the tamales…,” wrote Lori.

 

Trini’s

1020 Howard St.

Tim T. with The Walking Tourists recommended Trini’s, a charming restaurant in the Old Market that I like too, mostly because of the atmosphere and location.

Tim also added two more restaurants to his recommended list: La Mesa and Romeo’s.

 

Your turn:

Where in Omaha can you find the best Mexican food?

 

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February 13, 2017

SkipTheDishes In Omaha {Giveaway}

Do you guys know about SkipTheDishes? It’s a delivery service featuring a lot of restaurants who don’t typically deliver, including some of my favorite restaurants.

I never tried it until recently, when I was contacted by SkipTheDishes and they asked if I’d give it a go. What a great service!

Want to try it out? Oh My! Omaha readers can get 10% off their orders through March 31, 2017! Just use OHMYOMAHA10 at checkout. Keep reading for a giveaway!

 

What to know about SkipTheDishes

Why order delivery?

Let’s see. Are your kids wild cards when you eat out? Is it 9 degrees out? Are you so done with doing the dishes? Three very good reasons to have someone go fetch you good food.

If you feel like it, you do have the option of pick-up. I never feel like it.

 

Is it really local restaurants?

Yes, and they’re good ones! If you like ethnic foods, there are a lot represented. Restaurants serving up pizza, smoothies, falafel, ramen, subs, burgers…they’re all represented.

Want to dine in your fancy pants (ie., your nice PJs)? Order from Le Buillon or J. Coco.

We tried a new-to-us restaurant, Burrito Envy. If you try them, do yourself a favor, and get the dessert! Those little fried bites of cinnamon heaven topped with sea salt caramel make diet cheat nights worth it.

Got kids? Some of the local restaurants include some kids meal options, like Amsterdam Falafel & Kabob and Frank’s Pizzeria.

 

How much extra is delivery?

It depends on where you’re ordering from. Expect to pay between $2-$5.50.

 

How long does it take?

SkipTheDishes does a good job letting you know up-front how long deliveries will be as you browse the list. Delivery times are based on things like distance from your house, where couriers are, type of food, etc.

 

Was it easy?

Very. You need to register an account before you place an order. Then you look through the list of restaurants, find something tempting, order your meals, add the tip if you want, and then wait happily for delivery. You can place an order to be delivered “ASAP” or during a 30-minute window some other time.

 

Stalking time

You can “watch” your courier through the whole process via a GPS tracker on the website. This is particularly useful with children who ask “When is our food going to be here?” every 3 minutes.

 

Did you mess it up?

Of course. I didn’t finish the ordering process when I thought I had, so my window of delivery came and went. I had to reorder once I realized my mistake. I learned this obvious lesson:

Tip: You know your order has gone through when you get an email confirming it.

 

SkipTheDishes Omaha Discount

 

I want readers to try this service out, so SkipTheDishes is giving you 10% off orders through March 31, 2017! Just use OHMYOMAHA10 at checkout. Start drooling over browsing menus today here.

Giveaway

 

One lucky reader will receive $50 credit to SkipTheDishes! Use the easy Rafflecopter entry form below for your chance. Giveaway ends Sunday, Feb. 26, at 11:59 p.m.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Must be 18 or older to enter. Giveaway ends Sunday, Feb. 26, at 11:59 p.m. One winner will be randomly selected through Rafflecopter and contacted via email within 48 hours. The winner has 48 hours to respond before another winner is selected. Good luck and happy eating!