Friday, October 23, 2020

Stopping in at three Omaha Favorites

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
 
- The Gateway to the West 

We took a socially distanced roadtrip to Colorado earlier this month which meant the local eats of Omaha would finally be within reach. Believe it or not the biggest town in Nebraska has a pretty rich food scene if you like roadfood type spots. Maybe not Warren Buffet rich but I would've been happy to spend a night or even two and hopefully I do someday but for this trip it made little sense to stop since we left Chicago around 4:30a and were in Omaha around noon. Might as well get to where we were going for the next 12 days and we got there before 8p with the hour gained back and all. So while I had a good two handfuls worth of spots in Omaha that I wanted to try I was only able to get to three of my choosing based on them being open when I was passing through and also being able to easily eat the food I was getting to go. So no steakhouses or stops at the legendary Joe Tess Fish Place this trip. I'd wanted to get a meat sheet pizza on the way home but after the burger below and a week plus of Den-Mex I couldn't eat anymore. Thus I had to put off a stop in Des Moines too. But in the end I chose three places that give a good idea of the locally loved food of Omaha. So here's the beef. 

Omaha, NE
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Crescent Moon Ale House 

So first things first I had to have a Reuben Sandwich in the city where it was born. Or so goes one of the stories if it’s origin. Reuben Kulakofsky and the Blackstone Hotel’s poker games are long gone but the Reuben sandwich is as prevalent as ever in Omaha where lots and lots of spots serve it. This popular beer bar across the street from where the Blackstone Hotel used to stand often gets mentioned as the best in town and they go through 100’s of pounds of corned beef weekly. It’s too tender to slice so it’s just broken up into chunks and joined by Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and topped with Thousand Island dressing and sandwiched between two slices of grilled marble rye. Perfectly constructed and different from most in that instead of pressing it on a hot flattop they put it through a pizza conveyer belt to get all the cheese melted. Fantastic. The onion rings were fried "hard" but the sandwich was sensational. I'd contemplated getting one on the ride home so you know it was good.

Reuben Sandwich at Crescent Moon Ale House 
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GI Forum

Nebraska Style Crispy Tacos were actually the first pit stop of the trip. I was extra excited for these. Omaha (and Scottsbluff) is a big stop on America's Crispy Taco Trail. A series of stops I'll always stop for. These places arent quite nearing extinction but when they're all gone they're gone for good. That's bc you cant recreate what people used to perceive Mexican food and the restaurants that serve them as. Not after Mexican food has come so far in America to where it's now pretty common knowledge that it's an extremely regional cuisine. So much so that even Mexican-American food can be regional. More on that in my Denver round-up. In Omaha a crispy taco is ground beef fried inside a flour tortilla to order. Lots of spots around town serve these and GI Forum is one of the most popular. It’s a local VFW where on my visit the average age of customers was 55+ so it’s like most VFW’s in that regard. That said most people are here for the crispy tacos and not just the cheap beer. When fried, flour tortillas get crisp but not crunchy, if that makes sense. I just wish I could’ve explored South Omaha a bit more. Don’t get it twisted they got what looked to be lots of taquerias and taco trucks worth trying. But any talk on the history of tacos in this town has to include these. You already know I loved them. 

Fried Tacos at GI Forum 
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Stella's Bar & Grill 

As regular readers know I’ve indulged in countless of the Midwest’s best burgers. But this trip was my first log of a spot in Nebraska. Stella’s outside of Omaha was my pick for an old ‘Hamburger America’ original. They’ve been at it since 1936 which to me means it’s good. They started as a stand served out of the sunroom of a house but have ballooned into a full fledged bar that brings in folks from across the state. Burgers are made with fresh local beef and weigh in at about 6.5 oz each. Even though I'm a minimal toppings guy I decided to try the Stella’s Staple with bacon and egg and it’s probably the best burger I’ve had this year. I also tend to prefer thinner patties but this one was the perfect change of pace from the smashed burger craze sweeping the nation. They have this small flattop that must hold a ton of flavor as they crank them out all day. Fresh cut fries and onion rings too.

Stella's Staple Burger at Stella's Bar & Grill 
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Bonus Stop!

Runza (locations throughout Nebraska)

Last stop on our journey out to Colorado and back. I couldn’t help myself as there was a Runza right by the gas station I stopped to fill up at. Runza is to Nebraska as Maid Rite is Iowa or In-N-Out and California. It’s regional fast food at its finest and that’s bc they’re doing a completely local thing and it’s freshly made at that. What they call a runza is what’s usually called bierock. It’s a yeast dough pastry pocket sandwich with savory filling, originating in Eastern Europe, possibly in Russia. Seasoned ground beef is mixed with cabbage and onions in their original offering. Maybe my favorite regional fast food chain as they translate well to car travel and are doing something different from all the rest. I preferred the original to the cheeseburger version I tried. Either way they’re a treat when in the region as you’ll only find a select few out of state locations in neighboring states (CO) (KS) (IA). 

Runza in the flesh
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See ya next time @chibbqking

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