This My Type of Party: RnBrunch Omaha

Social media is a gift and a curse when you live in the “other” Midwest (which excludes Chicago, St Louis, etc.) Every week I’m exposed to great events that are impractical to attend (I’ve talked myself out of a $500 plane ticket for a one-day event more than once). So when Anthony Smith of Everythang’s Kosher announced he would be implementing monthly R&B (and reggae, and hip-hop and every other music genre I enjoy) themed brunch day parties I was sold. No longer would I be envious of the Brunchbounce and Views from the Grits crowd. Now, Omaha would have its own “thing”.

  


So on a sunny Saturday in July, I rallied my two closest friends and got ready to party. The inaugural Rhythm & Brunch was held in the Jackson Street Tavern Annex which had space for a dance floor, bar and breakfast buffet. Though the interior was a bit small but for the first event it was perfect and gave a real intimate feel. It also didn’t hurt the optics since the smaller space looked full without having to rely on a huge first crowd.

I, of course, made a beeline to the complimentary mimosa bar which offered the standard o.j. alongside cranberry and mixed berry juice. Blueberries or raspberries could be added if you were feeling fancy as well. A full cash bar ensured attendees were appropriately turnt, especially those who opted for the $10 unlimited rum punch. I love themes and specials so hopefully there’s a new drink next time or specialty shots.

The brunch buffet included bacon, a scrambled eggs bar, fruit, home fries and chicken & waffles. There were more hits than misses including the perfectly cooked bacon and scrambled eggs bar which I enjoyed for the variety. The home fries, unfortunately, were cut too small and ended up being dry and the waffles on their own were too blah.


Arguably, the selling point of RnBrunch is the music. The one aspect Anthony is in full control of is consistently stellar. Imagine every song you love but haven’t really considered the possibility of it getting played when you’re out. Then imagine you get to hear one or two of them mixed with new Drake, Bey, bounce music and reggae. If you don’t find yourself singing along the whole time or twerking in your seat I don’t know if we can be friends or what you’re doing with your life.


Above all, I admire Anthony’s drive to make this event better. Not discouraged by Omaha’s notorious reputation for not showing up, he still plays the best music, searches for better venues and gives back whether it’s a discount for partner organizations or donating proceeds to causes he holds near and dear (August’s Rythm & Brunch will donate 50% of the proceeds to help Baton Rouge during their time of crisis). Both the event and the intended audience has a journey ahead to perfection, but it will get there .. if only Omaha lets them.


Tickets are now on sale for the August 27 RnBrunch. Brunch tickets are $20 and available until next Thursday. General admission is $10.

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An ambitious undertaking: Flagship Commons

I ate at every Flagship Commons restaurant so you could feel like you did too.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who avoids Westroads. So many people, a high likelihood someone else will be wearing something you buy there and did I mention so many people (you’ve probably been avoiding since high school/college). So when Flagship announced their plans to open a food hall, I was intrigued. Mainly because I missed the easy access T.G.I.Friday’s had in the location and particularly as a reason to re-explore Westroads, which in its defense has added a lot of things (H&M, expanded Forever, the soon to be opened Container Store, Canes). I’m not a huge fan of the other dining options surrounding Westroads (don’t tell me how good Cheesecake Factory is … I don’t care) and liked the concept of not waiting forever for a decent meal that didn’t include mystery meat.

So for the last eight months, I have been visiting Flagship Commons, eating at every concept at least once and forming lots of opinions and a few favorites. The only exception was Aromas, as I’ve had them tons of times and coffee doesn’t really depreciate in a new location. I did snag a cinnamon roll in passing on Sunday and they were delicious.

 

Yoshi-Ya Ramen

My initial visit to Flagship came as I was attempting to not get sick before a New Year’s Eve trip. Immediately I knew steaming broth would be the answer but didn’t want to potentially contaminate the masses. Enter the Flagship concept that by far does the best job with its take-out option.Separate container for broth, the rest of the tonkotsu ingredients including chashu (soy braised chicken or pork), menma (marinated bamboo shoots), moyashi (sprouts) and negi (green onions). At the time this also included an ajitama (soy-marinated) egg but a look at the current online menu does not include this inclusion cost-free. I also added a side of korean spicy wings because I’m a glutton for punishment.

The ramen was delicious and impressive for being made in under 20 minutes at a mall. While I didn’t get the full experience of sitting at the small bar and slurping, the convenience of eating quality ramen on my couch sufficed. I immediately wanted more wings as well.

On a second visit, I opted again for take out.I tried the deluxe tonkotsu (also missing from the current online menu) which contained everything above as well as corn and bacon rayu oil made with crispy bacon and chili oil. Each time my ramen was consistent, the presentation was only slightly compromised (by the nature of the difference between a bowl and a container) and flavorful. What was at first my second favorite spot at Flagship became my Number One (more on that in a bit).

 

Clever Greens

Over my lunch break, I decided to try FC’s call ahead option and try out Clever Greens. I like to think of myself as healthy every couple of months, so this concept fits in nicely with having a salad for lunch that didn’t skimp on flavor. I chose the Caesar by Southwest which has cotija cheese, crispy tortillas, avocado, romaine and chipotle caesar. I of course also opted for the chicken add-on. They ask you if you want light, medium or heavy on the dressing which is a nice touch along with mixing everything up in a bowl for you, allowing for even distribution of ingredients. Unfortunately, calling ahead and getting this to-go only works if you live or work relatively close and plan on eating as soon as you get to your location. By the time I got back to work, after a quick stop at the bank and a last minute meeting, much of my salad was soggy. A nice touch may be to include the dressing on the side for to-go orders and letting the customer add right before consumption.

Despite my warning just now I got a salad to go again for my second visit, albeit this time better timed. I added chicken to the Baja Moment (jack cheese, crispy tortillas, sweet corn, charred red onion, avocado, romaine and tex-mex ranch) while substituting the grape tomatoes for black beans. I should have stuck with my gut and also subbed out the charred red onion as it added a weird consistency against everything else in the salad. Lots of flavor in both salads but the price point seemed just a bit much. Spending $10-12 is just a bit of a stretch when you could easily recreate each one at home. Clever Greens is heavy on convenience, which isn’t a foreign concept for the health conscience (Eat Fit Go…).

Amsterdam Falafel & Kabob

Next up was Amsterdam. I’ve had their original location on my list for a while so I was excited for the extra incentive to try it out. I went with the doner kabob (beef & lamb with tabouli, pickled red cabbage and carrot chickpea salad) sandwich option and added feta fries (curry dusted with garlic, herb, spicy green and red sauces). Admittedly, I was probably setting myself up for failure with this one as I HATE chickpeas. Don’t offer me hummus and I will give you a puzzled look if you claim falafel as the next best thing. So ordering a sandwich filled with chickpea salad and cabbage was not an inspired move. Getting past that the doner kabob was quite salty and a bit dry.

I enjoyed the fries if only for the toppings; otherwise, they were pretty ordinary.

I also tried a fountain soda, made with cane sugar and healthier sounding flavors like  agave vanilla cream. A new venture for Pepsi the Stubborn Soda line debuted at Flagship which is kind of a big deal. Still definitely soda but one I wouldn’t mind spoiling my no soda rule for.

 

Weirdough Pizza Co.

Next up was pizza as I again needed to grab and go. It was towards the end of the night so I didn’t have to contend with the lines I’d become accustomed to every lunch break so this visit started out promising. I ordered both The Butcher (tomato sauce, soppressata, mortadella, prosciutto, mozzarella) and the Cheesy (bechamel, cheese curd, grana padano, smoked caciocavallo). Of the two the Cheesy was my favorite. The unique blend of cheeses lent a certain depth to the slice. I loved the crust for both pizzas but it was not as tasty cold as some slices I’ve had and did not re-heat super well.


Juan Taco

I definitely visited Juan Taco the most out of the Flagship concepts. Mainly because I love Mexican food and partially because of my initial experience with the fish taco. Make no mistake, a meal here is pricey (par for the course) but you aren’t getting a #4 from Taco Bell. Refreshing Aguas Frescas, a killer margarita, delicious fried chicken skins with chipotle mayo (which appear to no longer be on the menu) and a phenomenal fish tacos are among my favorite foods I’ve tried at Flagship. My only qualm, and why I can’t place Juan in the number one spot is the inconsistent experience I’ve had with the fish tacos. The first time it was delicious and in the running for a better deal than MULA’s. The second time they were alright, still flavorful and with a nice amount of chipotle mayo. A third time the cabbage slaw was chopped so roughly I had to take most of it out to get an enjoyable bite and the most recent time the entire presentation was a bit off, making it the messiest taco I’ve ever eaten.

An order of charro beans and green chile rice didn’t impress – lacking any kick or spice as one would expect from something with green chile present. A carnitas tacos had tender meat but a weird overall experience with the presence of beans. Again, if you get anything here, try a fish taco and get a fresca or margarita and definitely stay to eat (these tacos do not travel very well very far).

 

Blatt Beer & Table

Blatt is the only concept here with the option for full service so I decided to try it on a slower Thursday. The “interior” matches their other locations almost perfectly and there is an outdoor patio. I started with a Blonde Fatale and decided to order a Blatt Burger as it was one of the few items I hadn’t tried on the menu. I’m normally quite picky but reined it in this time, only asking them to take off the tomato and pickles while giving me the Guinness-braised onions on the side and paying extra for the aged white cheddar (because I don’t eat plain hamburgers by choice).

 

Clearly, my perception of this being a slower night was not shared by my server. After waiting forever just to get a beer ordered she then had to “fix” my order three times, the first time occurring because my burger had pickles. Then there were no onions on the side and no white cheddar which I added when ordering. There were maybe four other couples or people there so the “full-service” experience was a little bothersome but the burger was good and the beer was cold.

 

Yum Roll & The Bar

I saved Yum Roll for last as I am not really a huge fan of Blue Sushi. It’s obvious that a food hall owned by Flagship would include their own existing concepts like Blue and Blatt so I tried to be a bit more optimist than I normally would be. I decided to try one safe thing that I knew I loved (itchy salmon) and branch out into a new roll and a Yum-Yum bowl.

 

While waiting for my food to be prepared I also had a quick drink at The Bar. The bartender made my mojito simply enough and even transferred it to a plastic cup when I told her I didn’t know how long my food was going to take. Wasn’t the fanciest or strongest drink I’ve ever tried but we also are in the middle of a mall. For $7 however, I’d recommend just getting a margarita from Juan or a drink at Blatt that packs a bit more punch.

 

The Philly Bomb I tried was good – great presentation, fresh and made quickly. It’s an interesting experience to watch the sushi chefs making various rolls as passer byers look on in amusement or puzzlement.

 

My yum-yum bowl containing brown rice, lemongrass chicken, charred miso butter corn and green curry with cilantro + thai basil and fried shallots was enjoyable. I was expecting a bit more flavor from all the toppings I selected and for it to be a little less dry. Reminded me of an Asian version of Chipotle’s bowl (which I also think is overrated but whatevs).

 

Overall, Flagship Commons is a great concept. I love the option to get something other than chicken fingers at the mall and the design of the space is great. But many of the concepts are just a little too safe or not as well executed as some would expect, especially considering the price points of each. It begs the question of who is Flagship’s real audience. If it’s run of the mill mall-goers some big considerations need to be made around adjusting attitudes around mall food price points. If they are looking to attract people like me, who don’t really care about the mall but would like a decent fish tacos when in the vicinity, consistency and quality needs to be a focus.

In the end, Flagship hasn’t reached destination status for me. Outside of this article, I wouldn’t see myself going out of my way for any of the food. But I’m interested in seeing their growth and recognize that they are looking at new ways to attract a more invested crowd such as their Happy Hour, Vegan Thursdays, Friday Night Concert Series and the upcoming Patio Days at their Blatt full-service section and outdoor patio.

 

You probably won’t turn green with Burrito Envy

A change happened shortly before Christmas in Benson. Baxter’s Pizza closed its doors and a new kid took over the small space by Infusion Brewing. Burrito Envy & Tequila Bar specializes in just that. Assorted burrito and taco options alongside tequila based cocktails and tequila variations.

 

Being the #TacoTuesday obsessive I am, I was quite excited about BE initially. My first visit was quite promising, the staff was much nicer than Baxter’s and food came out quickly. I tried the Mediterran Burrito Bowl (mediterranean chicken with rice, beans, lettuce, olives, tomatoes, feta cheese & tzatziki sauce) which was quite good. The olives made it a little salty but the tzatziki was perfect and the chicken had a nice flavor.


Next was the veracruzana (agave nectar, lime, tequila & pineapple) or quite possibly the best tequila based cocktail I’ve ever tasted. The agave nectar made this mucho refreshing and the pineapples are there just long enough to soak up some of the goodness. The presentation was a little confusing but it is still my go-to drink recommendation for this place.

  
Next visit was a to-go order. I went with the namesake Envy burrito with carnitas, beans, rice, lettuce, cotija cheese & sour cream (cucumber pico on the side). After the burrito bowl I was excited about this burrito and to try out a new pico — sadness met me instead. There were hardly any carnitas in this burrito. Bite after bite came back with just rice or beans. In theory, the cucumber pico is good, but really it comes across as both refreshing and bland — no real flavor profile can be found.

  

On my last visit for this review, I went for light snacks. I ordered the chips and queso which came out in a nice sized metal bowl. I didn’t much care for the chips they serve at BE, something about the flavor is off. The queso itself was pretty good. A good consistency and you can tell it was real cheese. There wasn’t much spice or kick to it which is something I prefer in queso. Would be a good addition to one of their burrito bowls.


I also tried a quesadilla with sour cream. The tortilla was really good and it’s pretty hard to mess up a quesadilla so five stars there.

I also tried a strawberry margarita. A far cry from the veracruzana, this marg was very syrupy-sweet. It reminded me of Don & Millie’s margaritas only D&M’s is stronger and $5 cheaper.


I’d like to see Burrito Envy get better with time. It’s in a prime location and adds something nice to the Benson corridor. They’ve added different specials like their #TacoTuesday three tacos and a Tecate for $8. Maybe soon they’ll have something other burrito shops in town can be envious about.

Mantra: a review

If you’ve ever driven down Maple, past 72nd towards Historic Benson — you’ve seen Mantra Bar & Grille (6913 Maple Street). A small space that ordinarily would get overlooked, its neon trees catch your eyes no matter how focused on the road you are. With its modge-podge parking spots (pro-tip: always aim for the garage doors facing Maple first), intimate patio area and open bar next to the interior dining space Mantra nails the hole-in-the-wall  vibe without crossing over into divey.

 

Larger parties get the privilege of being the center piece in Mantra, flanked by smaller groups along the back wall and patio entryway. Food comes out quickly for the most part and Mantra has a good selection of cocktails, wines, beers and other libations to take your mind off of how hungry you may be. Their bottomless mimosa special is standard fare (pro tip two: ask them  to add pineapple) jazzed up by the promo “penny a piece mimosas after purchase of two”.

 

My first Mantra visit was for a birthday dinner. As we waited for everyone in the party to arrive the bartender let us order a drink while we waited. I started with a peach julep because it was one of the few bourbon based specialty cocktails. Ended up being just a little too sweet for me.

 

Someone at the table ordered spinach artichoke dip to share. Creamy deliciousness in a good sized ramekin that wasn’t overpowered by any one ingredient. It came with both pita crackers and crusty french bread. The french bread was definitely the better choice for this appetizer.

 

I decided on the seafood enchiladas, which I knew could be risky. The scallops were definitely fresh and the cumin cream sauce would be good on quite a few things. The filling did come across very bland, the strongest flavors came from the cream sauce and beans (which weren’t choke full of it either).

 


I also tried the black and blue Manhattan that night. A much stronger drink choice than the julep, the blackberry jam didn’t make the Manhattan too syrupy sweet.

 


My next visit to Mantra was for brunch. We started with the obligatory mimosa which had a good ratio of booze to juice.

 


Although I’m not a huge crepe fan I tried their special that day — a crepe with chorizo and jalapeno hollandaise. The crepe was fabulously done and there was enough filling to give it real substance. The hollandiase wasn’t too spicy and the side of potatoes were just crispy enough. The English muffins were the best I’ve had at a restaurant in a while.

 


If you find yourself driving down Maple and have a few hours to spend Mantra is definitely worth a visit. While their menu isn’t huge, they take the time to get many things right. And who doesn’t want to eat dinner by neon tree light.

 

 

The secret’s out: Omaha Supper Club

Things are changing for the Omaha culinary scene, and they have been for a few years. “Foodies” or people who just like to eat no longer have to long for many of the things only accessible by television or a trip in 2015. Food trucks, farm to table, you name it and Omaha has it.

While aspects of a secret dining scene, supper clubs or “pop-ups” have emerged in certain pockets, never has one aimed to be accessible to young minorities in Omaha like Omaha Supper Club (OSC). Part pop-up (venues change for each supper) and not entirely secret (details can be found on Facebook and easily by word-of-mouth) Omaha Supper Club brings a take on dining that’s commonplace in many bigger cities. While still a newcomer to Omaha’s culinary climate, the two dinners have made an impact on all that have attended.

Shalauna Wilkins, a repeat Supper Cluber, believes in the sustainability of OSC due to its uniqueness.

“It’s a classy event. Each time you come it’s a different chef that’s featured … The chefs can show their talents, eventually even getting examples from the guests about things they want to see in the future like an Iron Chef theme. It’s different for up and coming chefs to be able to present their craft.”

I was excited to experience OSC for the first time having followed the movement in other cities for quite some time. The energy was palpable as this supper would be showcasing the creator of the organization,  Chef Alexander. He’s built up a following in Omaha offering southern favorites such as shrimp and grits and banana pudding. Surely he would pull out all the stops for this occasion.

The Venue

Love’s Jazz & Arts Center is a nice venue for music and relaxing. The expansion of the bar in the front has only enhanced the attractiveness of LJAC for events. It was nicely divided between a cocktail hour and the dining space. The one caveat is there isn’t much room for prep in the back. This made the time between dishes being prepared, plated and served a little longer than most guests would have liked. The social media user in me also hates the lighting in Love’s, no great selfies or Snapchats if that’s your thing.

The Atmosphere

OSC is meant to be an experience. While me and my friend were easily the youngest two in attendance, I  didn’t feel out-of-place. The music was in turn current (The Internet) and classic (DeAngelo) while plenty of room was left for mingling. You could tell many in the room were on dates and for the most part, people dressed accordingly. The excitement was palpable as everyone waited for the main event. For everyone in Omaha that complains they’re tired of the bars or have nothing to do, OSC may be the answer– especially for the young professional crowd. The night ended with a comedy performance which was nice. Had the entertainment been during the cocktail hour I probably would have focused more instead of facing a potential food coma.

The Food

Starters
Meatball etouffee & mini stuffed peppers

I enjoyed both of Chef Alexander’s starters although calling it “etouffee” may have been a bit of a stretch. The gravy was nice and flavorful with bell pepper present but didn’t have the kick I’m accustomed to from an etouffee. Would have liked to see the meatballs incorporating rice as well, a riff on etouffee and the traditional boudin ball starter. The spinach dip inside the pepper was delicious and I’m so happy it wasn’t the cold version many use in peppers.

Salad
Spring greens with roasted apples, chevre, walnuts & balsamic vinaigrette

Objectively, this salad was great. I love chevre (goat cheese if you are like many who were in attendance who’d never had it) and balsamic vinaigrette together and the roasted apples were a good seasonal touch. Keeping that in mind I was a bit disappointed in this offering as it was very “safe” and I don’t think “cajun” or “creole” when given a spring green salad with goat cheese and balsamic.

Entree
Seafood grits — shrimp, scallop, crawfish and andouille over southern grits with cajun cream sauce, collard greens & stewed tomatoes | Josh Chardonnay wine pair

On its face the seafood grits were a dream. Each shrimp was plump and the sausage and crawfish lent the dish a nice depth. The cream sauce melded everything together and the collards had the spice the dish needed. I don’t really eat collards unless they’re from my grandmother or NaNa’s kitchen, but their addition took these grits to the level they needed. Unfortunately my grits were cold when they arrived, I attribute this to the time it takes to plate in a tiny space in a short span of time. The scallop was nice and buttery (coming from someone who doesn’t even care for scallops this was hard to come to terms with). The chardonnay was a good pair but also reminded me how I wish the seafood grits were spicier. But we live in Nebraska where some can’t handle too much.

I’m probably in the minority, however, I was looking forward to having something other than shrimp and grits (albeit one on steroids) from this dinner. We’ve seen what he can do with this dish, it would have been nice to see him flex his muscles a bit with a totally different entree.

Dessert
Hennessy Bananas Foster over cream cake & vanilla bean ice cream

Desert was a real treat with a flambe demonstration for the crowd.


The butter cake oddly enough reminded me of cornbread. A little on the dry side but a good portion so you don’t feel guilty about having too much. Each component was plated semi-separately, wonder if the melted ice cream from the sauce over the cake would have changed my perception of the cake. I’ll get crucified for this but I didn’t love the substitution of Henn for rum. Never considered myself a BF purist but something was missing for me here. Maybe I’ll ask for two fingers of Hennessy on the side next time.

Omaha Supper Club deserves the support it needs to grow and improve. With any new venture there are problems that, with time, will resolve themselves. The amount of aspiring chefs in Omaha alone who could benefit from the exposure here makes it worth the price of the ticket. As more and more young professionals, older professionals, folks who love food and people just willing to try something once look for more than most sit down or fast food restaurants can offer, the space OSC is currently pioneering will widen. Experience it before the space gets too crowded.

Omaha Supper Club occurs monthly.
Friend Omaha Supper Club on Facebook to stay in the loop.

Chef Alexander couldn’t be reached for comment.

Omaha Food This Week: 10.18.15

Welcome to the inaugural Omaha Food This Week recap where I go eat great food/attend culinary events and write about it. This week- National Gumbo Day with Shuck’s Fish House & Oyster Bar and The Market House’s Fall Menu Party.

Monday, October 12 was National Gumbo Day. To commemorate, Shuck’s offered Gumbo Flights Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. A friend and I decided to stop by during Happy Hour Monday and try the full flight (five types of gumbo).


Shuck’s original- a go-to for many at Shuck’s. Nice flavors from the seafood and sausage, not too spicy.

Turducken- not a huge fan of dark roux and the combo of duck and turkey with the chicken made the gumbo very heavy. Overpowered any spice that was present.

Alligator- a runner-up,the alligator was done well and reminded my friend of chicken. Great choice if you’re burned out on the original.

Root Vegetable- my least favorite of the night and the only one I didn’t finish. Very bland and a too thick consistency even for gumbo.

Crawfish- by far my favorite of the night. Nice pieces of crawfish and spice. The lighter roux lets the crawfish really shine.


Thursday October 15 The Market House had a Seasons Soiree to celebrate their Fall Menu. They had selections from the menu as well as tastings from Zipline Brewing and Dark Horse Distillery.


I tried both the Copper Alt amd Nut Brown from Zipline. The Copper Alt being their most popular, it’s a smooth ale/lager hybrid. I was pleasantly surprised by the Nut Brown. Not too dark and a very smooth finish.



The Dark Horse Distillery samples included their Reserve Bourbon Whiskey, Reunion Rye Whiskey and Reunion Barrel Strength. While I loved the Barrel Strength my favorite was the Rye, perfect for a strong Manhattan or Old Fashioned.


  
And now for the menu bites-

Deviled Farm Eggs (salmon roe, house bacon, fleur de sel)
Possibly the best deviled eggs I’ve had in a while. The filling was straight forward, no mayo or sauce to make it runny or too sweet. The combo of salmon roe and fleur de sel gave it a distinct saltiness but the bacon did get a little lost.


Baby Romaine (smoked oyster dressing, brioche, grana padano)
A deconstructed play on the Caesar salad the individual romaine leaves looked a little “meh” at first. After one bite, however, it was hard to not eat the whole platter. The smoked oyster dressing was divine and a perfect substitute for sardines, giving the “salad” more depth.


Mussels (red curry, sweet potato, leek, grilled peasant bread)
Full disclosure– I’m not the hugest fan of mussels. One too many rubbery-renditions have put me off them. In spite of this, The Market House put a dent in my disdain. Super soft with the right amount of chew the mussels benefited greatly from the curry. The true draw for this dish was the curry sauce. Super creamy and subtly spicy, you get grilled peasant bread for dipping. I ended up eating just bread and sauce at one point, not being able to resist sopping it all up (despite my dislike of soggy bread. again touche MH). If Market House sold this sauce in a saucer with bread I’d visit every weekend.