July 14, 2017

Lost Restaurants Of Omaha

Update: I’ve been adding author appearances & locations to purchase the book. Scroll down to find them!

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I’ve written a book, you guys, and it’s now published!  “Lost Restaurants of Omaha” was published by Arcadia Publishing and The History Press on Oct. 30, 2017. 

Lost Restaurants of Omaha cover

 

This has been a labor of love for over a year. I’ve interviewed a number of families and friends connected to some of Omaha’s most beloved restaurants; scoured hundreds of newspaper stories, magazines and books; and one time, chatted on the phone with Alexander Payne during my son’s 7th birthday.

True story.

 

This is what book research looks like at Louie M’s Burger Lust. Louie Marcuzzo’s grandma opened Italian Gardens in Little Italy, a restaurant that was bombed right before opening.

 

There are some incredible photos in the book, too, and I want to express my appreciation for the folks at The Durham Museum Photo Archive, who not only helped me search for photos properly, but helped make it affordable to secure the rights to use the images. You can browse their archives, too, and even reprint photos for your own use. 

Researching this book made made me realize how connected restaurants are to this city’s history. Many of the restaurants in this book were open during my lifetime and, yet, I never dined there. My hope is that what I’ve written will recreate some of those dining experiences for those who did make it to those restaurants, and inform the rest of us what we missed. Writing this book spurred the Old School Omaha dining series on this blog where I visited some of Omaha’s oldest restaurants, because I don’t want to realize too late that I missed visiting a gem in my own city.

 

Where to buy “Lost Restaurants of Omaha”

The following list is for online and Nebraska-based booksellers. Please call ahead to make sure the book is in stock before making the drive locally:

Amazon

Arcadia Publishing

Barnes & Noble – Crossroads and Oak View locations

Big G Ace Hardware, 3203 Osborne Drive W., Hastings, Neb.

Books-A-Million

The Bookworm

Costco, 12300 Dodge St.*

Costco, 8250 S. 125th St., La Vista, Neb.*

Douglas County Historical Society gift shop, 5730 N. 30th St., #11b

The Durham Museum gift shop

Fairmont Mercantile, 1209 Jackson St.

Indie Bound

Landmark Stores, Lincoln, Neb.

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters in Omaha

Nebraska Historical Society Museum gift shop, 131 Centennial Mall North, Lincoln, Neb.

Sam’s Club, 9851 S. 71st Plaza, Papillion, Neb.*

Sam’s Club, 3221 Manawa Center Drive, Council Bluffs, Iowa*

Sam’s Club, 13130 L St.*

*May be seasonal; books were available at Christmas

Upcoming Appearances

May 17 – Omaha Business Men’s Association

May 31 – Southwest Omaha Kiwanis

 

Previous Appearances

2018

Jan. 12 – Cosmopolitan meeting, 7:30 a.m.

Jan. 13 – Facebook Q&A with Omaha History Club, noon

March 11 – “Omaha’s Delicious History: Stories From Lost Restaurants of Omaha,” speaker at Douglas County Historical Society’s Second Sunday Series, 2 p.m., Metropolitan Community College Fort Omaha Campus

2017

Nov. 2 – Tune in to KMTV Channel 3’s “The Morning Blend” to hear me talk about the book. The show airs from 9 to 10 a.m.

Nov. 3 – Tune to Star 104.5 FM morning show with Chris and Terri. I’m pre-recording an interview with them and anticipate it airing the following morning.

Nov. 4Omaha Public Library’s Read It & Eat Culinary Conference (I’ll be doing the Q&A at 12:15…the conference is all about sweets, you guys, and there will be food samples. You need to go!)

Nov. 12 – Forgotten Omaha monthly meeting at DJ’s Dugout, 5 p.m. Books will be available for purchase.

Dec. 9 – Book signing at Barnes & Noble Booksellers at Crossroads Mall, 1 to 3 p.m. Books will be available for purchase.

Dec. 10 – Book signing at Barnes & Noble Booksellers at Oak View, 1 to 3 p.m. Books will be available for purchase.

Dec. 16 – Book signing at Sarpy County Museum, 2402 Clay St, Bellevue, Neb., 1 to 3 p.m. Books will be available for purchase.

Dec. 17 – Book signing at The Bookworm, 2501 S. 90th St., suite 111, 1 p.m. Books will be available for purchase. Other authors at the book signing will be Gretchen Garrison (“Detour Nebraska”) and the author of “Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium (Landmarks)”

 

 

Stay tuned for updates on local stores to purchase the book and more author appearances!

 

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June 28, 2017

Feed Your Inner-Child At These Omaha Restaurants

Omaha’s food scene has made it entirely possible to eat like a child and not feel guilty. Cotton Candy after dinner? Yes, please. Homemade pop tarts? I’ll try one of each. Mac and cheese? Well, it is gourmet.

I asked Oh My! Omaha Facebook fans and friends in the Omaha Area Foodies Facebook group, to share their thoughts on the topic: Restaurants that include your inner-child.

Want to indulge your inner-child? Dine at one of these Omaha restaurants:

Omaha restaurants to feed your inner-child

Cotton Candy

Salt 88 has been surprising diners for a few years, handing over cotton candy as an unexpected treat at the end of a meal. You’ll never know what flavor it will be, but it’s safe to assume it’s going to be tasty. Heather reminded me of this delicious treat, adding 💕💕💕 to her comment, because it is that good.

Salt 88, 3623 N. 129th St. (Closed July 22, 2017)

 

French Fried Twinkies & Other Delights

The only thing better than a Twinkie, Oreos or a Snickers, is a french fried Twinkie, Oreo or Snickers. Amirigtht? Gabriela agrees with me. She recommends going to W.C. Frank to try these delicious treats. Yeah, the W.C. Frank from your childhood is back.

W.C. Frank, 210 S. 16th St. (in the Brandeis Building food court).

 

Grilled Cheese…But Fried

Cheese and fried foods. It’s a match made in heaven. Amanda recommended readers try the cheese frenchee at Don & Millies.

There are seven locations in Nebraska.

 

Hot Dogs

Hot dogs have been taken to a new level at B & B Classic Dogs. Think of topping a hot dog off with peanut butter and bacon, or perhaps try the Some Mitch, which is covered with mac & cheese, bacon & barbecue sauce. Two people, Jen and Danell, gave me high praise for this Bellevue restaurant.

B & B Classic Dogs, 1020 Lincoln Road, Bellevue, Neb.

 

Ice Cream

If it was socially accepted, I’d eat ice cream daily. Maybe as a meal itself. Cindy agreed with me, and confessed she sometimes eats ice cream for lunch…Ted and Wally’s ice cream, that is. I get it. It’s that good. Cindy and I would get along, because she’s also a traditionalist when she orders, getting vanilla and Dutch chocolate in a waffle cone. You can get fancier and more playful flavors, but why would you? That Dutch chocolate is the best in the world.

Ted and Wally’s, 1120 Jackson St. and 6023 Maple St.

Loose Meat Sandwiches

Craving this Midwestern staple? Jamie at The Kitchenarium recommends going to B&G Tasty Foods to relive your childhood. The Bee Gee hasn’t changed since 1953.

B&G Tasty Foods, 7900 W Dodge Road

 

Mac N Cheese

Omahans love their macaroni and cheese, the more gourmet, the better. When I was pregnant, I swear I’ve tried them all. The best of the best, in my opinion, is found at Marks Bistro. Others disagree. Jamie at The Kitchenarium recommends going to the Blatt Beer & Table (in NoDo) for their mac and cheese. Jake suggested going to Leadbelly at Midtown Crossing for it. And, Cassie directed people to Benson Brewery to try it.

Marks Bistro, 4916 Underwood Ave.

Blatt Beer & Table, 610 N. 12th St.

Leadbelly, 3201 Farnam St., Suite 6101 (there’s a Lincoln location, as well)

Benson Brewery, 6059 N. Maple St.

 

Open-Faced Grilled PB&J

You’re going to want to head to Kitchen Table for this modern take on the peanut butter and jelly classic. Janelle from Bakes in Slippers suggested it.

Kitchen Table, 1415 Farnam St.

 

Pizza Cones

You didn’t even know these were a thing, did you? They are, and they’re so good. You can get the cone of cheesey goodness at The Session Room in NoDo. While there, further indulge that inner-child and play some oversized Jenga.

The Session Room, 1506 Mike Fahey St.

Pop Tarts

If you’ve never had a homemade pop tart, you’re missing out. Over Easy in West Omaha serves up this amazing breakfast pastry with a twist. You can get one stuffed with Nutella or a seasonal flavor.

Over Easy, 16859 Q St.

 

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June 5, 2017

Old School Omaha: Nitehawkes 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, Orsi’s Italian Bakery & Pizzeria and Johnny’s Cafe.

It’s about time I got a breakfast out of this oldest restaurants series! NiteHawkes Cafe serves breakfast and lunch, but, I’m always on the look for a new place to try for breakfast. So, we headed up to North Omaha to try this long-running diner.

This family owned restaurant (the Hawkes family, if you’re wondering) has been around since 1942. They serve breakfast and lunch, with the made-to-order breakfast menu available that entire time.

Nitehawkes Cafe

A busy parking lot is a good sign for a local restaurant.

My kind of place.

Atmosphere at NiteHawkes

The exterior isn’t much to write home about, nor is the interior. It is more spacious than you’d think, once you’re inside, and on the Saturday morning of our visit, it looked like there were regulars all around us.

I bet this place gets pretty busy on a weekend morning.

There’s a small counter near the kitchen that added some interest to the interior, but other than that, not much made this place standout.

It’s no Johnny’s Cafe when it comes to decor, is what I’m saying.

The food at NiteHawkes

You’d better arrive hungry at NiteHawkes Cafe. This is The Scrambler and it comes with either pancakes or toast. Go big or go home.

I ordered one of their specialties (“Hometown Favorites” on the menu), and Mr. Wonderful order another. We went big, because, why not. I tried The Scrambler with toast, justifying the gravy and hashbrowns because of all the vegetables that were added to it. Legit, right?

Mr. Wonderful had The Stacker, which is eggs, hashbrowns and gravy over some flaky biscuits. 

I’m not much of a gravy person, but the sausage gravy was what made both dishes.

M&Ms on my kids’ pancakes because the syrup was just not enough sugar. 🙂

The kids each got a smiley face pancake with a side of bacon. For $2.69 a plate, that was a great deal.

If you’re serious about your coffee, relax. It’s pretty good here.

Good coffee elevates a diner to a whole new level.

I can’t vouch for the quality of lunch food. I can tell you it’s what you’d expect for a diner: Sandwiches, a good variety of grilled foods, soups and salads. There are some interesting burger toppings to point out: There’s the Dan Special which includes some Royal French dressing on top, and The Big Hawkes Burger, with 1000 Island dressing on it. I’m pretty curious about the dressings, that’s for sure.

Overall experiences

Hanging out at the Nitehawkes Cafe counter.

The NiteHawkes Cafe is the quintessential diner – no frills, just good, straight-forward food. The price is about right for a diner and the service was quick.

There’s little wonder why this restaurant has stayed in business for so long.

If you go

Nitehawkes Cafe

Where: 4825 N. 16th St.

When: Tuesdays through Fridays, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and closed on Mondays

Website

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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?