Thursday, December 29, 2011

Le Voltaire

569 North 155th Plaza (in Pepperwood Village Shopping Center)
Omaha, NE 68154
(402) 934-9374
Open for lunch Thurs and Fri, dinner Tues thru Saturday, closed Sun and Mon 

A fabulous idea for NYE ... especially if you'll be hanging out with your parents. 

The interior was dazzling, but there was still something very "West O strip mall" about it that I can't quite put my finger on. Our server diligently refilled our waters after every single sip, which is good if you're on a kidney cleanse but bad if you want to be left alone. With a wine list ranging from $7 glasses to $1200 bottles, nearly all indiscriminately yet impressively French, there's something for everyone. (Just not fans of Keystone light.)

Glass of Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes, Albert Bichot 2008:
Light bodied, but with complex fruit flavors.
Didn't leave purple mouth.

The lunch menu is affordable enough for the average underemployed foodie ($13.95 for app + entree). The escargots, glistening with olive oil and herbs, disappeared faster than you can say "I'm eating snails!" Underneath the thick cheesy canopy of the French onion soup, a delicate broth was revealed. The duck leg confit was a great winter dish, with buttery potatoes and abundant aromatic rosemary. I wasn't blown away by the sandwich végétarien, since it seemed like another extra-cheese-for-meat trade every vegetarian is probably used to. I appreciated the effort to serve everything very, very hot, but it was too bad that once the fries cooled off their true blandness shone through. These must be what "Freedom fries" taste like, 'cause it was the one thing on the menu that didn't seem French.

Chef Fichepain -- after ten years of being opened -- seems content with ultra-traditional French fare, but perhaps that's just fine. As Voltaire once said, "Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien (perfect is the enemy of good)," or as I like to say "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Le Voltaire fills the niche of classic French cuisine brilliantly, and is a great place to impress your girlfriend's parents.

Escargot Exhibit A

Escargot Exhibit B

Soupe á l'oignon gratinée au fromage--
That's French for "chunk of cheese served on a doily."

Duck Confit with Red Potatoes, Roasted Tomato and Herbs

Sandwich Végétarien:
"Open face sandwich served with grilled vegetables, goat cheese, and gruyere cheese. Topped with nuts."
The veggies didn't seem grilled, but rather a heavily sauteed ratatouille of mostly peppers.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Jacobo's Grocery

4621 South 24th Street
Omaha, NE 68107
(402) 733-9009
Open Tues thru Fri 8:30am-6:30pm, Sat and Sun 8am-6pm, Mon closed
Jacobo's Grocery on Urbanspoon

You ain't seen no chicharrón like this one. It's like, a whole side of pig.
Burritos and tamales, too! 

I am typing this to you with one hand, and sensually shoveling a forkful of tamale into my mouth with the other. Next time I visit Jacobo's, I won't hesitate to tear open the corn husk in the parking lot and just start eating it there. Pretty soon I bet my car will be full of empty corn husks, which is better than Taco Bell wrappers, for sure. The lightly fried beef burrito was good too, but I think I'd prefer all or nothing as far as deep fried goes. At $1.50 each, someone should inform the cars wrapping around the nearby McDonald's drive-thru, cause these burritos are a much more fulfilling fat lunch. Shelves are stocked with every type of bean and rice you can imagine, along with a hot sauce for practically every day of the year. Behind the counter, a lard ball* floats in the vat of pinto beans, proof these are "real deal" frijoles. The chips and salsa might be some of the best in the city -- but you have to like cilantro. In sum, Jacobo's offers a cheap, fun lunch, and on some days you might burn enough calories standing in line to justify stuffing yourself.

*A later conversation with Mr. Jacobo revealed that they do not use lard in their beans. I must have been hallucinating. Nothing new there. 


Pastry Case

At Home

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Marylebone Tavern

3710 Leavenworth Street
Omaha, NE 68105
(402) 341-3232
Open daily for lunch and dinner
Marylebone Tavern on Urbanspoon

...But it was Monday, not Tuesday. 

You've seen the giant shamrock painted across Leavenworth. Maybe you've even been drunk here before. I won't argue that this is a great place to get loaded, but there's considerable "best burger" buzz swirling around about the Marleybone too. As a pub food aficionado, a devoted lover of all things served in greasy baskets without silverware but with plenty of napkins, I had to investigate.

The menus were crusted with grimy fingerprints, the mark of patrons past throwing burgers down their gullets and washing them down with pitchers of piss beer. There were also some charming grammatical errors on the menu, but it's not about spellin', it's about cookin', right?

My appetizer Drummies were a chicken product that somewhat resembled hot wings. They were heavily breaded with something mildly spicy, and kind of uncomfortable to eat, as they were very well done and overly crispy, so much that my Rumple Minze aperitif couldn't dull the pain. Even more distressing was paying $7 for them. Fortunately, the Boner Dog provided much more cheerful amusement, mostly due to the novelty of ordering a bacon-wrapped deep fried hot dog with a goofy name. So what if our stomachs "felt weird" for the rest of the day; we ate a Boner Dog! The favorite was indeed the burger, a patty with so much girth it was almost a round ball of beef. It came cooked through, but still juicy, and with melted pepper jack that made its way into every molten crevice. The Marleybone burger can stand up to some of the city's professed tried and true favorites, and is totally worth a try. My friends were fans of the fries, but I found them a little soggy and saltless, which isn't a huge deal.

Some things were a hit, and some were a miss. Take comfort in the cheap drinks and the friendly faces and you'll forget your food wasn't that great. I do believe that's the beauty of pub food.

Drummies with Ranch--

Marleybone Burger with Pepper Jack--
A hit

The Boner Dog:
Bacon-wrapped, deep-fried hot dog with lettuce and tomato on poppy seed bun.
I guess it was kind of sexy. 

"Grill Cheese"

Food Punk

No paragraphs, just pictures.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Bohemian Cafe

1406 South 13th Street
Omaha, NE 68108
(402) 342-9838
Open Sun-Thurs 11am-9pm, Fri/Sat 11am-10pm
More economical lunch prices are offered until 3pm everyday except Sunday.
Bohemian Cafe on Urbanspoon

Czechvar Lager Beer--
Also known as Budweiser Budvar in Europe,
beer critics call this one of the world's great beers.
I have to agree. 

Positively bustling on a recent blustery Saturday afternoon, this classic Omaha favorite -- and by "classic" I mean open since the Roaring Twenties -- still had plenty of room for our four-top, past a maze of tables and side rooms, to an intimate table near the windows. Our server could have been from New Jersey's best diner, refilling our coffee diligently, and then later, our beers. The decor was less kitschy than expected, but the use of "Czech" was not. (On the wall: We accept Czechs, not checks. On the menu: Czech us out.)

Egg Noodle Soup

Liver Dumpling Soup

The food was straightforward, no-frills, meat-and-potatoes, stick-to-your-ribs. Hearty. Simple. Comfort food. Vegetarians can enjoy the vibe -- and the booze -- but not a whole lot else. I wished I could have a whole loaf of their soft seeded rye and a crock of butter all to myself. The Egg Noodle Soup was just that: Egg noodles, like the German spätzle, and salty broth. The Liver Dumpling Soup came with one slightly rubbery ball of liver, which was mild in taste. I'd call this Liver for Beginners for someone on the fence. It's one of the Cafe's signature items, and it's a goody you won't find on Panera's list of daily soups.

Czech Goulash

Svickova (Czech Sauerbraten)

Both the Sweet and Sour Cabbage and the Sauerkraut were almost soupy and gooey, and a vast improvement over the canned variety we are likely used to. The Czech Goulash was a ladleful of beefy stew flavored with paprika over a thick, dense slice of bread dumpling. The Svickova, or Czech-style Sauerbraten, wasn't very tender, but the slightly sour gravy would make any Czech grandma proud. As if all this wasn't enough for my stomach o' steel, I added a Kolacky with warm prune filling, though other flavors such as Bavarian creme were available. Save your jokes about prunes, kids. This was the best pastry I've had since leaving Euroland. (At a $1.25 apiece, they're almost too good to be true.)

More caky than flaky, filled with a slightly sweet warm prune compote.  

To describe the food at the Bohemian Cafe as "traditional" would be redundant and obvious. I picture the cooks slopping the stuff on your plate with extra love and care -- but slopping nonetheless. I overheard a woman with a thick German accent bemoaning the lack of boiled beef on that particular day. I say boil your beef at home and go here for beers, liqueurs, pastries, dumplings and soups you can't get anywhere else.

Just set me up with a few loaves of this seeded rye for the winter and I'll be just fine.
Don't forget to Czech out the FiO Facebook page and "Like" it:

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Homestead Cafe y Algo Mas

4826 Q Street
Omaha, NE 68117
(402) 738-9989
Open 7 days, 7am to 9pm
Homestead Cafe on Urbanspoon

Los volcanes!

Brush up on your high school Spanish, kids. It's in that ole brain somewhere. The online menu for the Homestead Cafe--or La Casa del Huarache, as it's also known--is only en español. Not to fear if you took French instead and don't know what huevos means. Our server provided us with an English menu, and was perfectly accommodating.

The warm orange walls were adorned with portraits of prominent Latino citizens, but the Mexican tunes you might expect to hear were nixed in favor of some good old classic rock radio. As George Harrison crooned on, I began to worry about the chips. Where were they? Don't we get them? They have chips, right? And salsa? Should I ask her? Will they ever come???!! They didn't come, in fact, as the Homestead Cafe apparently does not offer complimentary chips. Whether that is a deal breaker, I will let you decide for yourself.

I had to try a huarache, which is like a sope or gordita. It's made with fried masa (corn dough), but oblong in shape, resembling a sandal. Mine was filled with seasoned, orange pork, juicy pineapple slices, and plenty of cotija cheese. There was a thin layer of black beans spread inside, which reminded me of the Salvadoran pupusa, but the dough was firmer and chewier. On the side came a boldly sweet and smoky chipotle salsa, along with a fearlessly spicy salsa verde. Overall, for a dish named after footwear, the huarache was a distinctive and delicious combination of flavors and textures.

Los volcanes was an "eruption" of cactus in a crunchy tortilla bowl. You might ask yourself whether it's safe to ingest an eruption of cactus. It's actually just a lot like a marinated green chile, but more pungent, and with a tinge of vinegar. Paired with a healthy dose of carne asada, there was some familiarity in this interesting dish. I say go for it.

It's obvious this place is going for something a little nicer than your hole-in-the-wall taqueria. The two of us dined for just under $30, which is a LOT more than we're used to for this kind of food. (Did I mention they don't give you chips?) Those who are intimidated by the spectacle of South 24th might feel more comfortable at the Homestead Cafe, since it appears cleaner and more professional, and smells better than some of those places, for sure.

Huarache al pastor--
A selection of other meats available, as well as a cheese and bean version.

Beans and Rice:
"Nothing to write home about," but sure to please all palates.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fat in Des Moines

Java Joe's CoffeeHouse
214 4th Street
Des Moines, IA 50309
(515) 288-5282
Open 6:30am to 11pm, midnight on Fri and Sat and 10pm on Sun

Cream of Broccoli Soup

There I was, a gray Thursday afternoon, wandering around the great Iowan metropolis. It was cold, and I may have been battling a real brain shrinker of a hangover. All I knew was I needed soup and coffee, and water. Luckily, Java Joe's had all of that. Their very vegetarian-friendly menu dabbles in Indian, Mexican, and standard deli/coffeehouse fare, a sort of multiple identity kind of place. I wonder if they can really pull off the Madras Lentils AND the Quesadilla AND the Belgian Waffle. The homemade Cream of Broccoli soup did the trick, though I realized I am so over Saltines. If you respect your soup, you gotta have a chunk of baguette, or a bagel chip, or oyster crackers, or something better than packaged Krispys. The coffee was strong and bold, and later the place stunk up the whole city block with the smell of roasting beans. They have live music at night, pleasant bathrooms, ample seating, and chummy counter folk. Perfect for a pit stop.


Hessen Haus
101 4th Street
Des Moines, IA 50309
(515) 288-2520
Kitchen open 'til 10pm, 7 days a week; bar open 'til 2am Wed thru Sat and 'til midnight Sun thru Tues

Köstritzer Schwarzbier:
Creamy. Malty. Delicious.

The Hessen Haus wants you to think big. It's an elongated rustic beer hall with exposed wooden beams, beer paraphernalia in every nook, and instructions for everyone's faux-German drinking favorite, das Boot, printed right on their menus. I had never heard of das Boot--a giant glass boot to drink beer out of and pass around--before moving to the Midwest, but it's apparently something they do down there at Oktoberfest. Those silly Bavarians. Anyway, if anything, the Hessen Haus made me realize that I need not be so picky. Kölsch, thee beer from Cologne, is never served in a mug, but rather little highball glasses that make you feel dainty and stick your pinky out as you chug. It's just how it's done. But of course, we're not in Cologne, and I'm not a relentless snob, so I should probably just let that one go. Bratwurst would never be served on a fluffy, smushy bun, but rather a crusty hard roll. Again, let it go. The Reuben Rolls were pretty kraut-y and salty, and the potato salad was at least half vinegar, but once I got over myself I really enjoyed sipping my Schwarzbier. A worthy place to visit, an even better place to waste an afternoon at Happy Hour. Prost.

The Brat: Skip the kraut, but add some mustard.
Coarsely ground, not very dense, didn't pop with steam at the first bite like brats do sometimes. Tasty still.
The Potato Salad: Heavy on the vinegar, but maybe after a few passes of das Boot it won't matter. 

Reuben Rolls with Thousand Island Dressing