Sunday, December 15, 2013

Fat in Philly: Syrenka Luncheonette

A proper golumpki.
We called 'em holubky, the Slovak name, growing up.

This is without a doubt the worst time of the year. With the days still getting shorter, and a 30-degree forecast looking balmy, the light at the end of the tunnel is far too faint. If you're anything like me and loathe winter and all the restrictions it brings, you, too, will benefit from the comfort of minced meat wrapped in cabbage leaves covered in tomato sauce, potato-and-dough dumplings sauteed in butter and slathered with sour cream, and cakes of shredded potato, fried to crispy-edged perfection.

Should you be the brave one to enter the kitchen with the expectation of delivering some sort of joyous meal for your family members this holiday season, I'd recommend taking a cue from everyone's favorite up-and-coming Europeans, the Poles. It's a story told here through the eyes of the busty and beautiful mermaid Syrenka, who swam from Warsaw to Northeast Philadelphia with a desire to serve cafeteria-style, satisfying meals to working class East Coast a-holes some time ago.

Potato pierogis, a thing of beauty and butter.

Oh, when chilled applesauce meets
the steaming hot, chewy center of a potato pancake.

Syrenka Luncehonette is located in the Port Richmond section of Philly at 3173 Richmond Street. Everything's cheap. Cash only. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Omelet & Viet Cuisine

16808 Audrey Street (168th and Harrison) 
(402) 657-3269
Open 8am to 7:30pm daily, Sundays 'til 5:30pm, I'd call to confirm before driving way the hell out there
Omelet & Viet Cuisine on Urbanspoon-OR-Omelet & Viet Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Just look at that cute logo, woudja?

All right, I've had it. This is me, throwing my hands up in exasperation, because this is not effing fair. Listen, I'm not a West Omaha hater. I have never once uttered that line about not wanting to go west of 72nd Street. Westies are people, too; who are we to judge? They eat, work, and live just like the rest of us, except their existence takes place inside the hastily planned celebration of sameness we know as the McMansion. Regardless of what your stance is, I think we can all admit it's a great place to raise (sheltered) children. 

Clearly, I have a beef with the concept of urban sprawl, and would implore those in "power" to focus on strengthening our core neighborhoods, preferably in such a way that doesn't reflect wildly misplaced sub-suburban sensibilities (I'm looking at you, Midtown Crossing). 

Egg rolls

When Vietnamese and breakfast collide:
Sausage fried rice, complete with large bits of fried egg, charred corn,
and forgettable specs of peas and green beans,
provide a cheery dish to grease you up any time of day.

The point I'm bemoaning is that some of the absolute best, most adventurous, and most reasonably priced food in Omaha can be found only in the far corners of our city limits, suffocating in an unbecoming strip mall, while meanwhile, famished urban dwellers get to rely on the likes of Jimmy John's when jonesing for something quick, cheap, and fast. 

What I wouldn't give to have Omelet & Viet Cuisine in my backyard. 

Sharing a parking lot with a gas station in the bustling neighborhood of Chalco HIlls, this restaurant used to be called The Omelet Factory, a mostly takeout breakfast place that, up until it changed hands three months ago, garnered some flagrantly mediocre reviews. Do not be confused. While the new guys have mostly preserved the standard egg-centric menu for now -- with routine items like French toast and even a meat lovers omelet dominating its pages -- they've also made a major move in the direction of Vietnamese cuisine.

Beef pho and its typical vegetable accompaniments

The result is a slightly strange and yet delicious new addition to our small collection of go-to places for Vietnamese. Though admittedly I am not a diehard expert on the topic, the pho broth certainly seemed more flavorful and somewhat thicker than most. We didn't leave until every drop had been drank, every noodle slurped. One bite into the banh mi, when the slightly sweet earthiness of the pate -- which had nearly melted into each crevice of the toasted, crusty baguette -- hit my taste buds, I attained a sense of well-being only akin to the serotonin boost of a thousand psychedelics. Wild spurts of A Very Jazzy Christmas from the stereo only heightened the mood. 

BBQ Pork Banh Mi:
If you look closely, you can spot
a crumb of pate resting atop the elongated cucumber slice,
and a chunk of crispy pork in the foreground,
elegantly reposed amongst the julienned carrots.

I'll continue to lament the half-hour travel time and gallons of precious gasoline involved in experiencing such quality in comfort food. I believe this type of place belongs just a stroll down the block from people who are willing to stand in a line that circles that block just to get it. In my dreams I'll frequent this clumsily named ethnic food gem, but in reality I will only get to go twice a year or so. I can only hope Chalco Hillsians know how good they've got it. I think they do.  

The three entrees, appetizer, and three soft drinks came to about $26 pre-tip,
a value that may offset travel costs for many of us. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Diner

409 South 12th Street 
Open daily 6:30am to 2:30pm, Sundays at 7:30am

Inspired to point out the duct tape that is apparently holding the clock together at the corners. That is all. 

Some of you may already know I came of age in the deep, sticky comfort of a diner booth back East. Old enough to pretend to like chain smoking but too young to know people to buy us beer, we toiled our late nights away over plates full of bacon and scrambled eggs, all while expertly keeping the proper milk and sugar ratio between refills poured warily by a uniformed waitress too tired to care she wasn't going to get a great tip from us young idiots. 

I don't know why it took me so long to dine at the silver-paneled New Jersey knockoff with the shockingly creative name in the Old Market, but after hearing stories of its state while under former management, I'm glad I waited. The Diner changed hands about a year ago, and it seems what we have now is a perfectly respectable place to eat a boastfully unhealthy meal any day of the week. 

The arrival of the food took what seemed like an eternity in my shaky, morning-after mind, but it gave me a chance to chug two cups of decent black coffee with at least half the fervor I'd have if it were Hopluia. At least, it wasn't strikingly bland, weak, or overly acidic, like the brew served in similar establishments. 

Chicken Fried Steak,
complete with traditional deep fryer basket indentations in the breading,
and a peppery, delightfully fatty gravy.

My dining buddy donated a quarter of his chicken fried steak, and I'm glad, because the evident saltiness of the breading paired with the goopiest of white gravies turned out to be my favorite item on the table. In fact, it may be the most suitable breakfast in the area for those of you who opted for a liquid-only dinner the night before. The hashbrowns were served impressively, well, browned, a feat any short-order cook can tell you is tricky to do quickly, though often requested. I was also a fan of the hands-off yet effective service: servers came by unobtrusively to refill coffee and clear plates without interrupting our nonsensical conversations.

"Heartland" Omelette:
Chopped bacon, onions, green peppers, and tomatoes
barely sauteed and wrapped into a thin layer of cooked egg.
While the flavor was proper, the execution was bothersome,
and demanded we devote the next ten minutes of conversation
to an impromptu session on the finer points of omelette making. 

So the eggs came over easy when they should have been over medium. So they took that dreaded shortcut with the omelette and stuffed a pile of limp veggies into a thin layer of cooked egg before wrapping it up like some sort of strange burrito-like thing, instead of just cooking the fillings right into the egg. So my stomach is still churning from this meal eaten a distressing ten hours ago. It's much more likely that has to do with last night's escapades than this morning's grease content. Like I always say, don't expect too much and you won't be disappointed -- words to live by. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Recently Drank That Wasn't Beer

Dill Collins, The Berry & Rye
Notice the ice cubes that are actually "cubes,"
and not "weird hollow ice cylinders from an industrial machine" or "ice chips."


House Margarita, The Trap Room

In this very recently opened and seemingly CWS-proof safe haven, you can gulp on Margaritas from a large tumbler glass, served from the tap. Rumor has it they use rul good ingredients in the mix (fresh lime juice), evidenced by the lip-pursing tartness and need for nothing more than a sliver of a fruit garnish. I can only imagine the baseball fans are perplexed by this highly stylized interior -- no, I didn't just imply sports fans are simple... did I? -- which is why this might be the only place in a mile radius of the stadium not six bodies deep right now. The vibe evokes Stephen Starr, which makes me all like, want to champion it and stuff. Check it out.


Lily's Dinner Party, The Berry & Rye

Read about it here, sucka.


Irish Coffee, O'leaver's Pub

File this one under "Don't remember -- found in phone so it must have happened."

Coming soon: Recently Eaten That Wasn't Fast Food 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Tasty Pastry

5423 Leavenworth Street
Open Mon thru Sat 10am-2pm
Tasty Pastry on Urbanspoon

Tasty pastries, indeed

How I long for more places like the recently opened Tasty Pastry in Omaha. With my general aversion to cooking and disgust with brown-bagging it on a workday, I avoid starvation during daytime hours by frequenting places like this. There is nothing quite like gazing out the window, steaming bowl of scrumptious split pea soup in front of you, occasionally losing yourself in your Twitter feed while absentmindedly fashioning a spoon out of your hunk of bread. Three martini lunches are great, too, but I like my soup.

Spicy corn chowder with chicken ($5/bowl)

While not a full-service rest-runt, new sandwiches appear intermittently on the menu as they ease into their space. (Up until last year this was Come on into my Kitchen.) The chicken sandwich is fit for the finest: Lightly breaded chicken with the tang of garlic aioli, pickles, jalapeƱo, and crunchy slaw on an above-average ciabatta (?) bun.

Proprietor, chef, and baker Mary Dailey has a true knack for executing recipes that are not overly sweet, more reminiscent of Euro-style tortes and pastries than what the average 'Merkan thinks of cake. She's also more than happy to slice up a sample of anything you'd like. Try some chocolate ganache if you're in the market for a new addiction.

The only way you won't love Tasty Pastry is if you have a phobia of the 50+ female demographic, since they're strongly represented in the crowd there.

On a very unrelated note, I kind of wish the name didn't make me think of pasties — every time — but what can you do.

Chicken sandwich ($6)

Carrot cake

Behind the counter


Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Reader: Baxter's

So, this week's Dish section in The Reader boasts a brilliantly written review of Baxter's in Benson. Pick up a copy, woudja?

Another option would be to read the Omaha World Herald review of the same place. The major difference between the two articles is that this one was not written by me.

If only we were always this excited about pizza here in Omaha!

Margherita slice from Baxter's

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bob's Grill & Cafe

317 South 17th Street
Open M-F 7am-2:30pm 
Bob's Grill & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Omaha Beef ($5.39):
Sliced roast beef, cheddar, grilled onion, and steak sauce, which tasted suspiciously of barbecue.
Urban Omaha

While gnawing on the Omaha Beef sandwich at Bob's Grill & Cafe, comparisons to Arby's will be unavoidable. You might imagine the phrase "glorified Arby's." You can hardly wait to share this meaningful opinion with your dining partner, so much that you nearly choke on a slice of roast beef. Easy there, boy. Take a sip of iced tea from the styrofoam cup. Your dining partner will point out that Arby's is also pretty glorious. You'll agree, and continue munching thoughtfully, making the promise to yourself to stop trying to cover up your decades-long endearing relationship with fast food.

Indeed, the hastily piled slices of roast beef and the globular spots of half-melted cheddar will remind you of the Arby's classic. The onion bun seals the deal. If you're one of the lucky ones who spend your days in one of downtown Omaha's high-profile offices, it's unlikely you'll send your secretary all the way to Arby's anyway. Go instead to Bob's. If a salad is what you crave, they've got that covered. I enjoyed patting myself on the back so much for ordering a salad, that I figured I might as well reward myself by topping it with a couple of Buffalo chicken fingers. Aaaand, they've even got creepy artwork (see below). I tried to be a good fake journalist and call the restaurant to get the artist's name, but I couldn't reach Mr. Bob for comment.

The Bob's crew is fast, which could be a bad thing if standing in line is your only relief from the stiffness of your cubicle chair. And if you don't work in the area, this is still a great place to spend a leisurely lunch hour gawking at weirdos people watching through the ample front windows.

Am I supposed to know this iconic old man in a tutu? 

Buffalo Chicken Salad with Ranch ($5.79):
The lighter choice.
It was freshly made as opposed to pulled out of a fridge,
but I'm still losing sleep at night over the waste of a giant plastic to go container. 

Chicken Tortilla soup neither chicken-y nor tortilla-y.
Oh well. 

The pastry case!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The French Bulldog

5003 Underwood Avenue
Mon thru Thurs 11a.m. - 11p.m., Fri and Sat 11a.m. - midnight

Hey! I'm cool! I've eaten here, too!

Charcuterie plate
There's an article in which I ask Bryce from the Bulldog how to make bacon HERE.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Shuck's Fish House and Oyster Bar

1911 Leavenworth Street
Plus two other locations:
16901 Wright Plaza (Shops of Legacy)
1218 S. 119th Street (just south of Pacific St.)
Downtown location offers limited Bailey's brunch menu Sat and Sun 9-2
Open 7 days
Shucks Fish House and Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Crab Cake Sandwich ($10.99)

I'm bored. Bored of beef and beer. Does that mean I'm bored of life?

Instead of feeling down on myself, I went to Shuck's, the restaurant attached to the local respected seafood supplier Absolutely Fresh. The place has a decent happy hour, and on this particular afternoon a couple of older dudes were parked at the bar, wanly sipping on their Bud heavies. Maybe the atmosphere gets livelier as the night goes on. We had the pleasure of having the whole back dining room to ourselves, a stark contrast to the restaurant's always-packed predecessor before it moved to Council Bluffs, Dixie Quicks.

Shrimp Po' Boy ($10.99)

I'm enamored with the idea of a casual seafood place in Omaha. Here you can get your fish & chips, your crab cake sandwich, your shrimp po' boy, all guaranteed "absolutely fresh," and all priced agreeably. You can roll up your sleeves and get down on some oysters, dirtying up the butcher paper that covers each table. It's the kind of place that's a dime-a-dozen on the coasts, but a real treat for us in this landlocked neck of the woods. A lot of the dishes I've sampled have tasted fantastic, but some present some culinary question marks. The crab cake, for example, made one heck of a photogenic sandwich, but was missing something. More seasonings, perhaps? It doesn't really matter. Shucks isn't supposed to be perfect. It's a laid back seafood joint with a "Dirty South" theme, and on these boring, bleak, beef-less days, it gives me a reason to live.

Fried Calamari, and a view of the bar ($4 at happy hour).
This yummy snack is "breaded" with cornmeal and GLUTEN FREE.

Cup o' Louisiana Gumbo ($3.99)

Note: On weekend mornings, Shuck's Downtown offers some competition to the abhorred and adored 11-Worth Cafe a few blocks away by offering a limited brunch menu from their sister restaurant, Bailey's.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Reader: Chat with Corner Creperie

In case you missed last week's Reader article on NoDo's newest lunch addition (written by me), check it out HERE

Cheese bacon apple crepe,
side salad with quark buttermilk dressing. ($7)
Much fancier than the Lean Cuisine
you're planning on microwaving in your office. 

Originally published in The Reader, January 23, 2013:
Chat with Corner Creperie

Get your crepes at the corner of 24th and Chicago

There are a few places in town to order crepes, but none as dedicated to the French-style stuffed pancake as this brand new space near the Creighton campus. Over my caramel latte – crafted with house-made syrup and beans from Omaha roasters A Hill of Beans – I spoke with Head Chef Chase Grove and owners Didi and Derek Olsen for the scoop.

Corner Creperie is located at 343 N. 24th Street at Chicago Street. Hours are Mon – Sat 10a.m – 10p.m. and Sun 8a.m. – 6p.m. Call 402.955.9577 for details. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Jim & Jennie's Greek Village

3026 North 90th Street (just north of Maple Street)
Mon - Thurs 11-9, Fri and Sat 11-10, closed Sun
Jim & Jennie's Greek Village on Urbanspoon

On this overcast day, the silly Flintstones-esque lettering drew me in. 

I've had a tough time finding a blind-mowing dining experience lately. That is, until hunger struck in the middle of an afternoon "thrifting" (not the cool kind, the poor kind), and I found myself transported to the shores of Greece. Not really. But still, before I knew what was happening, I was deeply submerged in my blue vinyl booth, happily chowing down on some of the best darn spinach pie I've tasted since I worked at a Greek diner in Philly. The phyllo dough was nicely flaky, but just chewy enough to keep the whole thing held together. Darkly caramelized onions added flavor and texture, and it wasn't weighed down with too much feta cheese -- just the way I like it. Finally, something to salivate over.

Spanakopita appetizer ($3.25):
I may or may not have this as my iPhone wallpaper. 

Dolmades appetizer ($4.99):
Ground beef and rice-stuffed grape leaves with creamy egg lemon sauce.

I exercised my timidness and ordered the sandwich special of the day, the gyro. The octopodi and pan-fried smelts will just have to wait 'til next time. Like the souvlaki sandwich, the gyro rested atop a piece of warm, delightfully pliable pita bread. This wasn't the puffy fake stuff you might find in the Baker's bread aisle. The gal I believe to be Mrs. Jennie herself, as she gracefully boxed up our scraps table-side, explained they get their bread from "a place in Chicago." Not bad, says I.

Gyro, complete with tzatziki sauce rich with dill, and house salad ($6.75 on Mondays).

The menu is more than fit for pescetarians, and even your vegetarian friend can tag along and get a Veggie Gyro. Winos will feel adventurous sipping on the full-bodied Kourtaki Retsina ($4.75/glass), which had a tangy, unfamiliar piney taste.

Jim and Jennie have been doing their thing since '85, and I hope they know how good they are at serving wonderfully rustic, traditional Greek cuisine. Even the way they dressed the wedge of iceberg in oil, vinegar, and a handful of dried oregano was somehow impressive. Rookies they are not; they've got the touch.

Souvlaki sandwich ($5.99):
Well-seasoned, marinated pork loin skewer grilled to a tender medium,
with pepper, onion, a chunk o' feta, a sad tomato slice,
a ramekin of velvety tzatziki and your customary kalamata olive.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Chinese Place in the Old Market


1215 Howard Street
Mon - Thurs 11-9:30, Fri and Sat 11-10, closed Sun

Ye Old Howard Street

Is this place called "House of Lee," or "California Bowl," or both? The website says the Old Market location is closed, so maybe my experience a few weeks ago was all a dream. A dream in which I patronize a dingy Chinese food diner and emerge feeling... satisfied.

I've passed this place a bunch of times and was sure it would absolutely, positively suck. There's nothing more I can really say. Thought it was gonna suck, and it was actually pretty good. Next.

Moo Goo Gai Pan ($6.25)

Lunch Special ($6.75):
Mongolian Beef and Chicken with Broccoli

Egg Drop Soup (included with lunch)

If you haven't seen this TED talk on the origin of Americanized Chinese cuisine, there are worse ways you could spend 15 minutes: