Category Archives: Food

Brooklyn Brewery

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Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, wrote the book (twice) on the craft beer movement. When it comes to beer geek royalty, he ranks right up there with anyone.

I got the chance to interview Oliver or a feature in the Holiday issue of Food Loves Beer.

Read it here.

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Beer Geeks and Foodies Unite

You know the story. Beer geek meets foodie. They fall in love. They can never go out anywhere because most of the truly great beer joints fail to deliver on the eats while most of the fun food spots are pouring little more than Chimay and that local beer that you have all the time.

Washington D.C.’s Birch and Barley was created to bridge that gap and, after a visit last summer that resulted in perhaps the best brunch I’ve ever had, I’m of the opinion that it succeeds better than most. If you’re going to D.C. please go there.

I had the opportunity to interview executive chef Kyle Bailey for the latest edition of Food Loves Beer magazine. Here’s what he had to say on the challenge of changing expectations for what a “beer bar” can be:

That was our number one challenge. We opened Birch and Barley and Churchkey the same day. The day we opened there was a line down the block and I was extremely frightened. People wanted this place open for a long time. Churchkey was always going to be about a good time, but B&B was yet to be defined. Everybody expected us to serve, I hate saying it, gastro-pub food. For the first month we sold nothing but burgers and I was afraid. I thought “this is the end of my career.” I spent a decade in the best restaurants in New York just killing myself to learn how to cook. And then all I was cooking was burgers. But after the first month, the foodies started coming in. One of the things I wanted to do was to bridge that gap between foodies and beer geeks. Why not? Beer is a cooked product. You have to cook it to make beer and you have to cook food. Why can’t you have an awesome meal, paired with awesome beer? It was a big challenge and there’s some places that try to do what we do but the food isn’t there.
Read the full interview here.
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A new cocktail column for Omaha


The food beat in Omaha is pretty well covered, but one thing that’s always surprised me is the relative lack of coverage cocktails get in our fair city. “The Old Fashioned Files,” my new column for Omahype, is an effort to change that.

The fantastic, hand-lettered logo you see above is courtesy of Ellen Wilde at Secret Penguin. My hope is that the column itself is good enough to stand up to the nice graphic lead-in it gets each week, but I’ll let you judge for yourself. The introductory column, which explains the whole approach, is here and the first real bar visit can be found here.

Cheers or slainte or salud or something.


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Make This Cake

 

Received the latest issue of Lucky Peach last night. By far the best of the first three issues, the Chef’s issue (Spring) is devoted almost entirely to tackling the tricky subject of the celebrity chef and how it’s changing the way we eat. So check it out for that.

Or, check it out for this coffee mug cake you can make in two minutes.

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The Worst of the Best of Big O Awards

All 320+ of the Best Steakhouses in Omaha

I have an on-going battle with Omaha’s potential. Will it ever be a world-class city? No. Will it ever be a hidden American gem of a city? Some would argue that it already is. The argument (and NPR trend pieces) typically involve the following words in some sort of order: Slowdown, Saddle Creek, creative class, NoDo, young professionals, Old Market, Bright Eyes, Cursive, indie, artists, Film Streams.

Those are the most widely known things and people making Omaha better. More importantly, they’re giving Omaha a distinct sense of self. They’re giving the city things that you can’t get anywhere else which, in the grand scheme of things, is why people love places like Austin, Portland, Milwaukee and Nashville, not to mention the already well-established “world-class cities” (Chicago, New York, San Franscisco, et al). They have things that are unique. There is a core group of people devoted to developing that in Omaha, but it’s hard work. As evidence of how hard it is, I offer you this:

According to the just-released, 11th annual Best of Big O awards the best steakhouse in Omaha is Texas Roadhouse.

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A CWS Outsider’s Guide to the Insider’s Omaha

Originally published in The Reader.

Welcome to Omaha, College World Series fans. Sorry about the river.  It doesn’t normally look this way.

Nevertheless, this is a new adventure for us as well. With the CWS downtown for the first time you’ll no doubt become well acquainted with the Old Market as well as the watering holes in close proximity to the stadium. (Check out the Slowdown while you’re down there. In a true showing of Midwestern hospitality our shining gem of a hipster-hangout is doing its best to morph into a sports bar for the next 10 days.)

But there’s more to Omaha than just what you can walk to from TD Ameritrade Park. Stop anyone on the street over the next few days and you’ll get all the recommendations you could possibly want for the best the city has to offer. Chances are someone will recommend the amazing beer selection at Old Chicago or Rock Bottom. If they do, ask someone else. Nothing wrong with either of those places but you didn’t come to Omaha for someplace you could probably go to back home.

Or, just consult my selections below because I’m not recommending anything that’s not distinctly ours. After nearly two years here, this is my version of the best Omaha has to offer:

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Pick Up, Trucks

Tacos de lengua y al pastor de Dos de Oros

Originally published in The Reader – June 1, 2011

There are a few things you need if your city wants to be considered with the likes of Portland and Austin as a hip American hangout. A definable music scene is a good place to start. Bike lanes, a literal line in the street, seem to serve as a proverbial line in the sand between cool and simply ozone clogging. And lately a bustling food truck scene, which can serve all those late-night and helmet-clad diners, completes the picture.

Omaha’s had the music scene for nearly 20 years now, is working on the bike lanes and, thanks to the trailblazing Soup Revolution, isn’t totally truckless. But where’s our mobile food movement?

These days you’re nobody until somebody shows up and starts slinging banh mi. America now loves to eat on the street. Zagat started rating food trucks in New York just as they do restaurants with a special guide and website published last November. The Food Network is currently filming its second season of “The Great Food Truck Race,” a sort of “Cannonball Run” for foodies. And in April the first sleek, sexy cookbook featuring food truck recipes from across the country hits the shelves, perhaps the surest sign of cultural saturation.

But in Omaha, the brightest culinary minds and artisanal offerings remain mostly locked up in bricks and mortar. Are we uncool? Jere Ferrazzo, a food and drink supervisor with the Douglas County Health Department, thinks Omaha might literally be too cool.

“The first difference about Omaha is the weather,” Ferrazzo says. “There are so many restaurants here that a lot of people don’t want to sit outside in the cold to eat off a truck.”

There’s also the issue of a special permit requiring local mobile vendors to operate out of a commercial kitchen. Ferrazzo says that’s a stipulation, along with certain restrictions on where the trucks can set up shop, that frequently dashes dreams of street food glory.

But the one person actually doing it in Omaha, Soup Revolution owner and chef Sara Demars Cerasoli, has a different answer.

Her business recently celebrated its first anniversary and, together with the handful of taco trucks canvassing South Omaha daily — which, while delicious, operate more out of a long-standing cultural tradition, rather than any nod to the current mobile food movement — constitutes the entire scene in Omaha.

“I think people are underestimating how difficult it really is,” she says. “The minute you want to do a gourmet truck, you need to build a kitchen in your truck. In New York, to buy one of those trucks it’s $250,000. Here you can open your restaurant for $250,000.”

While cost may be a primary reason the streets of Omaha aren’t awash with chicken frankies, there’s also the issue of labor. Food trucks nationwide are billed as an easy, cost-effective way to take gourmet food to the people; but getting one on the street is, in the end, a lot of hard work.

“It took me two years to develop my business plan and to build my van,” Cerasoli says. “It was the most painful two years of my life. But now I get calls daily, not just from Omaha but from all over the world, asking how we did it.”

Other cities have been active in their pursuit of the latest culinary trend. In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino has created a food truck task force and a new website that combines all the various city permits into one simple application. This winter the city held its first ever Food Truck Challenge, awarding three winners permits and prime spots on City Hall Plaza.

Ferrazzo says Omaha hasn’t been quite so aggressive in its attempt to lure new vendors. For now the city is still taking a case-by-case approach to mobile food even as the calls come in more frequently. Although the difference in cost between a restaurant and a restaurant on wheels isn’t as great in Omaha as it is in Los Angeles or New York City, Cerasoli remains confident that the freedom a food truck offers will eventually lead to more of them on our city streets.

“It will happen,” she says. “Everything is do-it-yourself right now. You may not be able to get investors and designers and architects but you can definitely build this cute little shack. You can run the whole thing by yourself.”

Put that way, a food truck sounds more like the old-fashioned American dream rather than the hottest new trend in American eating, and Omaha is a city that appreciates freedom. If that’s all that’s standing between us and eating french fries fried in duck fat on some random corner of Farnam Street, then, by all means, let freedom ring

How beef jerky keeps tarnishing movies I enjoy

Beef jerky is survival. Portable, non-perishable, packed with protein and delicious salt it’s been sustaining man for centuries. And while I spend 90 percent of my time seated comfortably at a desk and the other 10 percent of the time lazily checking Twitter updates on my phone when forced to venture out and deal with society, I still like to consider myself a survivalist.

I play the “Zombie Apocalypse” survival game all the time in my head. If the shit went down and I was stuck in this Random Store X with a zombie horde outside the doors, how would I defend myself? Would I take the chrome bar the polos are currently hanging from, remove it from the slat wall and use it as a club? Or would I be better off finding a cache of lighters and some aerosol accelerants? Standing in line at Marshall’s yesterday it occurred to me that there’s actually quite a bit of food out there that would last for ages. Jelly Belly’s, shortbread cookies, chocolate covered pretzels, all the crap that ends up in Christmas stockings, it was all there within arms reach. The weapons at Marshall’s leave a little to be desired but in the first few months after the world becomes a wasteland? You, one of a handful of lone survivors, should totally stop in while all the other fools are eating the bugs left in the produce bins at the grocery store.

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Pride without Pretense: The Texas BBQ Trail

Black's BBQ, Lockhart, TX - Brandon Vogel

Originally published in Everywhere magazine.

It’s a little after 8 a.m. on Highway 142 in central Texas and the pick-up trucks keep pulling onto the shoulder of the road to let us pass. We’re moving quickly but not that quickly. I ask about this.

“That’s just the Texas way,” my brother tells me.

That’s good enough for me so we keep passing, flashing our taillights in thanks and bearing down on the town of Lockhart. The one barbecue shack we pass on the way—a trailer with a barrel smoker and a picnic table out front—is closed, owing to the fact that not many people wake up willing to eat large amounts of beef fat first thing in the morning.

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Stored Potential from a Chef’s POV

Nice recap from Bread & Cup chef Kevin Shinn of the Stored Potential dinner last Sunday. (Previous post on the art portion here.) If you’ve never been to his Lincoln restaurant, go quickly and go often. Like most great things, from novels to architecture,  it’s beautiful and simple.

My take on dining with 500 people in the shadows of old grain elevators? Two of the best hours I’ve ever spent.

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