So, as some of you know, I do a fair amount of traveling. Sometimes it’s for fun, pleasure, and the endless and arduous task of finding the world’s most perfect beach (Napili Bay, I love you). But a lot of the time, I travel on business.
The business I’m referring to usually pertains to some sort of acting, which means I do most of my eating in the privacy of my own trailer after raiding the catering truck while wearing a spaceship crew uniform/pink frilly ball gown/a face full of prosthetics/fishnets and a whole lotta pleather (don’t ask). But on the side when I’m not busy on a set somewhere, I go to these surprisingly ubiquitous events known as science fiction conventions. Now, they’re not all like the movie Galaxy Quest, and contrary to popular belief we in fact do NOT have to wear our costumes from the shows we’re known for, thank Zeus. But we do sign autographs, participate in Q&A’s, have photo shoots with the attendees, and basically get told how much we’re adored all day, plus we get to see the world and travel for free. It ain’t a bad gig, my friends. Especially since one of my very favorite things to do is travel and see the world. And not just the exotic and far away places like Australia and New Zealand and Germany and Edinburgh, which are all as fabulous and lovely as you would imagine them to be. But all of the world, even the tiny corners one would never find the excuse/reason to travel to.
Like Omaha, Nebraska.
We traveled to Omaha on a June weekend to attend the Contagion Convention, a first-year running sci-fi expo complete with costume competitions, movie prop replicas, game tournaments, and even a “Zombie Walk” to tickle your fancy. I never know what to expect from these things, and I’ve had my fair share of bizarre convention experiences (being stuck in a bad hotel in the middle of no and where with a hotel bar that closed at 7pm every night, a convention schedule that detailed exactly when my three ‘bathroom breaks’ would be, being required to display a “special talent” during the opening ceremonies that prompted me to ask, “Is drinking wine a special talent?”). But right off the bat, I could tell that Contagion was going to be a blast. Well-organized, nicely run with nice people running it, and–the best part– situated mere blocks away from pretty little Old Market Omaha.
For all you fellow Vancouverites, Old Market Omaha’s kinda like a very clean Gastown without the crystal meth. Cobblestone roads, quaint little streets with great brew pubs, bars and restaurants, even a few horse-drawn carraiges to tote you around if you don’t feel like walking. Not only was everyone we met welcoming and super friendly, but the food was really and truly pretty excellent. Our highlights below:
The only two things we knew to be true about Omaha were that their winters were shit and their steaks were great. So at 9 o’clock at night, after throwing our bags in our hotel room and washing the plane soot from our faces, we high-tailed it down to the Old Market in search of a steak dinner. We settled on Omaha Prime, mostly because a street choir was singing outside and I’m a sucker for signs from the heavens. It’s a tasteful restaurant, elegant and comfortable with soft lighting and a roomy dining room with a nice little private terrace off the side. But the place was dead. So dead in fact that Matt started panicking and doing that thing I hate where he mumbles into his menu while looking furtively around the place like a trapped rat. I’m one of those people that can’t just up and leave a table after being seated and greeted by the server, especially since they were just so darn nice. And how could the choir be wrong?? Well, it turns out, they weren’t. We ordered the filet mignon with a side of bearnaise sauce, some steamed asparagus to share, and their famous bleu cheese potatoes, crispy and creamy taters with sauteed onions swimming in tangy melted bleu cheese. Addictive and different and really satisfying… plus that steak was worth all that hype and more. After Matt confided in our darling waitress that we almost left the place (no matter how many swift kicks to the shin he got under that table), she let us in on the fact that apparently everyone in Omaha eats at 6, even on a Friday night, and then heads home to get a “good night’s sleep” (what’s that?). Or maybe she meant heads to the cigar bar….
We stumbled upon Havana Garage after taking a stroll through town to get the lay of the land. This is a great little bar with a New Orleans-y moody feel to it, fans turning lazily, a bluesy guy with a raspy voice on piano, beautiful people drowning their sorrows in icy cocktails and tumblers full of whisky… It’s got soul. Normally neither one of us can stomach the smell of cigars, but this was just too cool of a bar to pass up. Plus, the ventilation systems were working on high, and everyone in town seemed to be there with the universal goal to get tipsy. Try any number of their old-school cocktails, including a Moscow Mule served the proper way in an ice cold copper cup, or a Cosmo made with rum instead of vodka– decidedly less girly in more of a “I’m one of those chicks that likes to hang out in cigar lounges” kind of way. Plus, your hair’ll smell like you were at a really good party all day the next day! Or something.
More of a classy little New York-style bar than a pub, M’s is a great place to go for a late night snack and a great glass of vino. The menu’s eclectic with things like lahvosh (Armenian flatbread), tuna melts, and thai chicken salads, but they’ve certainly got every craving covered. Their wine list is outta control, with a little less than a gajillion to choose from, including several really great and affordable wines by the glass. Bonus points for the bartender so courageously sporting one of those half-bald, half-long-80’s-pontyail hair do’s. That takes guts, people.
We decided to try Upstream based on many a recommendation from Happy Opu readers and convention-goers alike. A brewpub certainly wouldn’t ever be my first choice, since I’m not much of a beer drinker, but I’ve vowed to learn about it (stay tuned for that blog soon, “To Beer or Not To Beer?” Seriously.), and Upstream is as good a place as any to start. It’s a huge warehouse-like restaurant with two floors, a big patio, and a giant wrap-around bar. And because it’s Omaha, it’ll take you about three full minutes of sitting at that bar to make new friends. I actually grew quite fond of their Firehouse Red Lager, a fruity and delicious beer that went hand-in-matrimonial-hand with the excellent sweet and juicy BBQ chicken pizza. If you simply can’t decide on a beer, and with that menu no one would blame you if you couldn’t, they’ve got a nifty row of “tasters”, little shots of each kind of beer so you can narrow it down to your favorite. It’s kinda like wine tasting. Except you burp more?
Jackson Street Tavern was another little haunt I’d heard about through the convention grapevine, and I’m so glad we decided to give it a go. It’s casual and relaxed, perfect for a Sunday evening when you don’t feel like getting all gussied up and just want some great pub food that’ll fill you up. We sat out front near the garage-style entrance with a chilled glass of good old Kim Crawford Chardonnay while the last of the day’s sun poured in. Try the shredded duck taquitos with tomatillo salsa, or any one of those scrumptious sandwiches, like the Jerky-Boy, a jerk grilled chicken sandwich loaded with pineapple, avocado, and chipotle-mango mayo for a whole $9.
We discovered Nosh just around the corner from our hotel on a side street up a ways from the Old Market district. Granted, Nosh is one weird name for a wine bar (that word just makes me crave latkes more than Pinot), but it’s a modern and classy little place that deserves to be a heck of a lot busier than it is. Maybe Omaha isn’t a big wine drinking town? Who knows. We loved perusing their wine list in search of some of our old favorites, like a Qupe Roussanne (well priced at $8 a glass) and a Laetitia Pinot Noir. The bar staff are hilarious and, once again, over the top friendly (I now know things about that bartender I’m pretty sure his own mother doesn’t know. Or at least I hope she doesn’t). And big points for a creative and enticing menu with things like lavender and peppercorn-seared ahi, chicken and brie nachos, seared sea scallop sliders with asian pear, and the Nosh pizza featuring four kinds of pork and a sweet and zesty San Marzano tomato sauce. If I lived in Omaha, this is where I would be getting my mail.
Our very favorite little Omaha hang-out was hands-down The French Cafe. We only made it there for brunch, but in my nonsensical opinion, if a restaurant can do a great brunch, then someone in that kitchen knows what they’re doing. It’s a gorgeous little place complete with creaking doors and twinkly lights, romantic and charming in every way possible. The service was outstanding, going above and beyond to make sure we were having the best morning possible, and who wouldn’t be with the breakfast we had? I chose the omelette of the day, a bacon, cheese, caramelized shallots and roasted tomato concoction stuffed into one of the fluffiest, butteriest omelettes imaginable. Matt had the duck hash, shredded duck breast sitting atop a crispy potato hash with a perfectly poached egg. It rivaled some of the best brunches we’ve had anywhere. Even you, Bouchon. The next time we’re in Omaha (you listening, Contagion?), we will most definitely be having dinner there as soon as we get off that plane.
Thanks for showing us such a good time, you delightful little Omahaians! Omahains? Omahanses? Whatever. You’re awesome.