Restaurant Review: Foodies

It’s noon on a weekday in Omaha. You’re sick of running on the fast food treadmill, but you don’t have time for a sitdown meal. You’re craving something fresh and local, but most of those places aren’t speedy or close enough.

Places like Greenbelly, Feta’s and Tasty Pizza come to mind, but there’s another Dodge St. contender that tends to get slept on – Foodies.

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Everything about the restaurant has a playful feel to it, from the goofy name, the colorful font and the lively decor. It’s very bright and inviting, but don’t allow the whimsical nature make you think this place is a gimmick. Foodies prides itself on in-house creations, such as their zesty salad dressings and doughy pizza crusts. Chef Brian Hilger has crafted a fun menu of salads, sandwiches, wraps, pizzas and pastas that will fill you up without busting your belt or your budget.

Foodies works with as many local vendors as possible and focuses on strong customer service, which has been very evident to me during my visits. Though exposure to the staff is rather limited (you order at the counter and have food delivered to your table), that short encounter is enough to make an impact. The servers are knowledgable of the menu and extremely friendly, and meals typically arrive within 10 minutes of ordering.

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BBQ chicken pizza

The standouts are the pizzas, which all veer away from the Italian classic. Diners can choose from BBQ chicken, Greek (with a basil pesto sauce) or thai chicken. If you’re looking for something more traditional, you can build your own pie with tomato sauce and traditional toppings.

The BBQ chicken pizza is fantastic. The pies are about 10″ in diameter, more than enough for most appetites. The BBQ sauce is sweet and tangy, which plays well with the chewy yet airy crust. The roasted chicken is excellent, and the fresh red onions add some bite. The fresh mozzarella provides creaminess and is toasted perfectly, though I wish there were a bit less of it. But overall, this dish is a hit, especially when paired with one of the many available hot sauces (namely El Tapatio and Valentina).

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BBQ steak tips wrap with tomato soup

The restaurant offers nine different wraps, ranging from oven roasted herb chicken to mesquite smoked turkey to seasoned portobello mushroom. While the pizzas and salads tend to be on the larger side at Foodies, the wraps are a bit small – but they’re packed with flavor. The key is the pita bread, which is chewy yet firm enough to contain all the ingredients. Also appreciated is the tin foil covering on one end, which keeps the mound of ingredients inside from spilling out of the end.

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BBQ steak tips wrap

My personal favorite is the BBQ steak tips wrap. The same zippy sauce that worked so well on the pizza makes another appearance, and it adds a welcome sweetness to the savory, tender steak. The tomato and lettuce add freshness, though there’s a bit too much of the latter. This dish didn’t leave me wanting more flavor, just a bigger portion.

Each sandwich/wrap comes with a side dish, with options of a side salad, fruit, Spanish rice, baked french fries, coleslaw, soup or chips and salsa. The soups rotate, but if the Tuscan Tomato is available, I highly recommend it. It’s perfectly creamy with just the right amount of tang from the tomatoes, the kind of dish that makes you just want to curl up in bed and go to sleep.

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Basil shrimp pesto pasta

Foodies offers three pasta options: basil shrimp pesto, spicy meatball and chicken Alfredo. All are good, but they’re bit heavy on the sauce. Don’t get me wrong, the sauces are delicious. But the noodle/sauce ratio is off, leaving a goopy, somewhat soggy finish after the pasta is gone.

But the noodles are cooked to a perfect al dente, and the shrimp is excellent. The basil pesto sauce borders on the edge of being too creamy but doesn’t quite cross the line. It’s fresh and a bit garlicky, and would be the perfect compliment if there weren’t so much of it.

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Honey hummus with toast points

The honey hummus is the least successful dish I’ve had. The provided toast points are perfectly crispy and benefit from the brushing of olive oil, but the hummus is completely forgettable. It has little flavor, and the bread is far better when dipped in the tomato soup.

Most entrees are around $10, which is pretty fair for the quality and quantity. While I wish the wraps were a bit larger, the pizzas, salads and sandwiches are more than adequate for the price. The restaurant can get a bit crowded during the lunch hour, but it has a good amount of seating and filters guests in and out fairly quickly.

Foodies is very similar to Greenbelly in a lot of ways. It’s a fast casual restaurant that at least makes me feel like I’m eating healthy, and it’s certainly better than picking up a greasy burger or tacos. Everything I’ve had there is solid, but nothing really stands out. It’s a very nice restaurant, but it’s missing that true “wow” factor that would put it over the top.

Hoppen Hierarchy: 7.9 out of 10

Pros: Fast, friendly service; big portions at favorable prices; delicious wraps; varied menu

Cons: Everything is good, but nothing is truly great; pastas are heavily oversauced

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Restaurant Review: Tack Room

I can’t even count how many times I drove by the Tack Room in Lincoln and failed to ever notice it. I pride myself on being able to find even the most obscure of dives, the places the regulars crave but somehow remain invisible from the general public.

Then again, I won’t beat myself up too hard on missing the Tack Room. The restaurant has no website or Yelp reviews, and the last activity on its Facebook page came in 2012. Heck, the outside of the building doesn’t even have a sign. Unless you specifically seek the Tack Room out, you’re simply not finding it.

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Try to ignore its humble exterior (and the smokers just outside the door) as you stumble into this shed-sized red building off 14th and Cornhusker in Lincoln. I visited with a few friends recently, one of whom highly recommended the place, and I’ll admit as I parked I thought, “What the heck are we doing here?”

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The inside is just as blue collar as out. It’s a couple of old tables haphazardly spread about the room, each adorned with uneven chairs. It’s incredibly loud when crowded and, at least on the night we visited, one poor server was left to take orders, serve food, work the bar and play the role of cashier. This led to long wait times, and I couldn’t help but feel for the poor waitress/hostess/bartender.

At this point, you’re probably wondering why I bothered writing a review on this place. I try to write overly negative reviews on restaurants. I do this for fun and to educate, not skewer local joints (unless it’s Dickey’s. Then anything is fair game).

I keep writing because, despite all its rough exterior, the Tack Room offers up a dish delicious enough to overcome all its blemishes – a burger.

It’s become popular in the restaurant business to do stunt burgers these days. These items are more novelty than true taste and often just mask the bland meat under a mountain of toppings. America is now home to burgers complete with Cheetos, black truffles, ice cream, pancakes and even a bun made out of a Scotch egg, just to name a few. In fact, Lincoln already has one incredibly ridiculous burger itself: a chili-and-cinnamon roll combo at Leadbelly.

The Tack Room goes as far as it can in the other direction. It’s burgers have two options: with or without cheese. They are served with pickles on the side and ketchup and mustard on the table. The intended serving is all meat and bun.

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I really don’t know how the overworked cooks in this tiny shack makes it work… but they do. The patty is absolutely packed with salty, juicy flavor. The burger itself is enormous, shaped more like a softball than a traditional flatter patty. Unless you’re one of those weird snakes that can unhinge its jaw, it requires some squishing to even create a feasible bite.

But the extra effort is worth the payoff. The bun is soft yet doesn’t fall apart despite the mass sitting on top of it. This burger honestly shocked me.

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The accompanied curly fries were just OK. They were fried to a nice crisp texture, but the seasoning lacked much flavor, leaving them rather bland without an added condiment.

Shocking as the excellent burger was, the prices were just as pleasing. The Tack Room Burger (a larger version of the original) is just $4, and the fries are $2. You can hardly get a fast food burger and fries for $6 anymore, much less something of this quality.

I find it hard to even compare the Tack Room to other burger spots. The atmosphere and bar-bones approach to toppings are just too different from most places you’ll find in Nebraska. The gritty interior can be a charming or disgusting aspect, depending on your point of view, and the slow service may have been due to an influx of visitors on a random night (we did visit on a Taco Tuesday).

So if you find yourself driving by an unmarked red building some day, feel free to stop. Don’t expect first-rate service or a gourmet meal. But if you want a great burger at an incredible price, this is a place worth trying.

Hoppen Hierarchy: 8.2 out of 10

Pros: Excellent, large burger; unbeatable prices

Cons: Hard to find; slow service; limited menu; meh fries

Barrett’s Barleycorn Pub & Grill

Most of the time when you eat at a bar, you just have to hope the food is passable. You’re not expecting a gourmet experience, and most of the time if it tastes decent and doesn’t bring on a stomach ache (or worse) later, you chalk it up as a win.

But every once in a while, you find a joint that actually puts some thought and care into its meals. That doesn’t mean the offerings are upscale – they still tend to be greasy, fatty items thrown together in a tiny kitchen. But man, are they delicious.

Places like Oscar’s and the Crescent Moon, especially during Reuben week, are Omaha examples. Now I’m adding Barrett’s Barleycorn Pub & Grill to my list.

A skinny hole in the wall in Midtown Omaha, Barrett’s has long been on my list of must-visits. Many of my Twitter visitors swear by the dive’s Reuben, One-Eyed Mick sandwich and its unconventional take on the philly cheesesteak. The menu has all the bar staples, including fish and chips, wings, fried chicken and dozens of burgers and sandwiches. I’m told the massive pork tenderloin, served only on Thursdays and Fridays, is divine, but that’ll have to wait for another visit.

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Chicken philly

The restaurant’s calling card is its philly cheesesteaks, which come in beef, chicken and vegetarian varieties. The chicken is absolutely wonderful in that sloppy, over-the-top way you want bar food to taste. What makes this philly so different is the cheese application – Barrett’s melts provolone and mixes it with a bit of cream cheese, which turns the innards into what looks like chicken salad. But feat not – this is not some gross, mayo-based monstrosity. The gooey, fatty cheese pairs perfectly with the shredded chicken, and the mushrooms, jalapeños and onions inject bursts of fresh flavor.

The portions are massive, and the hoagie roll doesn’t collapse under all the ingredients. If you’re watching your carbs, Barrett’s allows diners to order the phillys “Dugan style”, which trades the bread for a bowl. If I had one complaint, it’s the menu’s description of the chicken, which promises poultry marinated in teriyaki and Szechuan sauce. Those Asian flavors are invisible, but that doesn’t detract from the sandwich’s deliciousness.

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One-Eyed Mick sandwich

Nearly as good is the Pat Dunn sandwich, also known as the “One-Eyed Mick”, which stuffs ham, fried eggs, cheese and mayo between two slices of marble rye. The bread is the immediate standout. It’s toasted perfectly and adds a burst of buttery flavor into each bite. The eggs are delicious and the ham adds a welcome saltiness. This is basically the best breakfast sandwich you’ve had on steroids.

I appreciated the creative twist Barrett’s put on its appetizer menu. Rather than just serving the traditional wings, nachos, chips and dip, etc., Barret’s adds some flair. Onion rings become onion chips. There are churro fries, Santa Fe egg rolls and nacho fries.

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Fried pickles

Rather than simply frying diced pickles, Barrett’s deep fries the whole spear. This infuses more of the acidic pickle flavor and adds texture. The breading sticks well and adds the perfect crispy texture. The included ranch is delicious and adds a cooling factor.

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Onion chips

Instead of frying entire rings, Barrett’s opts for onion petals. Like the pickles, this makes the original product more of the star, and the tangy onion plays well with the salty batter.

And Barrett’s is just fun. The atmosphere is incredibly laid back, and the servers are attentive and incredibly friendly. There’s a volleyball court out back and a patio that was made for gorgeous Nebraska fall evenings.

Look, I’m not going to BS you and pretend Barrett’s is gourmet cuisine. It’s not a place you visit to impress a date or your significant other’s parents. But this is elevated bar food, and if you’re looking for a spot to relax, enjoy a cold one and sample some solid dishes, Barrett’s has you covered.

Hoppen Hierarchy: 8.8 out of 10

Pros: Creative menu; killer cheesesteaks; delicious appetizers; fun, inviting atmosphere; reasonable prices

Cons: Food is very solid, but not upper echelon

Regret and Burning: The Tale of the Ghost Pepper

Why do people jump out of airplanes?

Why do they get into cages and swim next to Great White sharks? Or try to climb Mount Everest?

At our core, humans crave excitement. The status quo is safe. It’s known and lacks risk. But every once in a while, we get that drive to get outside our comfort zone and experience something new. The unknown can be scary, but it’s also exciting. It’s fun to push oneself and experience something out of the box.

All of this is a long-winded way to say that if you’re in the thrill-seeking mood, go skydiving. Do NOT eat a ghost pepper.

Scientifically known as the Bhut Jolokia pepper, this devil weighs in at more than a million units on the Scoville Unit Scale, 400 times hotter than a jalapeño. It’s the seventh-hottest pepper on Earth, but it’s gained far more fame than other peppers because of its name and appearances in YouTube challenges, most of which end with the eater crying and/or curled in the fetal position.

As a noted lover of spice and someone who’s taken down the Hot Ones wing challenge three times, I consider myself to have a high tolerance to heat. The legend of the ghost pepper always held high intrigue for me. I knew eating one was dumb, but I was so curious to what that heat level felt like. And as a pepperhead, part of me wanted to challenge myself and see if I could handle the heat better than my peers.

Looking back, I fully admit these are stupid motivations. But that curiosity always existed. Unfortunately (fortunately?) for me, grocery stores don’t carry ghost peppers, because most people are wise enough to steer clear. Unless I wanted to pay an exhorbant amount and order them over the Internet, I would never face my tiny red foe.

Then fate intervened.

My good friend John Bishop was kind (or perhaps evil?) enough to give me several ghost peppers from his garden. Now that I was face to face with my spicy nemesis, I began to question my sanity and the sensibility of eating something that literally has brought men to their knees. But pride and curiosity drove me forth, and I popped one of the red devils into my mouth.

To be honest, the heat wasn’t the bad part. It lay dormant for about 15 seconds or so, then came scorching through my tongue and lips. Don’t get me wrong, it was really spicy, and a normal person probably would’ve hated it. But the heat didn’t destroy me. I actually weirdly enjoy the slight burning sensation that hot sauce leaves, and after about 10 minutes the heat subsided and my mouth returned to normal levels.

It was what came next that turned the situation sour.

About 20 minutes in, my stomach started feeling funny. Not full on pain yet, but something was clearly amiss. I quickly discovered that movement was a bad idea. Anything that shifted my stomach resulted in a quick burning sensation. My solution: nap for a few hours, remain still and wait for my body to digest the pepper.

I awoke about two hours later expecting my body to be back at equilibrium. It was not. Simple acts like walking or even laying on my stomachs caused my stomach to cramp, sending shots of pain throughout my body. It was at this point that I began cursing each and every braincell I had that thought this was a worthy venture.

I housed about 10 Tums and chugged a bottle of water, then lay motionless and prayed for the pain to subside. Whether I’m just lucky or God intervened, it worked. After 45 minutes of stillness, the excruciating experience was over.

Given the reactions I’ve seen on YouTube and in other places, I’m quite lucky. My tolerance for heat is quite high, but this was still a miserable experience and not something I would recommend to anyone.

If you have an entire day to waste and enjoy spending time in the fetal position, sure, go ahead and eat a ghost pepper.

But if you have a brain or value your stomach lining, satiate your thrill-seeking in a smarter manner.

A Quick Eating Guide to the Kansas City Plaza

There is so much to do and see in Kansas City that it can’t be contained to one weekend. If you try to split yourself between a Chiefs/Royals game, Worlds and/or Oceans of Fun, IKEA, and sampling some of the city’s famous barbecue, you’ll get burnt out quickly and won’t fully experience all KC has to offer. It’s best to experience Kansas City in chunks, fully digesting one section before moving on to the next.

The Plaza is not to be missed. Comprised of more than 100 shops and 30 restaurants in 15 blocks, this district has something for everyone. The shopping options are expansive, but followers of this blog probably care about one thing: the eats.

After spending a few weekends in the Plaza, I got a good feel for some of the district’s top options. I won’t pretend I ate at all 30 restaurants, so this isn’t exactly a definitive guide. But if you do venture to the Plaza, here are some joints to keep in mind.

Barbecue: Jack Stack

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Jack Stack brings a different style of barbecue to Kansas City, where most places adopt the order-at-the-counter approach. But Jack Stack, much like the newer Q39, takes a traditional stance, having diners seated and waited on by servers.

It’s a formula that’s served them well. While many barbecue joints embrace the hole-in-the-wall, low-key aspect of barbecue, Jack Stack pivots and celebrates a more high-end experience. It has low lighting and a fancier ambience and, while the service is still quick, it embraces more of a sit-down experience than a grab-and-go feel of some other local favorites.

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Smoked jalapeno cheddar cornbread

No meal at Jack Stack is complete without an appetizer of smoked jalapeno cheddar cornbread, the best version of the Southern staple I’ve ever had. It arrives piping hot in a mini cast iron skillet, which forms a solid crust on the outside and keeps all the flavor trapped within. The dish comes with a honey butter which is delicious but completely unnecessary. The cornbread can speak for itself. Its texture is the perfect balance of soft and dense, the sweetness levels are on point and the cheese… oh the cheese. You know how when you reach for a gooey slice of pizza and it creates those wonderful cheese pulls as it separates from the rest of the pie? That’s what happens with this cornbread, and the sharpness of the cheedar permeates every bite. It’s warm, a bit gooey and sweet enough without the butter, though that is delicious too.

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Burnt ends

With all respect to Phat Jack’s and even the great Joe’s Kansas City, the burnt ends were the best I’ve had. They’re weren’t quite fall-apart tender as many renditions are, but the bark is so packed with smoky flavor. There’s a brilliant smoke ring on each brisket cube.

JackStackRibs

Pork spare ribs

The spare ribs are cooked to perfection. They’re not fall-off-the-bone, which so many incorrectly claim is the best style. They’re tender and pull gently off the bone, and the texture is on point. The char is absolutely brilliant and gives each bite a nice crust. There’s a scattering of sauce on top, but these ribs don’t need any extra flavor.

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Brisket

The brisket was just OK. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it’s a bit floppy and lacks the smoky crust of the other meats. The surprising standout is the vegetable kabob, comprised of plump mushrooms, peppers, onions, zucchini and a sawed-off corn cob. Though a slight butter application helps, the grilling that allows these veggies to release their flavor and really sing.

Jack Stack is definitely more upscale and maybe a little more expensive than most of KC’s barbecue offerings, but it’s worth it. The menu also features beef and lamb ribs, shrimp, trout and steak, not to mention a number of sandwiches. This place does come with a warning – it fills up fast, so make a reservation, get there early or be prepared to wait. Even if you have to settle for the latter option, it’s worth it.

Upscale Dining: Seasons 52

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Wood-grilled boneless rainbow trout

There are plenty of fine dining options in the Plaza, including Brio Tuscan Grille, Fogo de Chao, Gram & Dunn and McCormick & Schmick’s. I can’t comment on most of these places outside of saying that the menus look fantastic, but I can absolutely recommend Seasons 52, a restaurant that prides itself on using local ingredients, so much so that the menu drastically changes depending on the season.

The menu is filled with amazing options, including salads, seafood, meatloaf, chicken and steaks. The “sea” choices are downright spectacular. The rainbow trout is cooked perfectly, as each bite of tender, flaky flesh pulls off just right. The grill marks add nice texture, and the accompanied tartar sauce really set things off.

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Caramelized grilled sea scallops

Then there are the caramelized sea scallops, which are mind-blowingly tender. They’re so luscious and buttery, you barely have to chew them at all. The slightly sweet flavor is incredible, and combining them with the corn risotto is a real treat.

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Lump crab, roasted shrimp and spinach stuffed mushrooms

All the appetizers are tempting, especially the duck wing lollipops and sweet corn and ricotta ravioli. I can confirm the stuffed mushrooms are tremendous. The shrimp provide most of the flavor, but the spinach and mushrooms add a fresh boost. The crab is mostly lost, but this is absolutely a home run appetizer.

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Belgian chocolate s’more

The desserts are fun, inventive and light enough to prevent feelings of regret that come with most post-meal offerings. Seasons stuffs a tall shot glass with cake, mousse and other ingredients to create creme brulee, pecan pie, raspberry red velvet and other flavored desserts. The Belgian chocolate s’more is perfectly indulgent. The mousse, which is peppered with mini marshmallows, packs plenty of chocolate, as does the fluffy cake at the bottom of the glass. The graham cracker adds the crunch of a traditional s’more, and the toasted marshmallow on top brings memories of the traditional campfire treat.

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New Old Fashioned

The drinks stand out as well. I’m a huge fan of an Old Fashioned, and Seasons’ take on the drink is downright delicious. The Breaker Craft Bourbon provides the dominant flavor, bringing a combination of vanilla, cinnamon and smoke. The apple bitters provide tang, but it’s the cherry heering that infuses the entire drink with the brilliant tart pop of a cherry. For nostalgia’s sake, Seasons tosses in a stick of rock candy, which adds a bit of extra sweetness if left to dissolve inside the drink.

The atmosphere is professional yet approachable, as we saw diners in suits and basketball shorts alike. The low lighting provides an upscale feel, and the prices are more than reasonable for this type of restaurant. Our waitress was attentive, knowledgable of the menu and incredibly friendly – she even comped our desserts because she said we were a fun table. Maybe she was just fishing for a bigger tip (if so, it worked), but it only reinforced the greatness of the Seasons 52 experience.

Husker Bar: The Granfalloon

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I was a bit skeptical when some of my Twitter followers told me The Granfalloon was the place to be to watch a Nebraska football game. I didn’t doubt my followers’ advice, but I didn’t expect a rousing crowd as the Huskers took the field for the first game of the Scott Frost era.

I was wrong to doubt. The place was jam packed full of Red-clad patrons 45 minutes before kickoff, serenading the bar with “Go Big Red!” chants. The roar was deafening as Nebraska took the field… then it quickly subsided after the game was delayed (and eventually postponed) due to weather concerns. There’s even a menu item called “Huskers Beef Stew”.

But it was still a lot of fun, and you don’t have to be a Nebraska fan to enjoy The Granfalloon. A spacious bar with plenty of TVs, strong drinks and friendly bartenders, this would be a great place to post up on an NFL Sunday or during one of the first days of March Madness.

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Butcher’s Table pizza

The menu is mostly comprised of bar staples such as burgers, tacos, salads, sandwiches and wings. The Granfalloon does allow diners to expand their horizons beyond traditional pub grub, with pork chops, crab cakes, salmon and shrimp fettuccine also available.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with sticking to the classics, starting with the Butcher’s Table pizza, a 10-inch oval topped with Italian sausage, pepperoni, ham, bacon and sweet peppers. All the pork products play their part, infusing the dish with salty, fatty flavors. The sausage and peppers add a touch of sweetness, as does the tasty red sauce. The mozzarella cheese holds everything together, and the crust is sturdy and airy. It’s not exactly artisan pizza, but it’s far superior to most bar options.

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Pulled brisket tacos

The pulled brisket tacos look incredibly disappointing when they first arrive. The corn tortillas appear sad and floppy and a goopy red salsa tops each taco. But the protein is what matters, and this brisket delivers. To be clear, this isn’t premier barbecue brisket by any means, but it’s excellent for bar food. The tortillas are flavorful but wimpy and quickly tear and crack under the mound of brisket. I found it handy to discard the shells altogether and mix the brisket with the provided jasmine-cilantro rice, creating a delicious mini rice bowl.

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Burnt end nachos

The burnt end nachos sound great on paper, but they suffer the same problem almost every restaurant dish does – instead of evenly distributing the ingredients, The Granfalloon loads them all on top. This creates 8-10 awesome bites, but leaves the lower chips naked and disappointing. The chips are grocery store quality and the cheese is of the standard nacho variety. The fresh jalapeños add some kick, and the burnt ends are passable enough. I don’t think our dish had any of the promised ghost-chili ground beef or green chile chicken. While it was large and perfect for sharing, I have a hard time recommending it.

That being said, The Granfalloon is overall a fun and positive experience. Most of the food is quite good, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming, the bartenders are helpful and engaging and the drinks pack some punch. Should you find yourself in the Plaza on a Nebraska game day, I can’t imagine there are many better places to cheer on the Huskers.

Skip It: Classic Cup Cafe

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Pacific Northwest Benedict

Don’t be fooled by the crowded patio and long lines on a weekend morning. The Classic Cup Cafe is my one regret of our Plaza trip. Its brunch menu promised great things but resulted in a great letdown.

Classic Cup provides all the breakfast staples, including pancakes, omelettes and biscuits and gravy. Along with a traditional eggs Benedict, Classic Cup offers a crab cake version and the Pacific Northwest, featuring smoked salmon. The salmon itself is pretty good. It’s very salty, just as smoked salmon should be, and hold a firm texture. The eggs are overcooked and don’t bring that wonderful ooze of yolk when you cut into them.

The hollandaise sauce is creamy and fatty, just as one would hope, and it doesn’t drown the dish. This is a solid meal, but there’s nothing really special about it, and it’s not worth the boatload of calories. The home fries have a solid crispy texture, but they’re nearly flavorless unless coated with salt and pepper or Cholula sauce.

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Egg sandwich

Far worse is the Egg Sandwich. The bacon is the one saving grace to this dish. The two large strips are bursting with flavor and are perfectly crispy. If judged by the bacon alone, this would be a standout option.

Unfortunately, everything else falls flat. The scrambled eggs are again overcooked and bring to mind the sad, plastic-like servings at a hotel breakfast bar that have been sitting under a heat lamp for two hours. The raw onion adds a nice bite, but caramelizing the veggies would have been a far smarter move. And the bread is downright pathetic. It’s just store-brand carbs lightly toasted. It quickly becomes soggy and limp. One could make something better at home with no effort at all. I almost never leave food on my plate as a restaurant, but I opted out on the toast. It’s just wasted calories.

Corner Cup has a vibrant atmosphere and the food arrives very quickly. There’s plenty of seating, including two outdoor patios with ideal shading. But our meals were average at best and they, along with one coffee, cost us nearly $40. That’s nearly robbery, and I would recommend staying away from this tourist trap.

Bonus: Joe’s Kansas City

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Z-Man sandwich and chicken gumbo

So Joe’s Kansas City is nowhere near the Plaza. In fact, the closest location is about a 20-minute drive.

I don’t care. I’m recommending it anyway. The barbecue is so on point I’d drive hours for it.

As previously detailed, the ribs and burnt ends are both fabulous. But Joe’s KC’s calling card is the Z-Man sandwich, which packs slow-smoked brisket, two giant onion rings and provolone cheese between a hefty Kaiser roll. There’s a good reason about half the Joe’s KC orders include a Z-Man. All the flavors play together so well. The brisket is phenomenal on its own, but the tender meat plays well with the contrasting crunch of the onion rings. The cheese adds a gooey element that seals the whole dish together, and the bun is strong enough to keep all the meat and cheese from dissolving into a gooey mess. It’s near perfection.


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Rocket Pig sandwich

I thought we’d reached the pinnacle of barbecue sandwiches with the Z-Man, but Joe’s KC recently added a new contender to the menu: the Rocket Pig. Lucious pulled pork is mixed with a sweet and spicy sauce, topped with enough crispy bacon to sink the Titanic, pepperjack cheese, BBQ mayo and fried jalapeños.

Everything just works. The pork is salty and tender. The bacon and jalapeños add the desired crispy element, and the light application of mayo applies a cooling element that balances the heat from the sauce and jalapeños. I’m not sure I can go so far as to say the Rocket Pig tops the Z-Man… but it’s at least in the discussion.

There you have it – a quick rundown of the offerings in the Plaza and overall KC area. It’s a wonderful area for tourists, and the food alone is worth a visit. But even if you post up in the Plaza, don’t be afraid to hop in the car and get out to Joe’s Kansas City.

You won’t regret it.

Restaurant Review: Hunger Block

I’m always curious about the stories behind restaurants. Where did the idea to open a new joint originate? Did the chef have a culinary background, or did he or she just figure it out along the way?

And how did two natives of Caracas, Venezuela, end up in Omaha, Neb., and decide to open an authentic Latin American restaurant?

I don’t know how or why the Hunger Block came to be. But I’m very, very happy it exists.

HungerOutside

I’ve never been to Venezuela, but by all accounts owners Carlos Mendez and Rognny Diaz have succeeded in bringing the traditional flavors of Central and South America to the Rockbrook Village shopping center in Omaha. The menu, littered with words like “arepa”, “patacon” and “bandeja paisa” is a bit intimidating at first. But the knowledgable servers are experts at breaking the offerings for newbies. Those feeling less adventurous can opt for a massive burger, loaded hot dog or tacos.

While I’m sure those are all excellent, I advise stepping outside your comfort zone and trying something traditional. So when our waitress, also from Venzuela, recommended the pabellon crillo, I couldn’t resist. This Venezuelan plate includes shredded beef, fried plantains, rice and black beans.

HungerBeef

Shredded beef

This dish was everything I hoped it would be. The star was the protein, the tender shredded beef. It was a bit heavy on salt, but it was incredibly flavorful with just the right amount of bite. The rice was cooked to perfection, and the flecks of cilantro added a hint of freshness. The rice mixed well with the creamy black beans, which provided a mild sweet taste and had a soft, flour-like texture.

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Fried plantains

Fried plantains can be very hit or miss, and most restaurants falter in combining a crispy exterior with the soft insides. But Hunger Block nailed it, combining the sweetness of the fruit with a firm, savory texture. The deep fry results in some caramelization on the skin.

The entree was phenomenal, but the MVP of the meal was the empanada, which is offered in beef, chicken and cheese varieties. One bite is all it takes to swear off the inferior, American-ized version of this dish. The corn masa is impeccable. The dough is slightly sweet and pillowy, yet firm enough to contain the insides without falling apart. The fry adds just enough texture, and these are well-filled. Hunger Block throws in avocado and cilantro ranch dipping sauces that only enhance the original product.

HungerArepitas

Arepitas

Arpetias are a foreign appetizer to most Americans, but that needs to change. Hunger Block takes the same corn flour masa from the empanadas, forms it into discs and quickly fries it. Unlike most fried items, the exterior becomes firm, not crunchy, the perfect shield to protect the velvety insides. An order comes with avocado slices, queso fresco and Salvadorian cream, all of which only enhance the experience.

I can’t say enough about the service. Our waitress was incredibly friendly and helpful, and both owners visited our table, introduced themselves and inquired about our meals. Our meals arrived within ten minutes of ordering, and Hunger Block tides your appetite over with a basket of chips and salsa on the house (though both are bland and forgettable).

The prices are more than fair given the portion sizes. The pabellon criollo was $13, a price I was more than willing to pay for the volume and flavors delivered. Each empanada is $3.75 – again, well worth it.

Nebraska is one of the last places I’d expect to find legit Latin American cuisine, but the Hunger Block proved me wrong. I have almost no complaints from my initial visit, and I guarantee I’ll be back. I appreciate restaurants willing to try new things, and Hunger Block certainly does that.

Hoppen Hierarchy: 9.2 out of 10

Pros: Big portions; friendly, knowledgeable service; fantastic empanadas; brings a new flavor to Omaha; shredded beef is tremendous

Cons: Chips and salsa are blah

Restaurant Review: Angus Burgers & Shakes

Serving local food is the hot trend in the restaurant game right now, and it would be hard to find a burger joint embracing that theme more heavily than Angus Burgers & Shakes. The restaurant, which opened an Omaha location in mid-June after proving successful in Kearney, is all about Nebraska products, and it shows in the quality.

There just happen to be a few too many of those products at times. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Angus’ beef comes from Nebraska Star beef, a Holdredge-based, all-natural beef company with more than 60 years of experience. The cattle are all grade USA choice and are aged for at least 35 days. The vegetables are grown by local producers, and even most of the beer on tap comes from Nebraska breweries. Angus is serious about keeping things in-state.

The Omaha location resides just off 168th and Giles. It has a large dining room with plenty of space as well as a spacious patio. The modern decor is fun and brings to mind an active, enthusiastic atmosphere, which carries into the service. Our waitress was incredibly friendly and checked in on us several times throughout the meal, and our food arrived within minutes of ordering.

The menu consists of a dizzying array of burgers, all of which are loaded with creative ingredients. To name a few: the Nebraska Rueben burger, piled high with corned beef, caramelized onions and cabbage and thousand island dressing; the Husk Burger, a combination of corn chips, chili, aged cheddar cheese, pickled jalapeño, sour cream and scallions; the Nebraska Rancher, topped with braised BBQ beef, thick-cut bacon, cheddar cheese, crispy onion straws, smoky BBQ mayo and mushrooms. Each patty can be subbed out for a vegetarian “Impossible” burger if need be.

A few other items, such as a fried chicken sandwich and fish and chips, are present for someone in a non-burger mood.

AngusSarahBurger

Nebraska Farmer

The fan favorite is the Nebraska Farmer, which adds a fried egg, onion rings, hash browns, bacon and cheddar cheese to a six-ounce patty. Sounds incredible, right? It’s a breakfast burger on steroids, and it’s truly a sight to behold when it arrives at the table.

Unfortunately, these burgers personify the phrase, “Too much of a good thing”. It’s so busy that it’s hard to really catch any of the individual flavors. The patty itself is brilliant, perfectly cooked, tender and just salty enough. It’s incredibly flavorful and would be just fine on its own.

But the meat has to contend with the sharp cheddar, the crispy hash browns and onion rings and the runny egg. Don’t get me wrong, the burger is delicious, but there are so many instruments in this symphony that many are muted entirely. Were I to bite into this burger with no knowledge of what was in it, I wouldn’t have even known the hash browns existed. If you break the burger down and eat each element individually, they’re all really tasty. But all together, it’s just too much.

AngusMine

Three Little Pigs burger

The problem is exacerbated on the Three Little Pigs burger. This offering includes bacon, burnt ends, ham, cream cheese, red onions and pepper jelly. It sounds like a mashup delivered straight from Heaven.

And it’s very good. But Angus goes a bit crazy with the cream cheese application, slathering the top bun with a heaping helping. It’s far too powerful and drowns out some of the delicious elements of this dish. And the pepper jelly is green. It wasn’t appalling flavor-wise, but seeing a green gel on the burger was a bit off-putting.

AngusBurntEnd

Burnt end

Again, all the elements were brilliant by themselves. The burnt ends weren’t the best I’ve ever had (shoutout to Phat Jack’s), but these succulent, fatty bites are really good. The bacon is solid, though not spectacular. The ham is just kind of there.

But there are so many ingredients fighting for the spotlight that none can really stand out. The cream cheese unfortunately dominates, and the burnt ends and bacon are mostly silent.

The mountain of toppings completely overwhelms the poor bun tasked with holding these monsters together. The rolls put up a good fight, but the they quickly dissolve into a soggy mess. This was one of the messier burgers I’ve eaten, and my fiance gave up after a few bites and switched to the knife-and-fork method.

To reiterate, both burgers were very good and I’d return for either. But I can’t help but think they’d be better served with one or two fewer ingredients. Sometimes less is truly more.

AngusSarah

Onion rings and Nebraska Farmer burger

The onion rings are excellent. They look a bit dark and over-fried, but they’re perfectly crunchy and pair very nicely with Angus’ house Ranch dressing. The batter application is very heavy, but let’s be honest – you’re ordering onion rings for the deep-fried part, not the tangy center.

AngusFries

Waffle fries

The waffle fries aren’t bad by any means, but they’re forgettable. They’re fried well and are carry a nice crisp, but they’re pretty bland. The tangy fry sauce helps, as do Angus’ homemade ketchup and stone ground mustards.

Wonderful as local ingredients are, they’re typically accompanied with a higher price, and that’s the case at Angus. Each burger is at least $9 without a side, which are $3-4 apiece. It’s a solid meal, but paying north of $30 for two burgers and sides of this quality is a bit excessive.

I don’t want to sound down on Angus because it has a lot going right. The service is awesome, the burger patties are tremendous and I truly appreciate the dedication to local ingredients. But the menu needs to be tamed a bit. Angus tries to stuff as many ingredients as it can onto every burger, creating a tasty yet confusing experience. I actually suspect Angus’ best burger might be the Plain Jane, just a burger with lettuce, tomato and onion. The toppings aren’t as flashy as the other options, but I bet it allows that brilliant patty to truly showcase itself.

Hoppen Hierarchy: 8.0 out of 10

Pros: Tremendous patties; flavorful ingredients; fun, creative menu; fast and attentive service

Cons: Burgers are just too busy; waffle fries were just OK; heavy application of cream cheese; more expensive than most burger joints

Restaurant Review: Greenbelly

Much of the history of American dining is defined solely by flavor. Restaurants happily inject each dish with oodles of calories and fat, and for good reason: fat = flavor. So they infused butter into every dish, slathered every sandwich with mayo and deep fried everything under the sun. And Americans didn’t care. It tasted good, so what was the problem?

There’s been a shift in recent years as science has shown us just how destructive these eating habits are. Americans are now eating less, making healthier choices and working out more.

The shift led to some restaurants experimenting with the balance between flavor and health. Was it possible to create dishes that filled restaurants without expanding customers’ waistlines?

Greenbelly, a new addition to Omaha and Elkhorn, is one of the spots testing that hypothesis. Based on the crowd during my two lunch visits, people are taking notice.

GBOutside

The Omaha location sits in a humble strip mall off 114th and Dodge and isn’t very noticeable from the street. But both the inside and pleasing patio area were packed when I dined. This doesn’t slow the restaurant’s production – orders are placed at a counter and generally arrive within five minutes. Greenbelly is speedy and efficient.

Sifting through the menu is an arduous process. Greenbelly offers 20 salads (as well as create-your-own options), 19 pizzas, 16 whole wheat wraps, 10 lettuce wraps, 15 grilled sandwiches and a few specials such as mac n’ cheese and tacos. There are 85 entree options… so I definitely recommend checking out the menu ahead of time so you’re not sorting through this dictionary while in line.

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BBQ Chicken Pizza (grilled BBQ chicken breast, cream cheese, mozzarella cheese, cheddar cheese, sliced jalapeños, crumbled bacon, fresh cilantro)

Of everything I’ve tried, the pizza is the true standout. These pies can be ordered on traditional crust or crispy flatbreads. The cracker-like flatbread is healthier, but I recommend the traditional. It’s firm but has a nice chew. The toppings are loaded on, infusing each bite with tremendous flavor, and even a small (10″) is enough to tackle a large appetite.

The BBQ Chicken pizza is a home run. The strips of chicken breast are tender and savory, and there are plenty of jalapeños to add some spice. The stars, however, are the cheeses. Each bite births a brilliant cheese pull, that glorious view of stretching dairy that looks nearly as good as it tastes. The sharp cheddar plays well with the tangy mozzarella, but it’s the cream cheese dollops that take the cake. The soft, mild cheese adds bursts of fresh creaminess.

Unfortunately, the BBQ sauce gets lost completely in the medley of tastes. In fact, if I didn’t know the sauce was the base, I never would have guessed it was present. And the bacon was a letdown, too. It permeated every bite, but was surprisingly bland. While those missteps hurt the overall product, it was still tremendous and filling.

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Italian Stallion pizza

The cracker crust is far less successful. The crust completely flops under all the sauce and toppings, dissolving into a mush. Greenbelly also slices the pizza in thin, 1″-by-4″ strips, making it nearly impossible to eat without a knife and fork.

The Italian Stallion is very hit and miss. The marinara base is sweet and tangy, and the chunks of sweet Italian sausage are smoky and salty. The fresh mozzarella is tasty, but there’s WAY too much of it. It’s glopped over the entire pie, piling up in some places and drowning out the flavor of the pizza. Don’t get me wrong, I love cheese. But I scraped about 40 percent of it off and still had more than enough.

And the application of the salami is embarrassing. Greenbelly lazily tosses a few slices across the pizza, but only about five or six bites get any at all.

GBWrap

Greek wrap (romaine lettuce, gyro meat, tzatziki sauce, tomatoes, red onion, feta cheese)

The wraps are excellent, but they’re simply not enough of them. They’re quite small, maybe six or seven inches in length. Greenbelly stuffs each to the gills with fresh, flavorful ingredients, but the current size won’t satisfy most appetites.

Thus ends my complaints with the wrap. The tortilla is solid and doesn’t tear at all. It’s finished on the grill, producing beautiful grill marks and adding a bit of smoky flavor.

The gyro wrap is reminiscent of the offering at Feta’s, my favorite gyro joint in Omaha that’s just down the street. The gyro meat is well-seasoned and tender, and it pairs perfectly with the garlic, tangy tzatziki sauce and the punch from the feta cheese. The onions, lettuce and plump tomato slices are all incredibly fresh and pull the meal together.

GBSalad

South of the Border Taco Salad (Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, ground beef, black beans, black olives, cheddar cheese, corn chips)

The South of the Border Taco Salad is just OK. The romaine lettuce is crisp and adds some crunch, but most of the other elements are pretty forgettable. The seasoned beef doesn’t have much flavor, and the cheese, beans and olives are practically invisible. The ranch is bland and there isn’t enough of it to cover the enormous portion.

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Parmesan potatoes

Most sandwiches and wraps come with a choice of chips, soup, fruit cup or potatoes. The parmesan potatoes aren’t bad. They’re boiled slightly too long and become a bit soggy, and once you reach the bottom of the boil all that remains is a pool of butter and oil. Greenbelly might be healthier than some other restaurants, but this serves as a reminder that every restaurant cuts corners somewhere.

Greenbelly is fairly expensive as well. The sandwiches and wraps are $10 or above, a hefty price for a small offering. My small pizza cost $15, and the salads are all about $8-9.

As someone who carefully monitors his health, I really appreciate what Greenbelly is trying to do. They’ve managed to create some really flavorful offerings without loading them with calories. The service is quick, making it a great spot to grab lunch on a workday. If Greenbelly could iron out some of its mistakes, it could be a really great restaurant.

Hoppen Hierarchy: 7.9 out of 10

Pros: Speedy service; delicious, filling pizzas; fantastic flavor on wraps/sandwiches; healthy and diverse options

Cons: Too expensive; wraps are too small; salads are pretty meh; cracker pizza is a major letdown

Restaurant Review: Pasta Amore

Any restaurant that has the word “pasta” in its name better bring some strong Italian dishes to the table. Pasta Amore does this, but it unfortunately falls flat in almost every other area.

A native Italian who has studied cuisine for nearly his entire life, chef Leo Fascianella first opened Pasta Amore’s doors in 1986. He uses pasta machines from Sicily and his family owns a small farm with plants and chickens, supplying the farm-to-table experience most patrons crave these days.

PastaOutside

The Omaha restaurant, located in the Prairie Brook shopping center off 108th and center, is highlighted by a beautiful patio. The spacious area is shaded by a roof and keeps customers cool from the oppressive Nebraska heat with electric fans. It has a very rustic, laid-back feel. The inside is a bit cramped and dark, giving it a more upscale atmosphere.

Our server was very friendly and walked us through both the specials and the menu, which is comprised of dozens of pasta, seafood, chicken and sandwich options. Each entree comes with the choice of soup or salad.

I consider myself a positive person, so let’s start with the good stuff. After perusing the menu, I had my heart set on the spaghetti carbonara… until, that is, our server explained the daily special, a combination of shrimp and Italian sausage over rigatoni pasta in an arrabiata (spicy marinara) sauce. I rarely call last-second audibles at restaurants, but that sounded too good to pass up.

PastaShrimp

The dish delivered in nearly every way. The shrimp were enormous and succulent, and the sausage toed the line between sweet and spicy with aplomb. The noodles were slightly overcooked and chewy, but I didn’t have any real complaint with them. While a bit watery, the sauce delivered a nice kick.

The surprise contributor were the vegetables. The green peppers, onions and capers were all very fresh and provided a brilliant pop.

PastaSalmon

Salmon Greco

My fiance opted for the Salmon Greco, a six-ounce salmon filet served with angel hair pasta, spinach, black olives, capers, tomatoes and feta cheese. The salmon was excellent, perfectly flaky and tender. Pasta Amore doesn’t add too many seasonings, allowing the flavor of the fish to be the star.

The pasta, which was combined with olive oil, was tender and enjoyable, but again, the fresh veggies really stood out. I have to commend the restaurant for committing to using ingredients from its own garden – it truly does make a difference.

The pasta was excellent, but we waited nearly 45 minutes for it. I understand that perfection isn’t served in mere moments, but we dined on a night when the restaurant was not even close to filled. That wait time is quite excessive.

PastaSalad

The salad was among the saddest I’ve ever received from a restaurant. It consisted of a bowl of iceberg lettuce (the equivalent of which can be purchased at any grocery store), with one tomato slice and a chop of cucumber. The lettuce was completely flavorless, and the Italian dressing was thick and, though a bit tangy, ultimately forgettable.

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Ravioli appetizer

The fried raviolis were nothing special, either. They were thin and had a barely distinguishable filling of ricotta cheese and herbs inside. They came with a thick marinara sauce (again, grocery-store quality) that slightly improved the experience, but each bite was mostly just fried dough.

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I was disappointed even before unveiling a very unwelcome surprise – one of the raviolis was completely empty. I’m not sure how the filling was forgotten, but this shell had no guts inside. We ate a few of the “filled” raviolis before simply passing on the rest. To call this appetizer a letdown would be putting it nicely.

Despite Pasta Amore’s stumbles, we were still generally pleased with our experience until the bill arrived. Both entrees cost $27, which is far too expensive for what was delivered. Our server never named the price for my special (I take partial blame for not asking), but my fiance’s meal is more in question. The website’s menu says it costs $18, not $27, so we were either significantly overcharged or the menu needs to be updated. Either way, combined with the $9 ravioli appetizer, our bill came to around $70 before tip, which is about twice what I would ideally spend on this meal.

I try not to come across as overly critical in my reviews, especially of local joints. But Pasta Amore was slow, overpriced and our salads and appetizer could be kindly described as mediocre. The pasta dishes were fine, but they didn’t stand out and weren’t nearly worth what we were charged. The atmosphere is welcome and maybe we just dined on an off day, but I’d have a hard time recommending a visit.

Hoppen Hierarchy: 6.8 out of 10

Pros: Enjoyable patio; solid pasta dishes; fresh vegetables truly stand out

Cons: Terribly overpriced; very slow service; lazy take on salad; disappointing ravioli appetizer

Restaurant Review: Best Bison

Few burger joints make a healthy lifestyle the bulk of their marketing campaign. In fact, most will do whatever they can to disguise the nutrition behind their patties. Fat is flavor, and the more of it makes it into the burger blend, the better it tastes. The better it tastes, the more customers come through. The more customers visit… you get the picture.

Best Bison, a former food truck that moved into a brick and mortar off 80th and Dodge in Omaha, takes the complete opposite route. It uses bison beef, which is significantly lower in fat and calories than that of cows, and proudly splays that message on the restaurant’s front. Each item on the menu, which includes burgers, sandwiches (philly, Italian beef, Rueben), hot dogs, sausages and salads includes a note about how many calories you’re saving by choosing bison.

The ordering system is very unique. If you’re paying cash, you order at the counter as you would any fast food restaurant. But credit card users are directed to touch screens that walk the customer through a fully-customizable ordering process. All you have to do is select your entree, pick a cheese, sauce and toppings, and top it off with fries and/or a drink. It’s very simple, but for those unfamiliar there is a friendly hand nearby to steer through the process.

Of all the menu items, the burger is the simplest. It can be ordered in just three variations: single, double, or single bacon. There are five cheese options and a few sauces, plus traditional burger toppings like tomatoes, pickles and onions (mushrooms and caramelized onions cost extra). This certainly isn’t a new-style burger joint offering crazy creations. Best Bison sticks to the classics – you won’t even find barbecue sauce or an onion ring on any of their burgers.

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Bacon single burger

For the most part, I couldn’t tell the difference between the bison and traditional ground beef. It was a bit dry and missed some of the fat, but the flavor was still strong. The patty was decent sized, six to eight ounces, and was complimented nicely by the acidic pop of the pickles. The toasted brioche bun was soft and added just a hint of sweetness, and the butter on the bread helped replace some of what was lost in the patty.

BisonBurger2

The rest of the burger ran from forgettable to disappointing. The veggies were just OK and added little to the dish. Best Bison placed just a tiny squirt of ketchup and mustard on the top bun, so little it was difficult to even detect.

But the greatest sin is the bacon, which is practically flavorless. Bacon is among God’s greatest gifts to earth and is brilliant in almost any form, but Best Bison managed to find a cut that completely missed the mark.

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Sweet potato waffle fries

The sweet potato waffle fries were brilliant. I would have preferred them to be a bit crisper, but the sweetness of the potato comes through perfectly. These made-to-order beauties are touched off with a nice finishing salt that ties it all together.

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Air-popped french fries

Best Bison offers traditional fries (as well as chili cheese fries), but in sticking with the healthy theme, also has air-popped french fries. This cooking process significantly reduces the calories, but unfortunately the same thing happens with the flavor.  The skinny cuts have a decent salty flavor, but they lack the crispness that frying provides, and they become soggy and limp after a few minutes.

The rest of the menu is quite intriguing, from the bison french dip to the cajun andouille sausage to the beer and cheddar bratwurst. We were given a sample of the bison hot dog upon arrival, and it was delicious. The casing had that desired snap, and the flavor was as good or better as most hot dogs you’ll find.

Using bison meat allows Better Bison to craft healthier options, but it also jacks up the prices. It’s much more expensive to produce, and most of the restaurants options are close to or above $10 without adding fries or a drink. My fiance and I ordered two burgers and two fries for a $30 bill. The service was fast (we waited about five minutes between order and delivery) and very friendly (from the doorside assistant to a manager asking us about the quality of our meal), but that can’t make up for the price difference.

I usually try to avoid letting cost play a major effect on my rating – unless it greatly affects the experience, I base my grade mostly on food quality. But I can’t help but factor it in here. While I enjoyed my burger and fries, I can’t say it was better than what I could get at Runza or Culver’s for half the price. The health benefits are baked in, but it’s tough to justify $15 for a meal on par with a fast food counterpart.

I would encourage diners, especially those on a diet and craving a burger, to give Best Bison a chance. It’s legitimately good and I’d like to return and try other menu options. But the restaurant’s prices suggest it’s an upscale burger joint, and it’s just not there.

Hoppen Hierarchy: 7.3 out of 10

Pros: Healthier than nearly any other burger joint; delicious waffle fries; fast, helpful service and efficient ordering system

Cons: Too expensive; burgers are dry and less flavorful than cow counterparts; air-popped fries quickly become soggy; bacon is tasteless