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Jun 14, 2012 05:32 AM

I have a lot of questions about Lincoln, NE

Greetings, Great Plains board! My family and I are about to move to Lincoln, and I've been scouring your posts for the last month or so. It sounds like there's good restaurant food to be had out there if you know where to look. (Whew.) When we visited over the weekend to find a place to live, we were a little rushed and weren't able to really *choose* where we had our meals (one of which, for example, was Vincenzo's, a festive and happy place with not-very-good-at-all food, although it was fun to try toasted ravioli), but I'm interested in trying Super Taco, Imperial Palace's Chinese menu, Blue Orchid, the Oven, Bread and Cup, and the others listed by Kitchen Imp earlier this year, along with Sher-E-Punjab and Sultan's Kite.

I'm wondering why there aren't more Malaysian restaurants—or, really, *any* Malaysian restaurants—in Lincoln. Thoughts? My husband and I love that food, and if there are any hidden spots in the city we hope to find them.

Why aren't there more farm-to-table-type places? I guess Bread and Cup would qualify, but what else is there? We're coming from Athens, GA, where our semiregular haunts include Farm 255, the Branded Butcher, the National, and the Five and Ten—this is a surprisingly rich food culture. I'm thinking sort of upscale, refined, bright-tasting food with lots of high notes—marinated fresh anchovies with grapefruit and peppercorns; boquerones with pickled peppers; that kind of thing. Menus of the higher-end joints in Lincoln lead me to believe the food is generally pretty heavy and saucy, steak-plus-vegetable-side fare. Where are the house-made pickles, the craft cocktails (I know: groan), the Meyer lemon tarts? I don't mean these things specifically; I'm just wondering if that aesthetic exists in Lincoln outside the home kitchen.

Is there a place to get a good bahn mi and/or pho?

Is the Korean frozen yogurt trend still on the way up in Lincoln, and do you expect that city will be overrun with the places soon as Athens is? (Overrun in a good way. They've become ubiquitous here in the last couple years, and I admit I love them—great places to take my six-year-old for a treat after swimming lessons and such.)

I'm optimistic about finding good stuff, but I know I'll need your help! In the spirit of give-and-take, I can report that I had a transcendent pie experience one night at what I guess used to be Stauffer's Cafe and Pie Shoppe but is now more of a home-cooking restaurant that also serves "Stauffer's pies" on the corner of 48th St. and St. Paul Ave. Gooseberry pie: very tart, not too sweet, excellent crust. It was not attractive (see picture), but it was mind-blowingly good.

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  1. Hopefully someone will reply from Lincoln. If you get to Omaha not too far away, try the Grey Plume. We had a great experience there.
    We have a business in Athens, Ga and ususally go 3-4 times a year. Farm 255 is one of my favorite places. Athens has some great places.

    1 Reply
    1. re: wekick

      Thank you, wekick. I'm sure we'll head up to Omaha occasionally, and I'm putting the Grey Plume at the top of the list. There certainly is a strong Athens-Omaha link, at least in the music world. Maybe more food people will migrate too!

    2. Welcome (in advance) to Lincoln!

      There is great pho to be had here. We have two go-to places for that or when we're in the mood for grilled pork & vermicelli (haven't tried the bahn mi at either place): The Green Papaya, which is on N 27th in a strip mall (great bubble tea, too!), and Vung Tau, a totally mom & pop kind of place with great food on Y St, just off of N 27th. That whole area of N 27th has a lot of Vietnamese presence, including a couple of Vietnamese grocery stores if you're motivated to cook at home.

      For farm to table, Bread and Cup is really the only one I know of, and they're hit or miss - I've had some outstanding dinners there, and some more disappointing. It depends on the day and the season. They also have some aspirations toward craft cocktails... right now according to their website they're serving a cucumber Tom Collins.

      You can make your own farm-to-table magic by going to the farmers' markets. There's one every day of the week, I'm told, though I've only been to the really big one, in the Haymarket Saturday mornings (May-Oct) and the one on 56th on Sunday mornings, which doesn't have as many vendors but is still outstanding. The produce here is really, really good (and I'm saying that as someone who grew up in the SF Bay Area, land of fresh veggies, and I'm still a Californian food snob at heart). Produce here leaves absolutely nothing to be desired, as long as you get it at the farmers' market or at Open Harvest or one of the other organic/local farm grocery stores (Ideal and Leon's are best in terms of straightforward groceries and meats; Open Harvest has by far the best produce).

      In terms of the flavors and aesthetic you're looking for, you're absolutely right about the heavy/saucy restaurant fare. Bread and Cup is the closest thing, and certainly aspires to the housemade pickles/boquerones type of feel. I'm told Carmela's Bistro & Wine Bar on 70th St is good and also has aspirations in that direction (and they've won awards from Wine Spectator, though presumably for the wine selection), but I haven't made it out there yet. The occasional dish at Dish or at JTK reaches the bright, high-notes sort of feel you're talking about, but only very occasionally. To be honest, it really is a home kitchen sort of thing, as far as I can tell; we certainly scratch that bright-flavor itch on our own. Omaha is a different story (do check out the Grey Plume), and it's only a 50-minute drive away.

      Can't give you an answer on the Malaysian question. I have also wondered why there isn't more Southeast Asian food in general, given the presence of plenty of people from that part of the world. There are all sorts of international grocery markets tailored to particular immigrant groups (a Karen/Burmese hole-in-the-wall grocery just opened, even!). So... buy some ingredients and cook up a storm!

      The one thing I've been totally disappointed by here in Lincoln is fish, though it stands to reason, given that we're smack in the middle of the country. Now and then we get some good salmon, but for the most part we find that fresh trout (which comes to Open Harvest from just 70 miles away!) is the best bet. Everything else is flown in.

      I'm so sorry to hear that you ate at Vincenzo's! That's on my absolute permanent avoid list... I can promise you'll have much better experiences once you're settled and have time to choose.

      Edited to add: haven't had a Meyer lemon tart here in town, but I can tell you that the key lime tart at Dish is often a thing of beauty. As is the chocolate and rum pot de creme.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Kitchen Imp

        Thank you so much, Kitchen Imp—this is really encouraging and helpful. We did check out the Haymarket farmers' market during our brief trip, and I was thoroughly impressed. I do a lot of cooking anyway (my job is writing and editing cookbooks, and recipe testing), but I think that great produce will inspire me to make more restaurant-y foods than I usually might. I did notice plenty of ethnic grocery options, too, so we'll be fine. I just like to have options for when I'm all cooked out. Pho is often what I go for, as it's one of those foods that's probably best eaten in a restaurant context, so your suggestions are much appreciated.

        Good to know about the trout, too. We walked through just about every grocery store in town except Ideal, and the salmon looked uniformly wan and disappointing. My husband and six-year-old daughter could eat a whole side of salmon in a sitting. (Each.) Trout is a great alternative, and I expect they'll adapt just fine. We also love good beef, and a couple of the meat departments (I've lost track which ones at this point) looked as good as or better than anything we can get here.

        You know, I don't think I've ever heard of, much less seen, a Burmese grocery, but that's one place I can't wait to start exploring! I'm sure we'll be trying all of your recommendations soon, and I'll keep posting here, especially if I find something great. Thanks for staying active on the board!

        1. re: Liana Krissoff

          I forgot to mention before that the beef here is outstanding. We get ours at Leon's, and when we want to go out for steak (which I had never done before moving here, but wow, is it good in Nebraska!), we usually go to Misty's or Lazlo's. I'll be interested to know if others on this board have other suggestions for excellent restaurant beef - so far we've been happiest with those two.

      2. For fish to cook at home go to Surf and Turf in the strip mall triangle bounded by 56th, Old Cheney and Hwy 2. I find it quite good and certainly as good as you can get in any restaurant or market in Omaha or Lincoln. Kitchen Imp's take on the restaurants in Lincoln is spot on. I'll add that the Country Club of Lincoln can be pretty good too but it is private.

        11 Replies
        1. re: mander

          I hadn't seen any mention of Surf and Turf until now, so thank you, mander. I will definitely check it out next month. It seems almost too good to be true.

          1. re: Liana Krissoff

            Don't get your hopes too high. It still is flown in and not like when I lived on either coast. But my wife, who grew up on Maui and is picky about her fish, finds it quite acceptable. Other people in town swear by "Andrew" who takes fish orders early in the week, gets it flown in and then delivers on Saturday but I don't find him worth the trouble.

            1. re: Liana Krissoff

              I thought the same about Surf and Turf before I got here - too good to be true. And it was. I went once and never went back. (That's why I didn't mention it.) Very limited selection and way, way too expensive: if I recall, something like $26/pound for fresh tuna. Not sashimi quality - just tuna. If you don't mind spending that much, I hear they're good, but it's just not my style, having lived on both coasts and in Portugal and being used to really, really good, fresh, affordable fish. I've had amazing fishmongers literally on my block in two different places I've lived. Oh, how I miss it!!

              Mander, I'm really curious about this "Andrew" - never heard of him - do tell! Also, what fish does your wife like at Surf and Turf? Are the prices as insanely high as I remember?

              Liana, in my experience for meat & produce you really don't want to bother with any grocery store other than Leon's (our preferred spot for meat), Open Harvest (for produce and anything organic - and once in a while they get some nice cod or monkfish flown in, much more affordable than Surf and Turf, with clear signage re: relative sustainability), and Ideal (produce, sometimes meat - but their fish has never looked good to me). We don't shop anywhere else, except for the monthly Trader Joe's run for snacks and staples and of course the farmers' market.

              Edited to add: Open Harvest has fish flown in three times a week, if I'm remembering right, and they almost always have fresh shellfish as well. I've balked at the prices there, too, even though they're a lot lower than Surf and Turf ($18.99/lb for wild Alaskan salmon, for example - but the one time we got it, it was tasty!).

              1. re: Kitchen Imp

                More good-to-know stuff. Thank you again. I'm glad we chose the house near Open Harvest and Leon's—Leon's must've been the place we saw the good-looking beef. My husband says he did have great steak at Misty's (though our meal there last weekend was unremarkable). For recipe-testing jobs, where I have to get certain ingredients whether I want to or not, I might need to try Surf and Turf occasionally. Will make sure I'm being reimbursed, though.

                I too am curious about this "Andrew."

                1. re: Kitchen Imp

                  Leon's is definitely the place for beef. I used to go to Cetak's too but now only do Leon's as it is closer to my house..

                  OH is also less than a mile from my house so I often go there for fish a last minute meal but the quality of the fish can very considerably. Their produce can be highly variable too. In both cases, as long as you are careful, you should be fine. Still the best produce in a store though.

                  Yes Surf and Turf is expensive. But to my taste it is the best fish in town. That said I haven't been buying tuna from Monte (the owner) of late as it hasn't looked as good. I too miss having a fishmonger around the corner as I did both in CT and CA but I live in NE now....

                  Andrew used to own a fish store on 27th. When I moved to town five years ago he had moved to 48th and Hwy 2 (where Greta's is now, and surf and turf for a while). I used to go there all the time. He went bankrupt as I understand it. He now takes orders early in the week and then delivers Saturday mornings, cash or check, out of his van. People who use him love him but do comment that sometimes they have isssues with portion size.

                  1. re: mander

                    Mander, thanks for the info! And your post has reminded me to mention Greta's Gourmet, which might be of interest to Liana. I had a great conversation with the owner, who makes their sausage himself, about the spicing for his Portuguese chouriço -- he was really interested in getting the flavors as spot-on as he could. I haven't made it down there much, but the times I have I've been pretty pleased.

                    1. re: Kitchen Imp

                      I meant to thank you both for these recommendations but got a little busy. So thank you.

                      Another question, from my husband: Is there a grown-ups' bar in Lincoln? Just a regular neighborhood-type bar, not a lounge or jazz place or college bar?

                      1. re: Liana Krissoff

                        There are many, many bars in Lincoln. We tend to go to Marz, which is sort of lounge-y but frequented by all ages (of adults, that is). We often see various deans & other high-level administrators from UNL there, but also groups of grad students and everything in between. Not as many college kids, though.

                        Pretty much every neighborhood has a bar or two; we live near the Country Club and there's one right by us, tucked into a teeny neighborhood shopping center and filled with regulars. You have to know it's there to find it. There are many like that all over town, or so I'm told.

                        1. re: Kitchen Imp

                          Excellent. I'm sure we'll be searching out the one near the Country Club soon after we get there next week. (We'll be living in the Irvingdale neighborhood, so close enough.) And Marz looks good too.

                          1. re: Liana Krissoff

                            I should also add Barrymore's, whose nearly hidden entrance is tucked in an alley behind the Rococo Theater. It's actually the former backstage area of the theater. Really nice atmosphere - very upscale and adult.

                            1. re: Kitchen Imp

                              Barrymores is a really neat place. I've taken a bunch of folks there from out of state and they all like it. It's not the cheapest, or the best, but it's just fun. The best way I could describe it is that it feels like you're doing something wrong when you are there. I mean that in a good way. Maybe that's just me, but it's an interesting space. I hope you find it....

            2. It's been a year and a half since we moved here, and you've all been right about everything! I'm wondering if any of you Lincolnites (if indeed you're still here in town) would like to meet up for a meal or drinks sometime early in the new year. I'd love to meet more people who enjoy good food and who are finding ways to eat well in this city. Kitchen Imp, mander, ajb, anyone else, is there any interest?

              1 Reply
              1. re: Liana Krissoff

                Just saw this - I've been off Chowhound for a long time! Liana, sounds fun! Let's talk. I saw the link to your blog, so I'll get in touch privately.

                Otherwise, for anyone reading this... Whole Foods has changed the playing field for fish here. It's much easier to get good, fresh(ish), affordable fish now. But please, everyone: if there's anything you can get at Open Harvest that's also at Whole Foods, please support your local coop and go to Open Harvest instead. They've been hit really hard by Whole Foods' opening, even cutting back employee shifts. Please shop local!!