Froth-topped glasses of house-made beer welcome patrons to Rock Bottom Brewery, where chefs prolong the flavor fun with creative American dishes made from scratch. To pique the interest of coy appetites, kitchen artists toss firecracker shrimp in sweet thai chili sauce and pair ale-brushed giant ballpark pretzels with spicy spinach-cheese dip. Stomachs ready for main fare can request a plate of short rib, braised overnight and dished with white-cheddar mashed potatoes, fire-roasted tomatoes, pearl onions, and mushroom sauce. Half a roasted hunter’s chicken lounges in a wild mushroom and tomato demi-glace, and the creole jambalaya’s jumbo shrimp parades into mouths atop a float of andouille sausage, roasted chicken, tomato sauce, and white rice. The pizza selection sends toppings to tables via flatbread rafts, and Bourbonzola burgers bombard mouths with a combination of Jim Beam glaze, creamy gorgonzola cheese, and crisp onion straws—the same mixture that Kentucky gentlemen use as shaving cream.
Order a BLT at Upstream Brewing Company, and chances are good you'll taste a tomato picked that morning. Every year, a nearby farmer—amiably known as Farmer Jerry—plants 700 heirloom-tomato plants reserved exclusively for the brewery’s kitchens. Executive chefs Gary Hoffman and Jonathan Draper covet such freshness, and it shows on their menus. Seafood arrives from both coasts at least two to three times a week—throughout the summer, the chefs get even wild salmon harvested during the runs in Alaska's Copper River. And of course there are the cuts straight from Omaha Steaks, which the chefs choose individually from choice-grade, 21-day wet-aged beef.
This dedication to quality echoes Upstream Brewing Company's name. Taken from the Native American word "Omaha"—meaning "upstream" or "against the current" in honor of the settling tribe that traveled up the Missouri River—it reflects the owners' intention to elevate the typical brewpub experience by taking unexpected approaches. The flagship Old Market location also mirrors this dedication to the unpredictable, residing in a converted 21,000-square-foot firehouse built in 1904 that surrounds guest with dining spaces including a patio, two floors with bars, and a rooftop deck. In between the exposed-brick walls, diners may spy charring on the timber beams, marks left by a fire in 1917 during an ill-conceived attempt to domesticate Roman candles.
The basement houses part of the brewery, where brew masters handcraft batches of house beers from the Flagship IPA to cask-conditioned ales. They also continually experiment with seasonal beers—one such creation, the "Johnny" Dortmunder Lager, placed on DRAFT Magazine's top 25 beers of 2010—as well as Bugeater Root Beer, named in honor of Omaha's sports teams before they became known as Cornhuskers. Both the Old Market and Legacy locations encompass billiard rooms, and the staffs encourage guests to linger out the hours by trying a new brew or ordering something off the late-night menu.
The 1.5–2-hour event, which starts at 7 p.m. on a Friday of your choosing, takes place in the wine-tasting room. Set in a French Country House, the tastery features Nebraska vintages from sweet to dry, beer, food, and a wine troll. While sipping sips at the special after-hours event, you'll learn wine lessons from the vineyard's owner's daughter, who is studying to be a sommelier. The unintimidating course includes tips on how to rate, taste, and judge a wine, so you'll leave with the ability to determine if a wine has oaky undertones or hints of tire iron.
“How do you take your coffee?” asks Andy Morse, son of Breezy Hills Vineyard owners Darrell and Roberta Morse. “We ask people that a lot.”
Here’s what they’ve learned: people who take cream and sugar usually prefer sweet, fruity wines, and black coffee drinkers tend to go for robust, smoky red wines. The staff starts with this simple question because they understand that wine tasting can confound the novice. No snobs, the Morses start off new wine drinkers by introducing them to the basics of tasting and then allowing them to explore for themselves the unique sensory experience of their 17 locally made wines. Handcrafted elixirs such as their popular Misbehavin'—which blends red and white wines to create the pale blush of a sunburned ghost—pair well with the vineyard’s delectable plates of chocolate truffles and nuts.
Prairie Crossing Vineyards’ 3 acres of grapevines are nestled among beautiful farmlands, producing nine distinctive wines for palates of all sophistications. During the complimentary tasting, an expert vintner will lead taste buds through a choice of five wines, possibly including the Wagon Trail Red, a smooth quaff, or the Cardinal Red, a semidry wine that blends grapes with magic and the dreams of pixies. White wine aficionados will appreciate the Windswept White, which bursts with citrus and stone-fruit flavors.
Barley’s builds culinary character by guiding its delicious menu of traditional burger and steak fare through a series of exhausting yet rewarding victual rituals. Start with homemade flour chips ($5.95) with cheddar cheese and salsa as a way of making peace with growling stomach Gorgons. Equip both fists with a smokehouse burger (with cheddar, barbecue sauce, and bacon, $7.95) and a guacamole burger ($8.45), or contemplate the trinity of a triple club ($7.95) served with ham, turkey, bacon, and more between two slabs of marble rye. There are also a number of options for the vegetarian crowd, including the garden burger ($7.95) and garden Philly ($7.75), each stocked with 100% vegan patties. In between bites of burgers, steaks, and salads, sip on some fresh-squeezed ales and lagers from the bottle or tap, with varieties spanning the intoxicating rainbow from micro and macro brews.