When the Bluejays take the court, you can expect to see a sea of bright blue shirts at the Sam & Louie's at the corner of 24th and Cuming in Omaha. The location has been one of Creighton University's homes away from home since it opened in 1994, but its welcoming atmosphere is found at each of the eatery's 24 locations. There, friends and families bond over great conversation and an eclectic mix of casual cuisine from a menu inspired by traditional New York–style pizzerias. Eighteen specialty pizzas are hand tossed into thin-crust pies before being decorated with more than 35 toppings such as creamy alfredo sauce, sliced Italian meatballs, and canadian bacon. In deference to those with special dietary needs, almost all of these specialty pizzas are available in gluten-free pizzas.
In addition to pizzas, cooks also craft their daily-made dough into calzones and strombolis, which ooze with mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce. The menu culminates in five third-pound Black Angus burgers, Italian hoagies, and eight types of pastas. In addition to hosting guests inside their welcoming pizzerias for both lunch and dinner, the cooks at Sam and Louie's also take their food on the road, offering catering services for events both large and not-so-large.
Aron Mackevicius can still conjure vivid memories of his childhood spent in Omaha's Lithuanian Bakery, when ovens of baking sourdough bread would warm him as he whisked up flaky tortes. While working at his family’s bakery, Aron developed a talent and appreciation for the culinary arts. He would go on to work in fine eating establishments throughout Omaha, developing and refining a style that he described to reporters from the Omaha World-Herald as "a new approach to comfort cuisine everybody can relate to." Aron earned his position at 7M Grill by dazzling owner Graeme Swain with an original dish—a coconut-crusted chicken with corn salsa and mango-jalapeño sauce.
Today 7M Grill features Aron's winning coconut-chicken dish on the menu, alongside a wide variety of internationally inspired comfort dishes—including the 2011 Art and Soup–celebrated caribbean chicken-and-rice soup. The innovative fusion dishes pair with bottles of fine wines out in the chic dining room, where glowing walls bathe the hardwood floors and abstract paintings in a warm orange light. The restaurant also offers an intimate chef's table service experience, where guests sample numerous courses of exclusive dishes while sipping on wine in an elegant, secluded back room, ideal for guests looking for a way to commemorate a special occasion or a place to practice whale impersonations in privacy.
Eddie Morin has fond memories of swinging his feet in a B&G Tasty Foods booth as he and his dad shared the Bee Gee, the eatery's signature loose-meat sandwich. During college, Eddie would craft his own Bee Gees as a B&G cook, cementing his love for the venerable restaurant, an area staple since 1953. So it's no surprise that in 2009, when the then-owner of B&G Tasty Foods considered closing, Eddie volunteered to take over ownership.
Since then, Eddie and his crew have undertaken extensive renovations of the space, expanding the dining area and increasing seating by half. As an homage to the restaurant's birth year, they had the logo redesigned in a retro style, and red-framed '50s-era advertisements now line the sage-green walls. Five antique Schwinn Stingray bicycles perch above tables, so diners who bring their own xylophone mallets can tap out their favorite Big-Bopper hits on the spokes.
Though the team also streamlined and updated the menu—adding items such as salads and a vegan hot dog—they opted to retain the original Bee-Gee recipe, which has remained the same since 1953, when Eddie's father developed it. Breading made from ground cornflakes crisps up the Cheese Frenchee and Bee Gee Frenchee. In addition to these, there is also a unique frenchee featured each month. Past iterations have included Nutella and banana breaded with graham crackers as well as a Thanksgiving-Day special with turkey and cranberry sauce breaded in stuffing.
At Blanc Burgers + Bottles, burger doesn’t just mean a basic grilled patty. In addition to American beef, there’s also hormone-free chicken, carnitas-style pork, and curried lentils among nearly 20 protein options. Chefs stuff or pile each with eclectic extras such as wasabi aioli, foie gras butter, and housemade pickles. Hand-cut fries, beer-battered cheese curds and onion rings, and chicken wings marinated in housemade sauce make for marginally less elaborate sides. Though the options might seem overwhelming, servers with deep culinary knowledge acquired by sleeping on a copy of the menu every night are on hand to sort through them all.
Though the burgers take a wide-ranging, global approach to their flavor palettes, Blanc’s décor is decidedly space-age American. Stylized orange starbursts and flocks of bubbles decorate white and glass walls around sleek furniture. Behind a long white counter recalling a luncheonette just opened in 1959, barkeepers pour wine, refreshing seasonal cocktails, and nearly 100 varieties of domestic, imported, and American craft brews, including steam beers, lagers, hop-rich IPAs, and specialty lambics. Even youngsters can hop on the craft-beverage bandwagon with more than 30 boutique sodas in flavors such as apple, blueberry, and pineapple, available with or without cocktail onions.
When drinking from a traditional Spanish porrón, diners must precariously funnel a stream of wine into their open mouths through a spout. Fortunately, at Espana, gracious staffers provide the daring drinkers with a glass of soda water to clean any spills from their shirts.
Porrón wine is only one of the Spanish traditions visitors encounter at the authentic Mediterranean restaurant, where more than 40 varieties of hot and cold tapas pair with pitchers of sangria amid the strains of a guitar. In the kitchen, chefs assemble exotic spices, fine meats, seafood, and vegetables onto small plates, drawing inspiration from generations-old Spanish recipes. They also prepare paella, a family-style rice dish that typically includes veggies, saffron, and meats. In 2009, an Omaha World-Herald writer lauded their paella a la tierra for its "earthy and rich, yet light and delicate" snails and "perfectly cooked" rice.
Out in the dining room, tapas plates speckle colorful red and yellow tables beneath the vivid abstract paintings that hang from sea-green walls. Each month, the dining-room stage hosts live cultural performances, which allow guests to enjoy Spanish guitarists, Spanish dance shows, and Spanish renditions of popular scenes from Good Will Hunting.
Smashburger isn't just the name—it's the way chefs, otherwise known as Burger Smashers, cook every burger. First, they form never-frozen, 100% Certified Angus Beef into a giant meatball. Then they season it, place it on a butter-glazed grill, and smash it into a patty. The process caramelizes the beef, locking in flavor while keeping the meat juicy and tender. Each slab is then sandwiched in an artisan bun and is turned into one of an array of standard burgers or locally inspired specialties unique to each market.
This handcrafting approach typifies everything else the restaurant does, from blending handspun shakes to hand painting Smashburger's logo onto every beverage cup. Letting its food stand for itself and relying mostly on word of mouth for advertising, the Smashburger franchise expanded from one restaurant in 2007 to 220 today, with its swift growth from zero to 100 stores making it one of the nation's fastest-growing restaurant companies. This rapid development even caught the attention of Forbes and Inc. along the way.