Want a slice of history with your lunch?
Omaha’s new culinary tour does just that.
Omaha Culinary Tour offers a walk around Midtown Crossing Mall (near 33rd and Farnam streets). The tour guides combine the area’s rich history with samples of tastes from area restaurants.
Suzanne Allen, who owns OCT along with Jen Valandra and Jim Trebbien, thought Omaha was ripe for such a foodie tour.
“The culinary scene is vibrant” with several local establishments, Suzanne said.
Midtown Crossing came about as part of Mutual of Omaha’s desire to develop the area for retail and entertainment opportunities.
The historical aspect of the Midtown tour covers the one-time wealthy neighborhood, where Omaha’s key civic players lived and played.
Among the attractions is the old Blackstone Hotel. It was considered the premier hotel between Chicago and San Francisco. The hotel attracted wealthy clients. They would play poker. The poker games led to one of the local restaurants’ key menu items. We’ll learn more about that later on the tour.
In addition to the Blackstone, tour guides highlight the three Fortune 500 companies with offices in Midtown. Mutual of Omaha and Kiewit Corporation are within a couple of blocks of the retail and entertainment center.
Probably, the wealthiest and likely most famous Omaha has a suite of offices in the Kiewit building (allegedly). Warren Buffet, the Oracle of Omaha, owns Berkshire-Hathaway. It’s the third Fortune 500 Company in the area.
So, the food tour includes six establishments – Chef2 (Chef Squared) Oil and Vinegars, Brix, Crescent Moon, Grey Plume, Marrakech and Wohlner’s.
The tour starts at Chef2. The store opened in 2013 and offers a variety of infused oils and vinegars – actually, about 30 varieties.
My favorite was a spiced pumpkin balsamic. It has a nice sweet taste to it.
My second favorite was a blood orange – pear champagne balsamic. It was like combining two of my favorite fruits with balsamic. I could see putting it on salad, or with crackers and cheese.
I thought our daughter Steph would love the place. She enjoys cooking, and I thought she’d enjoy sampling the oils and vinegars in the store. I would even volunteer to go with her.
Moving on from Chef2, we stopped at Brix.
Brix is built U-shaped. It is a huge facility. It offers beer, wine and other liquors, as well as a party room.
I noticed it had a nice selection of Bushmills whiskey. We toured the Old Bushmills distillery in Northern Ireland, while visiting our daughter Mallory. She attended college abroad in nearby Coleraine for a semester during her education at Morningside College (Sioux City, Iowa).
While we sampled sausage and cheese, one of our tour mates – Cassandra Zywieck – tried one of the higher end wines. While she likely wouldn’t spend $200 on a bottle of wine, she opted for the $13 sample of Opus 1, she joked. Her sample was a red wine out of Napa Valley. She enjoyed. It has a chocolate fragrance.
While we enjoyed our stop at Brix, it was time to move on.
The third stop on the food tour was Crescent Moon.
Remember earlier, I mentioned one of the stops played a role with the Blackstone? Well, this is it!
The Rueben sandwich was invented in Omaha. Supposedly, a hotel guest at one of the poker games – Rueben Kulakofsky – told an employee to have the chef in the New Orleans Room make him something new. He was tired of the regular menu.
The chef took some corned beef, cheese and sauerkraut. He put it on some bread and viola! The Reuben was born. Other places claim they invented the Rueben, but it’s generally agreed that Omaha was its birthplace.
Crescent Moon is home to Omaha’s No. 1 Reuben sandwich. It consistently wins in the “Best of Omaha” competitions.
The bar and restaurant host a Reubenfest, where they also make Reubenritos and Reuben pizza (with pumpernickel crust).
Crescent Moon uses more than 13,000 lbs of corned beef a year, said Jack, a manger.
They average selling 50 Reubens daily, he said. They sell up to 100 sandwiches on a busy Saturday, Jack said.
After sampling the delicious Reuben (Lisa and I plan to come back and have our own whole ones), it was off to our next stop.
The Grey Plume is a “green” restaurant. It was built using recycled wood. The floor, host stand and visitor bench are recycled wood. The lighting is sustainable.
Opened in 2010 by Chef Clayton Chapman, Grey Plume prides itself on using local suppliers for food. They get their vegetable and fruits from local merchants. Meat is obtained locally.
We sampled a bison sausage pizza. A cheese spread was the base. The toppings included kale and pickled beets. The combination was pretty decent.
The Grey Plume is a fine dining establishment. For some people, that can be intimidating, Rachel said. The staff tries to make guests feel comfortable during their visit. The staff prides itself on being friendly and helpful, she said.
After having sampled bread with oil and vinegar, meat and cheese, a Reuben and now bison pizza, I wasn’t sure I could go on. But, it was time for the fifth stop on our 3-hour tour.
Our next stop was a longer, but nice walk.
We walked north on 33rd Street to near California Street. Our next visit was a trip to sample fine food from north Africa. Marrakech restaurant offers a taste of Morrocco in Omaha. We sampled a vegetable platter and meat platter. A bed of rice offers a foundation on both plates, which is served family style.
A statue that stands on the bar used to call Mr. C’s home. The north Omaha restaurant closed a few years ago.
They served so much food that we were able to bring home some leftovers. It was pretty good warmed up the next day.
Ok, this time, I was absolutely stuffed. No way could I take another bite of anything.
So, on to our final visit of the tour – Wohlner’s neighborhood grocery store.
We sampled two of their smoked meats – andouille chicken and cheese sausage. Each meat had a spicy bite to it. The store offered fruit, as well. That helped a lot in cooling off our palates. Oh, and so much for being stuffed. The meat samples were too delicious to pass on.
A side note: the establishments on the tour will offer special menu items, if possible. We had samples for people who eat gluten-free, as well as vegetarian dishes.
The Midtown food tour was excellent. It was a fun way to spend three hours. You do need to commit 2 ½ to 3 hours for the tour.
As we wrapped up the tour, we also gained some new friends. The six people on the tour all became friends. We had a couple from Grand Island, NE, as well as two people from the Douglas County Historical Society.
Next up is a Valentine’s Day event. A chocolate and pastry tour will be hosted evenings on Feb. 8, 12th and 13th, Suzanne said. They will eventually add a Saturday, she said.
They would like to do a sports-themed tour (yes, please) during the College World Series in June, Suzanne said.
OCT plans to offer a craft beer tour, she said.
Other possible tours may include neighborhood tours in historical Benson, Dundee and the Old Market, she said.
A classic steakhouse tour will include transportation to at least four local steak eateries. Yum!
“The sky’s the limit as far as food goes,” Suzanne said.
We had a great time on our history and food tour. I’d be willing to go on any of those tours in the future.
For more information on Omaha Culinary Tours, please visit their website at www.omahaculinarytours.com.
Disclaimer: Our food tour was provided complimentary by Omaha Culinary Tours for purposes of this review. However, all comments and thoughts belong to us. We will be open and honest regarding service and/or attractions