I’ll have a look at Omaha restaurant history with a side of off-the-beaten path Nebraska attractions, please. A couple of Nebraska authors have created must-read books. Kim Reiner’s look at “Lost Restaurants of Omaha” takes readers down memory row with some of the city’s unique eateries. “Detour Nebraska” is Gretchen M. Garrison’s love letter to the Cornhusker State.
Let’s look at the restaurant menu first, shall we? Kim looks at about 30 restaurants that once called Omaha home. The underlying theme, to me, is the immigrant story. The city’s restaurant landscape is filled with diners created by people from Italy, Eastern Europe, as well as some whose ancestors were brought to the United States as slaves.
Lost Restaurants of Omaha
The Bohemian Café closed only a couple of years ago and may not truly be lost in Omaha history, but its closing impacted locals like a dagger in the culinary heart. Many Omahans loved eating at the Bohemian Café, where the dumplings were said to stay with you all day. Opened as a food stand in 1925 at the Kopecky Hotel, Louie Macala would eventually find a location for what would become the Bohemian Café in 1933. The restaurant stayed open until 2016, when the owners decided it was time to retire.
Having enjoyed a few dinners there, I leaned toward the hasenpfeffer (braised rabbit). A side of the dumplings was a must! Lisa and I have a niece who lived for their dumplings. Close friends who live in Anchorage, Alaska, sought to eat there whenever they returned to Omaha for visits.
Aquila Tea Room
The Aquila Tea Room was a meeting place for the well-to-do in Omaha. Located inside the Aquila Building (now the Magnolia Hotel), socialites could watch fashion shows in the courtyard in luxury from the tea room through a set of windows.
Dining at the tea room featured interesting dishes with garnishes. Crab-stuffed avocados, clear soups and other unique dishes would be served.
The tea room was operated by Maude Borup, who also owned a candy store. Building ownership didn’t take kindly to her engagement. They advised her she would be replaced as the tea room’s manager, but she fought them. She eventually did move on, relocating her candy store, as well.
Reed’s Ice Cream
Reed’s Ice Cream once dominated Omaha’s ice cream business for several years. As the United States entered the Great Depression, 18-year-old Claude Reed opened the first location here for his father’s Des Moines, Iowa-based company. It was once estimated that Reed’s dispensed about 40 percent of the ice cream served in Omaha.
Reed’s ran into trouble on two fronts during the 1950s. Refusing to hire African Americans, the black community, led by the black-owned Omaha Star and DePorres Club, boycotted Reed’s. This move impacted its North Omaha location. The boycott ended about a year later after Reed’s ownership hired its first African American saleswoman.
While the race issue didn’t help, grocery stores provided the final step in closing Reed’s in Omaha. With the advantage of one-stop shopping, households found it easier to buy ice cream at the store along with other groceries. Reed’s eventually closed its unique dollhouse-style buildings.
I only dined at Angie’s once, but it left a great impression on me. I recall telling people about over the years. The restaurant closed in 2007, after about 30 years of serving great steaks. Angie’s took over the spot where Trentino’s Italian steakhouse operated for 43 years.
Angie’s had a dark side to its story. Barney Bonofede, Angie’s owner, had a relationship with the Kansas City crime syndicate. Members of the KC mafia frequented the restaurant. Bonofede and others were indicted for illegal gambling inside Angie’s. The restaurant stayed in business for another 25 years following Bonofede’s conviction.
As with a lot of restaurants, Father Time caught up to it. Business dwindled. Angie’s closed I 2007. It was replaced by a new restaurant, but that endeavor ended after a year.
The property was later bought and donated to the Blue Barn Theatre, where the original landscape was level and new buildings went up.
Fair Deal Cafe
A few miles north, Omaha’s “Black City Hall” did business as the Fair Deal Café. Opened in the 1940s or ‘50s (records are sure when it opened), Charlie Hall ran it for decades after starting as an employee. The area was bustling during the 1950s and early ‘60s with businesses (mostly white owned) lined up the streets.
The restaurant gained its nickname because it was where city and community officials would meet to discuss business. State Senator Ernie Chambers and others would meet there to discuss issues and business development. Nationally-known celebrities and politicians, such as Ella Fitzgerald and Rev. Jesse Jackson, made their stops at the Fair Deal.
Business was good. Then came the 1960s riots. As fires spread through the area and people rioted in the streets, business suffered not only for the Fair Deal, but the area. White customers stopped eating at the Fair Deal. African American customers declined. Businesses in the area closed (many because the owners let buildings deteriorate).
Hall stayed in business. He kept prices low despite price increases for supplies. In his 80s, he sold the restaurant in 2002. The Fair Deal eventually closed in 2005, and the building was demolished. A version of the Fair Deal was revived a few years ago, but it recently closed.
These were just a taste of the history and offerings that “Lost Restaurants of Omaha” offers. There are MANY more to read about in the book. Kim does a wonderful job of taking a look at the city’s restaurant history. Learning about some of the eateries’ past has been popular with locals and former Omahans alike.
While the restaurant history provides an easy and fun read, looking at Nebraska’s attractions provides a tasty dessert option.
Detour Nebraska: Historic Destinations and Natural Wonders
Gretchen’s “Detour Nebraska: Historic Destinations and Natural Wonders” provides a look at some of the beautiful scenery and interesting attractions that make Nebraska a special place to live and visit.
With looks at famous attractions Chimney Rock, Carhenge and Fort Robinson State Park, I wanted to look at places that may be a bit off the beaten path or offer a unique experience. I found them.
We have a trip penciled in our summer bucket list for Taylor, a small village in central Nebraska. A local resident sought to end the slow decline of her village, so she created cutout figures that represent local historical periods. Ranging from the 1890s to the 1920s, the cutout figures also include present-day models located around town, including an old gasoline station.
One item that’s been on our bucket list for years has been Toadstool Geological Park. Located in northwest section of the panhandle, Gretchen’s coverage has me drooling with excitement to take that road trip. Toadstool is a geological anomaly that resembles Mars or another planet’s surface.
Ogallala is considered the “Cowboy Capital” of Nebraska. Boot Hill Cemetery started as a grave site where people were rolled inside canvass and buried in shallow graves. Outlaws were said to be buried there, often still wearing their boots. Locals decided the city needed a real cemetery, many people interred there were moved.
A replicated western town awaits visitors as part of a free museum.
Old Indian school
About two hours west of Omaha is Genoa. It’s the site of an Indian school that I want to visit. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the federal government took Native American children from their homes and forced them to attend Indian schools, where they had to speak English and learn the white education system. They were denied the right to speak their native tongue.
Schools such as the one in Genoa provide a look at that controversial time in American history. The Genoa school operated 1889 to 1939 and educated children from about 40 tribes.
Southwest Nebraska’s McCook could be called “political cradle of Nebraska.” It’s the hometown of two of the best political leaders the state has seen. Nicknamed “Father of the Unicameral,” George Norris enjoyed a long political career, both in the US House of Representatives and Senate. He promoted states having a one-house legislative system. Only Nebraska has a one-house legislature.
Norris played a key role in developing work programs to help the United States during the Great Depression. The Republican played a key role in creating the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Another McCook resident served as Nebraska’s governor and US senator. Ben Nelson, a Democrat, served two terms as governor before being elected to represent the state as a senator for multiple terms. Nelson recently donated his childhood home to serve as one of the houses as part of a citywide museum complex.
“Detour Nebraska” provides an excellent guide in identifying attractions around the state to put on your travel lists. The book is divided by regions, which helps with planning trips.
We enjoy both Kim and Gretchen’s blogs, each providing unique looks at area life and attractions. Both writers put their own stamps on their books, as well. We enjoyed reading each one and bought copies for family and other friends.
Both “Lost Restaurants” and “Detour Nebraska” are excellent books. We recommend you add them to your travel or culinary libraries.
For more information on Kim’s book, visit her website here.
For more information on Gretchen’s book, please visit here.