Eating Establishments

Savoring Saturday: Carmela’s Bistro and Wine Bar (Lincoln’s Restaurant Week)

Carmela's table for two

Notice anything special about this picture?  Possibly the lack of crayons?  No stack of napkins?  Just two chairs?  Yes, last night my husband and I experienced Lincoln’s Restaurant Week on A DATE!  Can I get a woo-hoo?

After writing about Lincoln’s Restaurant Week earlier, I knew that I wanted to go out and have an actual dining experience.  Complete with conversation.  I am starting to realize that I really do not like very many fast food places.  (Perhaps cooking even more often and going out less often to nicer places just might be my new goal.)  Clicking on all of the Lincoln Restaurant Week options, I had fun trying to pick where we would go.  In the end, our selection came down to two factors: 1) what locations were close to our next destination AND 2) where would we would not take our children to dine.  Our choice: Carmela’s Bistro and Wine Bar.

Carmela's setting

Located in the Pioneer Woods Shopping Complex right off of 70th Street, I do believe that this may be an overlooked dining destination in Lincoln.  The ambiance was soothing, and our meals were delicious.  We cannot speak for the wine quality.  As we were both already tired from a short night of sleep (children!), we decided that a bit of vino would contribute toward the likelihood of us sleeping through the concert we were about to attend.  (Since the lights were dim soothing acoustic instruments were played, our prediction of nap taking would have definitely come true).  So, we stuck with the water.

My dining companion and I decided to share an appetizer and then one of the $19.95 three course offerings.  Doesn’t that somehow sound more glamorous to say “dining companion?”  Anyway, my companion, my sweet husband, let me do the ordering.  I tend to be more of a foodie, so the menu was making me a bit excited.  He tends to be overwhelmed at all of the choices (just give me a burger), but he usually likes what I pick for him to eat.  Since I do the majority of the cooking at our house, I guess that makes sense!

Carmela's Bread

Any meal that starts out with sourdough bread has to be a good one!

Carmela's Duck Poutine

Our appetizer selection was the duck poutine.  This was a sound decision since duck will probably not be on our menu any time soon.  This is the official description from the online menu: crisp French fries, duck reduction, duck confit, Parmesan cream sauce and crispy leeks. My husband reminded me that the last time we had duck, (dining one other time without children), that I did not really like duck.  This time though, I was not disappointed.

Deliciously rich.  Almost too rich – sharing with just two was almost too much, and this would not taste quite as spectacular heated up.  Sharing with friends makes the experience more fun anyway!  I just might order this appetizer to go someday to share with our children.  Any preconceived ideas that they might have about eating duck would fly out the window.  As long as I did not manage to tell them what was covering the French fries until after they ate them.   So very good!

Carmela's Salad

We chose the salad for our first official course of the evening.  The menu description: Gorgonzola & Honey Salad – Mixed Green / Candied Walnuts / Red Onion / Gorgonzola / Grapes / White Balsamic & Honey Vinaigrette / Crostini

Putting grapes on a lettuce salad had never occurred to me before.  They will now be a welcome addition to our greens.  The vinaigrette was lightly applied resulting in a salad with delicate flavors that combined well.

The listed main course offerings ALMOST kept us from trying the restaurant.  You see, according the menu on the Lincoln Restaurant Week site, smoked salmon was featured.  For both an appetizer and two of the main courses.  While I like smoked salmon, I do think that was a bit odd.  After arriving at Carmela’s, discovering that their actual selections were blackened Tilapia for the 2nd entree and pasta for the 3rd entree was a nice surprise.

Carmela's blackened tilipia and vegetables

We ordered the signature dish that is not on the regular menu: blackened Tilapia with Creole Sauce and watermelon pico over whipped potatoes with steamed broccoli. If this item ever is added to their dinner selections, I would definitely order the specialty again.  The tilapia was perfectly seasoned with just the right amount of meat, and the watermelon pico salsa added the perfect touch of sweetness.  The vegetables were also delicious.

Carmela's white chocolate bread pudding

Dessert!  At this point, we were both rather full.  Since the concert was just beginning, we took our white chocolate bread pudding to go.  Then we went home and relished part of the dessert.  I was going to sneak the rest for breakfast but went another direction instead.  At the moment, the bread pudding is waiting for both of us to finish later.  Possibly I will have enough will power to keep the dessert in the fridge.  I would definitely order that again too!

Will I return to Carmela’s?  I certainly plan to do so.    I do think it is probably more of a date night or girls night out place, but they do offer a Sunday brunch that you could definitely enjoy as a family.  Due to the wine bottle decor, I would probably not show up with a wandering three year old.  Yet older children would enjoy the restaurant, especially if they appreciate gourmet food.  Perfect for a special family or other larger gatherings. reservations are available for up to 32 people – difficult to find places that will do that anymore.

You still have five days to enjoy Lincoln Restaurant Week.  I appreciated the three course offerings since that gave me an opportunity to try several menu items at a fabulous price.  Having an excuse to get dessert at the end of meal was wonderful!  Ordering off the menu at any of the featured locations is still also a possibility.  Choosing a restaurant that you have always wanted to try will result in a fabulous evening of excellent dining.

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Flashback Friday: National Donut Day & Celebrating in Nebraska

This is one of my family’s favorite holidays.  Besides Christmas and Easter of course and Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day.  Maybe I should just say, this is a day that we definitely like to remember.  We do like our donuts.  Taking six people out for donuts can get a bit expensive, so mainly we buy them when they are on sale at the store.  This is one day that my kids get to go to our favorite donut shop (LaMar’s Donuts) and enjoy a fresh, piping hot morsel of deliciousness.

Until reading a small paragraph in a local grocery advertisement, I just assumed that the holiday was created by a donut franchise somewhere who wanted more business.  (Kind of the like the Jimmy John’s Customer Appreciation Day – we like that one too!  Noticing a trend here?  Yes, we like free food! I do have 3 boys after all! 🙂 )

Anyway, enough tangents.  I was quite surprised to discover that there is actually a story behind “National Donut Day.”  And the tale is meaningful one that involves two important organizations: The Salvation Army and our United States military.


Image from Wikipedia

Almost one hundred years ago, across the ocean, soldiers in the French trenches were in need of a morale booster.  So, Salvation Army workers began to serve them coffee and donuts.  (That illustrates a level of bravery that is not normally demonstrated for those passing out pastries!)  Now the workers were not there with that purpose.  Their goal instead was to provide spiritual guidance and a connection with the memories of home.  The donut was a visible symbol to them that someday peace would exist again, and home was not quite as far away as it had been before.

Not until the Great Depression did “National Donut Day” illustrate the page of a calendar.  At this point, the Salvation Army wanted everyone to know about the great work that they were doing in providing service to the community.  In 1937, the world was on the brink of another war.  Our country needed to recognize the importance of working together for a cause.  What a better way to remind everyone of the value of service than by celebrating with donuts?  A visual representation of how many had selflessly taken care of others on battle fields far away just twenty years prior.

This “Donut Day” has continued to be an important holiday  A way to remember all that the Salvation Army has continued to do, for the past three-quarters of a century, to make a difference in other people’s lives.  In fact, I learned all of this information from The Metropolitan Division of the Chicage Salvation Army.  On their website, they have many additional fun and fascinating facts about the history of Donut Day.  This one was very interesting to me.

National Donut Day commemorates the “donut lassies,” female Salvation Army volunteers who provided writing supplies, stamps, clothes-mending and home-cooked meals, and of course, donuts, for soldiers on the front lines.

Here is a short video that you can also watch to learn more.

Now that you know that “National Donut Day” came about due to historical events, you have all the more reason to celebrate.  Many of the bigger national chains are giving away free donuts.  I know that our local grocery stores are giving free donuts to so many customers and then giving out discounted ones as well.  A yummy holiday and a great day to remember those who serve!

P.S. On a more serious  note, today is the anniversary of the D-Day Invasion.  A cause that involved many Americans, including Nebraskans.  I do not believe you can say this word enough to veterans: Thank you!

P.P.S. One our other favorite doughnut places, The Doughnut Hole is having specials and a drawing for free doughnuts tomorrow.  They are also revealing a brand new flavor!  You will want to arrive EARLY – they will sell out!


Categories: Cornhusker Cuisine, Eating Establishments, Flashback Fridays, Nebraska History | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lincoln’s First Bite Before Restaurant Week Starts Tomorrow (6-6-14)

Tonight is Lincoln’s First Bite – the kickoff to  restaurant week.  At this benefit for the Lincoln Food Bank, you can have a sneak peak at all of the restaurants that are being featured during Lincoln’s Restaurant Week.  Tickets are available at the door for only $30.  Already have plans for tonight?  Well, you have one whole week to dine at a number of fabulous Lincoln dining establishments.

From June 6th to the 12th, sixteen Lincoln area restaurants will be offering a discounted, but fixed, price three-course dinner menu.  Each appetizer, entrée and dessert will cost only $19.95 or $29.95 per person.  You pick the place and the price.  A fine meal will definitely follow.  Below are links to all of the special courses that are available.  If you would like to look at each restaurant’s website directly, the “Lincoln Restaurant Week” blog has direct links on their site, so that you can look at each dining place’s regular menus.


Creme brulee – a dessert that is an option at several of these restaurants.

9 South Char Grill

Billy’s Restaurant

Brix & Stone Gastropub

Carmela’s Bistro and Wine Bar



Green Gateau


Hiro 88 West Haymarket


jtk Cuisine & Cocktails


Rodizio Grill

Single Barrel

Venue Restaurant & Lounge

Wilderness Ridge: The Lodge

Reservations are not required, but are strongly encouraged.  The standard restaurant menus will also be available.  Tax, gratuity and beverage are not included in the fixed price.  What a great opportunity to try amazing Lincoln restaurants at excellent prices for gourmet fare!






Categories: Cornhusker Cuisine, Eating Establishments | 2 Comments

Playa Azul: Enjoying Mexican Food in Beatrice, Nebraska

If you happen to be from the Beatrice area, maybe you guessed where we were in yesterday’s “Wordless Wednesday.”

Beatrice Restaurant Sign

On a brisk winter day, we met some friends at this fine establishment.  I recognized the Spanish word “azul” meaning blue.  And now I know “playa” means beach.  The decor of the restaurant definitely fit the name!  The decor just feels happy.  They even have aquariums of fish!

Beatrice Restaurant Decor

They start the meal with complimentary chips & salsa – both mild and hot (making all of my children happy!)  Then the food was authentic AND delicious!  Their guacamole is some of the best that I have ever had!  They actually had a taco salad on the kids menu – the favorite of one of my children!  And their lunch fajitas were also on special – which thrilled my oldest!

Beatrice Restaurant Food

This seemed like a fitting place to “visit” with Cinco de Mayo being earlier this week.  Plus featuring a restaurant the week of Mother’s Day also seemed fitting.  I know this Mama is definitely not wanting to cook this Sunday.  (I think I do enough of that the rest of the year! 🙂 )

The best part of the meal was dining with longtime friends that I rarely see.  And I was rather sad to discover that I did not take a picture of them.  Sometimes I can get too caught up in worrying about food and decor shots and forget the people that really mattered.  A good reminder of me to remember to focus!  Anyway, thanks, friends for meeting us!

Enjoy celebrating as a Mom and hopefully with your Mom this week!


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Savoring Saturday: Aurora Pizza Hut (Making It Great!)

I have eaten at many a Pizza Hut across Nebraska.  This partly is due to the fact that when I used to run cross country, almost every small town has a Pizza Hut.  A great place for carb re-loading after a run!  The other reason – Book-it.  We have participated every year in Pizza Hut’s reading incentive program.  Normally, I try to mainly write about unique original places.  Since many Nebraska towns have Pizza Huts, this restaurant does not exactly qualify.  But I have to say that there is just something unique about the Pizza Hut in Aurora.  Since I already took you to the town earlier this week with our “visit” to Edgerton, why not go back to the town for pizza?

How does the Aurora Pizza Hut “make it great?”  First of all, their buffet selection is extensive.  They have seem to have many more pizza choices and pasta – they always have their alfredo break on the line.  Plus they have yummy desserts, and they also seem to keep the food extra fresh.  I am not sure how many times my kids went back through the line when we went in November, but it was quite a few.

Aurora Pizza Hut Food Collage

The second that is great about the Aurora Pizza Hut – they have captured the essence of the town.  By mounting photographs prominently on the walls, they are displaying pictures of the places that define Aurora.  You could even do a town scavenger hunt after dining.  See the picture on the Pizza Hut wall – try to find the place as you drive about the town.  No, we have not done this …yet. I am thinking that would be a fun family project.

Aurora Pizza Hut Picture Collage

Taking pictures of pictures often results in a glare – sorry about that!

The top of the list why the Aurora Pizza Hut is my favorite?  I have SO many memories of my family there.  That is often the place where we have had many of our extended family gatherings.  They have a big “party” room off to the side, so that has been the place where we often meet, especially as there is now SO many of us.  I love my family and getting to spend time with them is even more of a privilege now that we live farther apart.

Aurora Pizza Hut Family\

(My apologies to my family – I know have pictures of many more of you from these experiences.  These are the ones I could find.  Obviously I need to figure out a better way to store them!)

So, if you are in the area, I have given you three great reasons to check out the Aurora Pizza Hut.  Although Saturday is the one day that they do not have buffet, so you may want wait until tomorrow!


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Tasty Tuesday: Wahoo’s Fish Tacos in Lincoln, NE

When the Lincoln Journal-Star had their 1/2 price deals for many places at Christmas, I decided it was a great time to try a new place!  Wahoo’s Fish Tacos was on the list.  I could buy a $20 gift card for $10 – a great bargain.  The kids were not quite as enthusiastic about the destination at first – the word “fish” scared them.  I assured them there was more than just seafood on the menu.

Wahoo's wall

When you first step in the door, you feel like you are walking into sunshine.  Happy music is playing.  And the decor is a mix of California surf shop and stickers.  Yes – you read that correctly.  Evidently anyone can place stickers on the wall.  My kids are already planning on bringing some with to make their mark next time.

Wahoo's Decor

Yes, we are definitely going back!  For one thing, the food was reasonably priced.  The kids meals came with drinks (a big cheer from my kiddos!), and the meals actually filled up even my oldest.  The younger ones took home boxes.  Since we went the last day in December, they still had their December gift card special.  If you bought $25, you received $10 free.  A great deal!

Wahoo's Food

The food was also delicious!   I am not always sure about onion rings at most places, but Wahoo’s definitely makes great ones!  Unfortunately they only come in one size (large), so we may not get them next time.  If they added a small size where we could each have one, we would definitely regularly order those!

My youngest two went with the simple quesadillas.  My 2nd son was thrilled that he could have a steak taco with a kids meal, and he loved all of the cilantro on top!  I was proud of my oldest – he tried the spicy fish taco.  That is what I also ordered – definitely yummy and fresh tasting.  The cilantro sauce added delectable creaminess!  I easily had enough for lunch the next day.  Of course eating a few onion rings also might have contributed to that … Other than the rings (and possibly the pop), the tacos themselves actually seemed like a healthy fast food.  Next time, the kids are excited to bring Dad with us – I think my husband will enjoy the restaurant as well.  I definitely recommend Wahoo’s Fish Taco’s in Downtown Lincoln!

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Delicious Delice: European Dining in Omaha

Delice sign

To be honest, my kids were a bit skeptical. In fact they complained a  bit at my choice of restaurant.  But I knew it was a place that my Mom and I would definitely enjoy.  And I knew the kids would like it also if they gave it half a chance .  And I was right – they are clamoring to return to Delice: The European Bakery and Cafe that is located in Midtown Crossing in  Omaha.

Delice Christmas

Their decor is already warm and welcoming.  Add in Christmas decorations, and one could not help but feel at home.  The day was brisk outside and dining near a fireplace was a treat.

I always forget until I am halfway through to take a picture of my meal.  I think I was hungry.  I took the server’s recommendation and ordered the Italian quiche.  I was a bit skeptical because I am not always an olive fan.  Glad I gave it a try – so very good!  My Mom  had the healthier turkey sandwich which she definitely liked also.  My three boys had chicken sandwiches – 2 spicy and Parmesan to be precise.  I managed to sneak a bite of each – definitely a big step above your typical sandwich -delicious bread!  My daughter had the chicken noodle soup – as close to homemade as I have ever had at a restaurant.  (Yes, I managed to take a bite of this too – I definitely had enough lunch that day!)

Delice Food

As you can almost see from the pictures, they have many different quiche combinations, pastry puffs and sandwiches.  They also have a full coffee/drink bar.  And their desserts all looked so luscious.  To leave without trying one would have been a bit sad.  So, I picked a “seasonal” limited time concoction.  We shared their eggnog creme brulee for dessert.  That alone was worth the trip.  Loved the flavor combinations.  II no longer have to convince my kids of the merits of eating at a bakery.  Especially this one.  We will be back again someday!

P.S. Thanks, Kim, of OhMy! Omaha for suggesting that we try dining at Midtown Crossing.  We are so glad that we did!  And the free three hour parking was a definite bonus -we could take our time!  I love that feature of public parking in Omaha!

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Huskers at the Corners: Where to Watch Football in Northeast Nebraska: The Pizza Ranch in West Point

Growing up, we went to Northeast Nebraska often.  To the town of Laurel to be precise.  Visiting my grandparents was an enjoyable experience – miss them both very much!  Usually my Grandma would cook for us.  Sunday dinners.  Sandwich suppers.  But every once in awhile, we talked them into taking us to the Pizza Ranch.  Really it was close enough to walk.  But we needed to cross the busy highway to get there – not always a great combination.  Eating there was fun – they had good pizza.

In honor of those outings, I thought I would feature that place today.  Sadly, I discovered that Laurel no longer has a Pizza Ranch.  Since I would rather recommend a place that I have actually visited, I will recommend their location in West Point.  Another Northeast Nebraska town.  When I called to ask if they would be showing the game, they said they would as long as they knew which channel.  (Maybe no Husker fans were working today?)  Anyway, the game is a strong possibility there.


Photo courtesy of the Pizza Ranch website

They do feature more than just pizza – chicken, vegetables, mashed potatoes.  I always really enjoyed their potato wedges.  Plus they have dessert.  My husband would approve of their soft-serve ice cream machine – that is always his favorite way to end a meal.  They supposedly have a gluten free menu, but you may need to confirm that the food is prepared in a separate area (otherwise you have cross contamination issues!)

Not making it to the Northeast Nebraska area anytime soon?  They have several locations in the Omaha area. Plus the Pizza Ranch happens to be opening their new location in Lincoln on November 18th.  I know our family will visit sometime soon to satisfy my long ago memories.  🙂

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Huskers at the Corners: Where to Watch Football in Southwest Nebraska: Two Places in McCook

I must confess that I have not really been in the Southwest part of Nebraska.  Yet.  So, I cannot recommend any place to watch a Husker game personally.  But for today, I chose to look at the options in McCook.  My longtime sweet friend, Sarah, is from there originally.  And McCook is one of Nebraska’s hot spots.  Literally.  They often have the highest temperatures in the state.  In my online search, I found two places where you can watch the Husker game today in McCook.

At the Loop Brewing Company, located on 404 West A Street in McCook,  the menu goes beyond your typical game food.  Featuring brick oven pizza, gourmet salads/sandwiches and a wide selection of appetizers, their offerings look delicious.  (Do I have enough time to make it there before kick off?  Hmmm …)  My order selection would be the Peppadew Peppers – Sweet peppers stuffed with boursin cheese then lightly glazed with balsamic vinaigrette.  Does that not sound just mouth watering?

Loop Brewing Company Beer

Photo courtesy of the Loop Brewing Company website.

According to their Facebook page, they have many game day specials going on.  With the game starting at 2:30, you have enough time to get there to snack all afternoon!

The second option is if you are only partially interested in the game and care more about your dinner.  Coppermill Steakhouse opens this afternoon at 4:00 p.m.  I confirmed that the game will be on then.  Their menu features everything from steak to shellfish to a Cajun corner.  Definitely worth investigating.

Photo courtesy of the Coppermill Steakhouse

They are located at N. Highway 83 and Coppermill Road in McCook.  They do accept dining reservations.  To know about their specials (such as the free appetizers they gave to all veteran’s on Tuesday), become a fan on their Facebook page.

If any of you have eaten at either of these places, I would love to read comments about your experiences.  Go Big Red!


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Huskers at the Corners: Where to Watch Football in Northwest Nebraska: MJ’s Ranch House

If you have ever been to Fort Robinson, you would know that television is not a part of the package.  Normally that is a blessing – provides for lots of family time.  But, when one of the first Nebraska football games of the year is on, what is a person to do in …

Ranch House Crawford

Northwest Nebraska has lots of wide open spaces.  And not quite as many diehard Husker fans, being the fact that they are many hours away from Lincoln.  We called around and finally discovered the perfect place for our family to watch the game.

Ranch House signs

MJ’s Ranch House Steaks and Spirits located in downtown Crawford.  We already had supper planned for back at our cabin, but we enjoyed eating lots of game food.  Appetizers like onion rings and chicken strips and breaded cauliflower.

MJ’s family has owned a ranch in the Crawford area for many generations.

Ranch House Ranch Photograph

Their restaurant is a tribute to much of what makes this part of Nebraska beautiful!  Being located in a renovated building adds charm to the ambiance.  Originally the building was a general store.

Ranch House Original Building

Their decor reflects their family and area longtime history.  Every corner tells a story.  I forgot to watch much of the game because of being distracted by all of their treasures.  The owner was in that day and kindly took the time to tell me some stories of her family history and the area.  Loved listening to her!

Ranch House History Collage

As with any of life’s experiences, who is with you is what really matters.  Being with my family was the best part of the experience.

Ranch House family

(My brother and his lovely wife were with as well.  I am sure I took a picture of them, but who knows what happened to that?)

I just called and talked to Mary Jane, the sweet owner, and she confirmed that they will definitely be open to serve you.  So, if you are in the Northwest Nebraska area, I would highly encourage you checking out MJ’s Ranch House to watch the Huskers.   Great food, great atmosphere and (should be) a great game.

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