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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

First Annual Best Eatin' in Lincoln Awards

This blog's been up and running for over six months now and has a fairly steady readership developing so I think it's time the readers of Eatin' in Lincoln weigh in on all their favorites. We'll be accepting nominations in the categories below for the until Sunday, April 30. Voting for the top 4 or 5 in each category will commence on Wednesday May 3 with the winners and runners-up to be announced on Wednesday May 9, just in time to make plans to take your mom out on Mother's Day to one of Eatin' in Lincoln's best restaurants.

So in the comments or by email, nominate your favorites in the following categories. Please let me know if I've missed any.

  • Mexican
  • Pizza
  • Bar Food
  • Sandwich
  • East Asian (Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese)
  • Indian
  • Steak
  • Burger
  • Fine Dining
  • Casual Dining - there's a line between Fine and Casual, help me draw it.
  • Sushi
  • Fish
  • Fast Food
  • Chain
  • Other/Mish-mash
  • Best in Show

Monday, April 24, 2006

Super Taco Update

I took a very difficult exam this morning and I was woefully unprepared. To reward failure I decided to treat myself to that torta I was coveting on Friday. The longaniza torta might be one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten. First, the bread was awesome - a 7" diameter roll that was crusty without being tough or chewy. It was topped with a pile of Mexican sausage, and generous amounts of tomato, avocado slices, jalapeño, thick slices of queso blanco and just a little mayo. Outstanding.

Oh, and they had a whole bunch of other specials today including tamales and flautas among other things.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that I found out why the salsa roja has a roasted vegetable flavor. I asked the young woman working the counter today about it and she said they pan fry the tomatoes.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Super Taco

A few weeks ago I drove by the U-Stop strip mall at the corner of 56th & Holdrege and noticed someone else was taking a go at the business black hole in that mall between Little King and Ace Rent-to-Own. An excellent barbecue place was there until about a year ago and there have been several other businesses of various types occupy that space for brief periods over the past few years. I wondered how this new place which loudly proclaimed itself "Super Taco" would do. The name was a little odd. As J.J. Harder observed in his review of El Comal the best Mexican restaurants in Lincoln tend to have Spanish names. Despite this, the simplicity of the name gave me hope. It's no-nonsense and straightforward like the owners were thinking "Let's just get this place named so we can get to selling super tacos."

I finally made it to Super Taco for lunch on Friday. At noon the place was standing room only and the line to order was about 6 deep despite the lack so far of a Journal-Star feature. A quick glance at the plates of the diners behind me assured me I was in a place that served antojitos, the small tacos served on dual soft corn shells dressed with cilantro and onion like they serve at La Mexicana and El Chaparro.

The ordering process is simple. Choose your meats and choose how the meat is served. Super Taco offers tacos, tortas, burritos and gorditas. The tacos are $1.25 each or 5 for $5.50 undercutting El Chaparro's taco combo by a quarter. I was starving and I wanted to try as many different flavors as I could so I went with 5 tacos - longaniza (Mexican sausage), suadero (flank steak), lengua (tongue), milanesa (breaded steak) and pollo adobado (spicy chicken). Also available were tripe, cueritos (pork skin), barbacoa de cabeza (beef head), carne asada, and carne enchilda (seasoned steak). Oddly enough carnitas was not available although I think the meat options may change as there were more items listed on the marker board menu than in the paper menu.

The wait was a little long, maybe about 10 minutes, so I got a chance to scope out what everyone else in the place was eating. The fellow sitting at the table behind me was eating the carne asada platter, one of the few things offered at the restaurant other than what I listed above. For $7.50 you get a huge plate of carne asada, rice, beans, guacamole, sour cream and warm flour tortillas. Super Taco also offers a cecina platter, which is from what I could discover, a type of dried beef. The guy sitting next to him had a huge burrito ($4.75) smothered in red sauce and topped with sour cream and guacamole. The woman in line in front of me had ordered a torta and when she got it I found myself wishing I had gone that route instead. It looked terrific.

There were two salsas available, a fairly mild salsa verde and a quite spicy salsa roja with a nice roasted vegetable flavor to itthat was oddly about the color of Dorothy Lynch. I grabbed a little of each salsa and took my tacos with me since there was no place to sit. There does look to be room for more tables so I wouldn't be surprised to see a couple more added.

My tacos were overall very good. They didn't include the usual garnish of radish and lime but instead came with several long strips of pickled and roasted anaheim pepper which was quite tasty and spicier than I was expecting. The pollo wasn't quite as seasoned as I would have liked and the tongue was a little tougher than the tongue I've had at La Mexicana. The longaniza was great, a little coarser than the chorizo at similar places, and pleasantly spicy. The milanesa, something I'd never tried, was great. The breading was very light and seemed to be made up of flour and spices. Flank steak is one of my favorite cuts of meat for Mexican food and the suadero at Super Taco didn't disappoint.

Super Taco is just one more challenge to the hegemony of Amigo's in Lincoln. That restaurant has felt the pressure a little bit as they added antojitos to their menu about 9 months ago although their version doesn't come close to what you get at places like Super Taco. Several people in line with me expressed their disdain for the chain Mexican food in Lincoln and were glad another place serving cheap, authentic Mexican food had opened especially one on this side of town.

On a somewhat related note, check out The Great Taco Hunt a blog dedicated to finding L.A.'s perfect taco.

Super Taco
5501 Holdrege, Suite D
Open 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. daily

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Blue Orchid over and over and over

There have been millions of bits spilled virtually all over this site and Lincolnite arguing the merits of Lincoln’s newest Thai restaurant, Blue Orchid. Contributing writer Jack Jackson has made cases against Blue Orchid here and here(also accompanied by a pro review from Gary). The owners of Blue Orchid were big enough to respond to the numerous complaints about the service on this post at Lincolnite. That gave me hope for the restaurant because the response was clearly written, contained no excuses and offered solutions to the problems.

So after remaining above the tempest in a teapot that is Blue Orchid and one failed attempt to eat at Blue Orchid on a Sunday night when they are closed, I finally took the plunge this past Friday night.

Sarah, myself and three friends had a 6:30 reservation. I dropped Sarah off at what looked like the front door on the south side of the building and finally wound up parking in a garage after failing to find a spot on the street. I wasn’t aware that the best way to enter was on the east side of the old federal building so I entered where the Blue Orchid sign was which meant I got to take a nice tour of the first floor of the old building.

By the time I had sat down after parking everyone at the table had a drink in front of them. Sarah’s was supposed to be a strawberry smoothie but it was totally unsmooth, more like a virgin strawberry daiquiri or a strawberry Snoopy sno-cone in a glass. Sarah was expecting something more on the order of a mango lassi which was totally understandable given the “smooth” in the name of the drink.

The menu presented the standard array of Thai dishes – noodles and curries – along with some slightly more expensive dishes that appeared to be house specialties. The prices for the entrees were not bad at all. I forgot my secret restaurant spy notepad so I can’t say for sure but I don’t think any of the specialties exceeded $13 or $14. The noodles dishes were all around $7 or $8 if you went with the delicious tofu but go up by a buck or two if you feel the need to add meat. The curries were priced similarly. The appetizers were also familiar – chicken satay, fried spring rolls, raw spring rolls (the restaurant had a different name for them but I think of the Vietnamese-style spring roll here), etc. One thing I noticed missing from the menu, unless I totally overlooked it, was green papaya salad.

We ordered a couple of appetizers. The raw spring rolls contained egg which wasn’t something I’d encountered before so I decided to put off the adventure for the night and go with the fried ones. We also ordered chicken satay because I’ve never had bad chicken satay. Creamy peanut sauce covers all imperfections.

The appetizers arrived in good time, probably about 10 minutes or so. The chicken satay was very good and well worth the $5.95 price. The pieces of chicken were large, juicy and lightly curried. The peanut sauce wasn’t even necessary but since it was there, it was hard not to partake. The spring rolls were another story. We got 5 spring rolls but here’s the kicker, they were about half the size of my index finger. Given the ratio of skin to filling in a spring roll of this size it wasn’t much of a surprise that the roll tasted like the fried wrapper and the sauce in which I dipped it rather than a combination of that and what was inside. I’ll definitely pass on the spring rolls next time.

We ordered our entrees around the same time as our appetizers but it was at least 30 minutes after we had finished our appetizers, maybe even a little more, before our entrees arrived. The restaurant was full but it wasn’t incredibly busy. In Lincoln I’m used to entrees arriving before I can even finish my soup so this was a little odd but I don’t think 30 minutes post-appetizer is bad. The purpose of the appetizer is to “arouse your appetite without bedding it back down” and if you get the entrée too quickly there’s a danger of a traffic jam developing in your stomach. Anyway, dinner out on a Friday night is as much for conversation as it is for eating. 30 minutes is acceptable for a dinner but certainly not for lunch. I haven’t been to Blue Orchid for lunch since their original service problems were noted all over the local interweb.

I decided to go against type and order the mussaman curry with beef which is basically a beef and potato stew with a sweet and spicy coconut curry sauce. The menu warned that it was spicy but I had to add a decent amount of chili paste to get the heat I wanted and it probably interfered with the intended flavor of the dish a little bit. If you want something spicy, make sure you mention it because menu spicy is just slightly too hot for my grandmother. The initial flavor was good but after a few bites the sweetness and coconut began to overwhelm everything else and all I could think about was the appetizer fad of 2002, coconut shrimp. The potato in the dish was also a little undercooked. In a stew-like dish like this I expect the potato to be more than fork-tender and I had to put a decent amount of pressure on the potato in order to cut it although it was still edible.

Sarah, who has been searching for decent and consistent pad thai in Lincoln for a long time, ordered the pad thai. It comes with delicious tofu and Sarah took the two dollar plunge and added shrimp. The pad thai itself was just what Sarah had been looking for - the noodles were not too wide, there was just the right amount of egg, the terrific pad thai flavor was there without it being too saucy. The only problem was that the shrimp was cold. It had been warmed up by the noodles some but it was as if the chef prepared the pad thai and then threw in a handful of shrimp as an afterthought, or suddenly remembered that this order included shrimp after he had finished cooking. Pad thai with tofu only is the way to go here since it’s only around $7. No reason to spend two bucks on the chance of getting cold meat with your noodles.

Two of my party ordered the Orchid Chicken which came in half a pineapple. I was more than slightly disappointed that the dish did not come with a rare orchid I could pilfer. I stole a bite of it and it reminded me of a less sweet sweet and sour chicken with fresher ingredients. Not bad, but not something I would ever order. The other member of our party had the Seafood Madness(!) which was a mélange of seafood including shrimp, squid, mussels, scallops and salmon. The salmon seemed a bit of an odd choice for a Thai dish. I’d expect a firm white fish in a dish like this. It was definitely a good value though. Seafood dishes are always quite a bit more expensive here and this was around $13.

The bill was absolutely reasonable. Sarah and I spent less than $40 (including tip) for two entrees, an appetizer, a virgin strawberry daiquiri (smoothie) and two Thai iced coffees (Iced lattes, essentially. For some reason I was expecting something akin to Vietnamese iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk in the bottom of the glass.)

The atmosphere was as advertised. The room was cavernous and painted in relaxing greens. The music wasn’t too loud like it is at many Asian restaurants. However, I’ll take a lot less atmosphere if I can consistently get great food. It appears Blue Orchid is trying to be the Thai Oven and they’re far from that goal. I don’t think they’ll have any trouble staying open since the atmosphere and location instantly creates a trendy restaurant but I’ll be waiting awhile for a return dinner visit.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Lincoln's underserved chicken finger market

Apparently someone has identifed a need for a chain restaurant that only serves chicken fingers. There's some new construction going up on the NW corner of 48th & R where a car dealership was once located and I finally remembered to read the sign and google it today. Yes, Lincoln is welcoming a Raising Cane's at some point in the not too distant future. Yay.

If we're going to get a new fast food chain in Lincoln why can't it be Steak 'n Shake?

Oh, and since we're talking Lincoln and chicken fingers, what's your favorite? My favorite Lincoln chicken finger comes from Runza.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The New M & N

And by M & N I mean S & M...Contributor Gary visited the new M & N location recently. It sounds a little too clean and well lighted for M & N. It's good to see the pictures of the sammiches are up so people know what to order. Reading these reviews makes me want to go to M & N and get that sandwich with the beef with the Italian sausage snuggled up inside.

Here's Gary's review:

On Tuesday I ate at Norm's new location, catty-corner from his old place at 27th and Randolph. The new place is cleaner and brighter, not what I was expecting. I think the atmosphere will improve once he gets some posters on the wall. I hope he has a place for business cards again, it was alway interesting to see everyone's business cards plastered to the wall.

The attitude that only Norm can create was abundant at the new place. He was busy, so he was down to business. Millie seemed a little overwhelmed but I'm sure she'll get up to speed eventually. There were a few things from the old location that made the new place feel like home. The cash register, the soda dispenser and some of the old hand-written signs survived the move. The photos of the sandwiches were there too.

The sandwiches were awesome, just like always. I had the Italian Cheesesteak with sauted onions and served "wet." It was fantatic. I've locked into the Italian Beef sandwiches, although the pastrami at M&N is fantastic. A friend had the triple combination: pastrami, Italian beef and sausage. Ugh! He loved it, as did another companion who had corned beef.

The new location is on 27th Street facing west, just north of Randolph. There's a new sign and fresh paint, but - thankfully - it's the same old place. Stop by and see for yourself.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Steve Forgets to Post Jackson's Review... Again; Cute Little Kitten Cries

Thai Garden and Thai House

By Jack Jackson

Because there are still some Blue Orchid (Blue Acrid) apologists out there, because they seem to be so happy that “good” Thai food is in Lincoln now, I wanted to take some time to write briefly about what makes Thai Garden and Thai House superior to Blue Orchid.
Let me start with a brief vignette about the last time I went to Windchimes. The woman owner and I began discussing Thai food in town. I asked what her favorites were, secretly hoping she’d say Thai House or Thai Garden, because those have always been my favorites, and I wanted my ethnic tastes to be vindicated. She said that you have to go to a big city to get good Thai food. No one in town does it right, she said.
So, imagine my excitement when I hear that Blue Orchid was originally a Chicago restaurant. Chicago’s a big city, so maybe it would be good Thai food. And I’ve eaten at many different Thai restaurants in Chicago, so I think I’ve got a good perspective on it all.
But Blue Orchid’s food just isn’t as good as either Thai House or Thai Garden. I know some people have been less than impressed by Thai Garden, and these are usually the Pad Thai freaks, the people that always get some kind of rice noodle dish. But the key to Thai Garden ordering is the curries. Their yellow chicken curry is really tasty, and the broth/sauce in it is nowhere near as sweet as Blue Orchid’s.
You know what I think is funny about Thai Garden and Thai House? I’ve eaten at each of them over thirty times, and I’ve never, ever had my food served tepid or cold. It happened the first time at Blue Orchid. Thai food tastes better served straight from the kitchen, and both Thai Garden and Thai House serve their food straight from the kitchen. Point for Thai Garden, Point for Thai House.
The food is better and . . . cheaper (!) at Thai Garden and Thai House. Point for Thai Garden, Point for Thai House.
The lunch special at Thai House comes with: optional hot/sour soup, mandatory chicken satay, and mandatory spring roll. Thai Garden’s lunch special comes with the excellent hot-spicy cabbage soup Tom Kha Gai (which is up there for me with Sher-E Punjab’s Mulligatawny as far as addictiveness goes), and spring roll. What’s amazing is that these always all come to you hot! And tasty. Blue Orchid can’t say that. Point for Thai Garden, Point for Thai House.
The servers at Thai House and Thai Garden never blame the kitchen for anything, and when I’ve been there, they’ve never had to. Point for Thai House, Point for Thai Garden.
The Thai Garden has that cute little bridge to walk over. Point for Thai Garden.
The dishes are fancy at Blue Orchid. Point for Blue Orchid. Wait. I don’t care about how fancy the dishes are at any restaurant. Point taken away.
There you have it. Thai Garden wins a close one because of that cute little bridge.

Stop making excuses for Blue Orchid. That restaurant needs to go back to Chicago where it can hide in a tide of mediocrity.

Jack Jackson hates frat bars

101 N 14th St, Lincoln, NE
Tel: (402) 438-8383

Woody’s Grill and Pub
By Jack Jackson

After some time off, Woody’s has fired up their food service and so I repasted there last week. I’m glad, first off, that Woody’s Grill is not Woody’s “Grille” with the superfluous “e.” It’s a grill. Having said that, I don’t know that there even is a grill inside the kitchen.

I don’t go into Woody’s to drink, and I hadn’t been there since my 21st birthday crawl, back in the ancient days when free birthday shots were served at the downtown bars in tiny clear plastic cups. I realized quickly why I don’t go in there, because Woody’s tells you why with it’s ubiquitous posters advertising their daily drink specials.

I always wondered where things like Blue Curacao were consumed, and now I know. I haven’t even heard of half the things they have on special in those posters, mostly because they are over-sweet concoctions designed to get you drunk quickly yet also be savory. I have no respect for people who can’t just drink whiskey straight and get it done without adding some neon-colored schnapps.

The menu is simple, and it’s to be expected. Sandwiches, burgers, salads, and fried things. I ordered a French Dip, it seemed to be on a fresh Rotella hoagie. The beef was lean and real, the jus was good, and the onion rings were crispy and nice.

But once again, I have to bag on the service. Only one server on staff is not enough. With that many seats, one person cannot effectively do the seating, ordering, refilling, serving, and bussing, and it’s especially annoying at lunchtime when people usually have to be somewhere at some point after eating their lunch.

So, this is another major disappointment with eating in Lincoln. Why can’t new restaurants get the service right? Why wouldn’t you want to have great service when your restaurant opens, or at least adequate service? Waiting five minutes to get your check is not acceptable, nor is never refilling the water.

Shame on you, Woody’s Grill. The food was good but the service sucked. I’m not going back anytime soon.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Round the Bend

30801 East Park Hwy.
South Bend, NE 68003

(402) 944-9974

Open from 10 am to 11 pm, Tuesday through Saturday

When we pulled into the parking lot, I couldn't believe what I saw. How could a restaurant, almost literally in the middle of nowhere, have so many cars parked around it? If one of my dining companions hadn't had a handicapped parking sticker, we wouldn't have found a parking space at all. Not that there was a lack of space surrounding Round the Bend, South Bend's only steakhouse. The large brown building stood alone amidst the vacant farmland.

From the number of people lining the walls of the entryway and spilling out onto the benches and haybales in front, it was clear that our party of eight was in for a long wait. An hour and twenty minutes long to be exact. To kill the time, we headed over to Bulldog's Bar and Grill in Murdock, where we sometimes attend Saturday karaoke nights. We even toyed with the idea of ditching our original plan and having fish there instead. When we found out that they were out of pollack and only had catfish, we decided to stick with the original plan. We did, however, enjoy their fine Miller Lite and Keno.

By the time we got back to Round the Bend, they were setting up our table. While it might seem that an hour and twenty minutes is a long time to wait for a cheap fish dinner, we went on a Friday during Lent. We got what we deserved.

The atmosphere was a little nicer than most small town retaurants. They have an attached bar with kind of a brand-new-but-cheaply-constructed-sportsbar vibe. Their large dining hall is lined with booths and is quite roomy. (Maybe a little too roomy. Shouldn't they try to fit a few more tables in there, considering, well, the hour and twenty minute long wait?)

After a quick look at the menu (the usual steakhouse fare), the waitress (who looked strangely familiar) took our order. Everyone wanted the all-you-can-eat fish for $6.95. The fish (pollack, not catfish-- thank GOD!), comes with your choice of fries or a baked potato, a little plastic cup of coleslaw, and a dinner roll. Our orders arrived a few minutes later in red plastic baskets. The side dishes were what I expected-- the coleslaw was creamy, the roll came out of a plastic bag and not an oven, and the baked potato was, well, a baked potato. Now the fish. When they say "all you can eat," they're not effing around. The very first serving comes with five generous pieces. The breading was very light, which is how I like it, and the fish itself was flakey, moist, and tender. The tartar sauce, just like in Staplehurst, was prepackaged. It didn't matter though, since they had malt vinegar and hot sauce on the table, which are better than tartar sauce anyway.

When the waitress asked if we wanted seconds, we had to say no thank you. We were stuffed. (I couldn't even finish my third piece.) After chatting her up a little bit, we discovered that she's a Saturday night karaoke regular at Bulldog's as well. That's small town Nebraska for you.