Thursday, August 5, 2010

Czeching Out a Happy Place in Omaha

Bohemian Café
1406 S. 13th St.
Omaha, NE
Visited July 28, 2010

Beer selection: Excellent variety of Czech beer (from a country that knows how to brew good beer)

Food: Delicious made-from-scratch American and Czech specialties

Dining at a place like the Bohemian Café is one of the joys of exploring America.

Perhaps if you live in certain neighborhoods in Chicago or Cleveland or Cedar Rapids, there is a place like the Bohemian on your street corner. But for 99% of the rest of us, what some might consider simple Eastern European comfort food, can transform lunchtime -- while in a suit between meetings in Omaha -- into something, dare I say, exciting.

Excitement over goulash, sauer braten and schnitzel?

Well, yes. And that’s the problem with Eastern European cuisine.

These Polka dancers need a better marketing agency. Someone like the guy who changed the name of the Patagonian toothfish to “Chilean Sea Bass” when it hit America’s fine dining expense-account bistros.

I mean, let’s face it, if you are a typical American suburban-dweller who never ventures far from the Applebees’ “2 for 20” menu, how enticingly appetizing does goulash sound?

Maybe it was a plot by the Commies during their occupation of Czechoslovakia?

I don’t know.

But one taste of the goulash or the roast duck or jaeger schnitzel at the Bohemian and you’ll be a convert for life.

The liver dumpling soup that starts every meal here is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Liver dumpling soup? Even I hesitated when ordering that!

But my grandmotherly waitress, who has been serving up these dishes at the Bohemian for literally decades, reassured me the first time I visited, that it was delicious.

When your grandmother tells you to try something, you do it, especially when she is serving up food this good. (I loved my grandmothers dearly, but they were both Irish, and the Irish aren’t exactly known for creative cuisine).

I’m glad thoughts of slimy cow innards didn’t deter me. The reality of Bohemian’s liver dumpling soup is a savory beefy broth poured over a hearty dumpling that absorbs some of the flavor of the soup without disintegrating. Thankfully, there is no liver – at least in solid form – to be found. The broth and dough in every spoonful is a delicious combination of flavors and texture, a great way to start the meal.

But it is the main course that will leave you fat and happy for the rest of the day.

On a previous visit, I had gotten the Czech goulash, an amazing dish of fall-apart-tender marinated pork covered in a rich, red sauce.

As good as that was, I had to try something different today.

So I chose Svickova, otherwise known as Czech sauer braten. Slow roasted slices of beef that come apart with the slightest nudge of the fork. The meat, along with a dumpling large enough to feed a family of four, come covered in a sour cream gravy.

As if that isn’t enough, sweet and sour cabbage is piled high on the other end of the plate. Anyone who can make cabbage taste like desert knows how to cook!

If this is the lunch portion, I’d hate to see the dinner version.

But that’s what the Bohemian Café is all about.

It’s not just a place to grab lunch. It’s a celebration of Czech food, culture and fun. Pastoral Old World paintings on the wall, friendly red-checked clad waitresses, polka music on the over-head speakers and giant-sized plates of ethnic comfort food.

If you came grumpy, you won’t leave that way. Heck, I bet even Keith Olbermann could find a reason to crack a smile here.

Well, maybe not.

I do have one regret though. My head-dizzying Suit757 schedule has never allowed me to just sit at the bar with locals and work my way through the list of exotic Czech pilsner beers.

Oh, well. There’s always next time.

See what I mean?

I’m actually anticipating a return visit to Omaha, Nebraska. That’s what a great place like the Bohemian Café will do for you.

Rating: Bought the Shirt

Bohemian Cafe on Urbanspoon

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