If you go to Jazz in downtown Omaha, it probably won’t be for the five-star service. However, rest-assured that your wait to be seated, your wait to be served and the minimal amount of attention you’re likely to receive will all be (mostly) worth it for the Cajun cuisine and funky French-quarter atmosphere.
I have been to Jazz a number of times, and in thinking back on all my visits, I’ve never been impressed with the service. It’s slow and inattentive at best, as if all the servers were far too cool and/or bored to possibly do a decent job. The night we were there a few weeks ago, the place was less than half full – no more than 13 tables were occupied and no parties larger than 6. A total of 4 servers were scurrying around on the floor.
I counted because I was confused as to why it could possibly take five minutes to seat us, with no one even remotely acknowledging our presence or casting a glance in our direction until one server finally noticed us and sat us with barely a sentence spoken. No drink orders. Nothing. It took another five or more minutes for anyone to visit our table at all – leaving me plenty of time to wonder why in the hell 4 servers couldn’t handle 3 tables each more effectively.
In fact, none of the 4 servers even came to our table. It was the bartender who finally came out and took our drink orders, amidst pouring everyone else’s drinks and generally running about for seemingly no reason. He was very friendly and attentive once he decided to serve our table, and later apologized for the wait, blaming it on one of the computers being down so that all servers had to enter orders into one machine behind the bar.
I’m still not sure how that explains the lack of service, or why the bartender was forced to come out from behind the bar and pick up the slack. I suspect he noticed my camera and note-taking and felt it necessary to explain.
It’s too bad, though, because I really wanted to give Jazz a stellar review because the food is so good. My mother has come from two-hours away just to eat here. But I can’t because almost every time, the service sours the experience. In fact, a friend of mine tried to price the place for a party once, but wound up moving on to other options when it quickly became apparent that no one was ever going to get back to her about pricing and options. Ever.
That said, the food really is the closest thing you’re going to get to real Cajun food in the Midwest. Is it authentic? I wouldn’t know. Is it flavorful, memorable and special? Abso-freaking-lutely.
Plus, the place sort of looks like the French Quarter/Cajun Applebee’s exploded inside. It’s kitschy, sure, but it’s fun. And you don’t have to flash anyone for the beads. They also have live bands playing on the weekends.
The menu is wide-ranging and packed full of expected fare like po’ boys, Cajun fried and blackened dishes and the requisite spicy seafood mixes. The place even boasts its own hot sauce and spice mix (the spice mix is fantastic.
I’ve tried a number of things on the menu, but have found my favorites and generally stick to those when I order. But before I get into those, I’d like to take a minute to let you know that sometimes soft, white bread paired with a seasoned, creamy butter is the best starter ever. Why is something so simple, so damn good? I think they may use the Jazz seasoning spice mix in the butter, but I’m not sure. My husband and I polished off two baskets while we were waiting for our food (which came out, by the way, in a very reasonable amount of time).
I ordered the Coonass Chicken, and I’d like to tell you that according to the “Cajun Dictionary” listed in the menu “coonass” is how Cajuns refer to themselves, but in the case of the food, it refers to a garlic butter scallion sauce with “shrimp and krab” (yeah, I’m not sure why it’s spelled with a “k” either). I’d also like to tell you that the crispy, spicy, fried tender chicken breast smothered in the garlic butter scallion sauce, dotted with shrimp and krab and swimming in herby rice is – well – it’s heaven on a plate. Tip: even the half-portions are well endowed, especially after stuffing bread in your face. I ordered the half and still had plenty for lunch the next day. This dish is one of my favorites in any restaurant, ever.
And who knew that simple mixed vegetables like zucchini, squash and broccoli sauteed with a bit of oil or butter and sprinkled with Cajun seasoning could be so, so delicious. Veggie sides often are “throw-away” parts of the meal, ones you only eat if you happen to have room and often treated as a garnish (at least by me anyway), but these vegetables vie strongly to be the star on the plate.
I also had a few hush puppies on the side – a crispy little treat served with a spicy sauce that everything winds up being dipped into eventually.
My husband ordered the Cajun Stir Fry with chicken, another favorite of mine as well. It’s like Asian-Cajun fusion – just the right amount of spice, with a slight teriyaki flavor going on, but enough Cajun to remind you where you are. The dish is a nice and inventive twist on what could be a plain old stir fry. Thankfully, this rises above to something you’d think about after eating it. Again, the portion is generous, so two meals for the price of one is a bonus.
So, in the end it’s a toss-up. If you want Cajun food in Omaha, this is the place to go. But only if you can tolerate hit-or-miss service. My opinion: the food makes up for it.
And you will, eventually, get to the food.