If you’re looking for upscale bar food at reasonable prices, then Omaha Tap House may be a good bet. Last week I (plus my husband and my friend) was invited to the new gastropub at 14th & Farnam to sample the food and beverages at a private grand opening event. I’m happy to say I don’t feel obligated to give a good review since I received free food and drinks – because the restaurant has a good thing going regardless.
Omaha Tap House, which opens today, promises starters like Pig Wings and Short Rib Nachos, a variety of specialty burgers including a Wild Mushroom burger, Brown Sugar Burger and Roasted Beet burger, salads like the Salmon Bacon Ranch or Roasted Pear, a Pork & Pickle and Rotisserie Chicken and Honey Basil sandwiches, plus other inventive dishes like the Honey Dijon Pasta. Plus, the restaurant and bar offers 33 craft beers, a selection of wines and classic cocktails with a twist – like the Warsaw Mule.
Omaha Tap House is in a prime location in the first floor of the Paxton building in downtown Omaha and has a wall of large windows so passersby can see the hustle and bustle of activity inside. The place is an L-shaped space with a decent-sized bar, a couple of flat-screen TVs and plenty of tables and booths to accommodate a large number of people. Friday night, the place was packed with bloggers, media and, presumably, folks from the Paxton, so our dining experience was – well – it was loud. Don’t expect an intimate dining experience at Omaha Tap House; instead, expect a sort of open diner-like atmosphere. Incidentally, Speaker of the House John Boehner was dining at the steakhouse next door -- just a fun little FYI.
The wait staff was prompt and attentive, but much of that could have been attributed to the celebratory grand-opening vibe. In fact, we had more than one waiter and more than one manager-type stop by our table to see how everything was, which was lovely if a bit overdone, but probably only due to the special event. We also felt a bit rushed. Our appetizer arrived on top of our drinks, and our entrees arrived shortly after that. We also never got a chance to enjoy a second drink because of the collision of courses and constant attention at our table.
Admittedly, I showed little adventurousness in the drink department and had a white wine, which was fine as house white wines go. My husband, however, ordered a Warsaw Mule, which was a twist on the classic Moscow Mule featuring vodka, lime, mint and ginger beer in an ice cold copper mug. John really enjoyed the drink, but I found it to be far too gingery for my taste, and that’s probably just a matter of personal taste all together.
We had barely touched the Short Rib Nachos (which arrived a little on the cold side) before our main courses were plopped down in front of us, so I don’t know if the nachos got the attention they deserved. I noticed the cheese was a little cold, but that may have been because I took a few minutes to take pictures of them first (an annoying food blogger necessity), and the “house cheese sauce” resembled and tasted like good old-fashioned Velveeta. What made the nachos special was the tender short rib meat (that, incidentally, is incredibly un-photogenic) and the ice-cream-scoop-sized dollops of sour cream. Other than that, these nachos were pretty run of the mill.
We all ordered something different as our entrees so we could get a good sampling of what the gastropub offered. I had the Wild Mushroom Burger, which is a weird choice for me since I don’t like mushrooms. This burger, though, may just convince me to introduce more fungi into my diet. It was cooked perfectly (medium), so it was juicy and flavorful. The mushrooms added the expected earthiness to the burger, but if I’m being honest, the star of this sandwich was the thick slice of cheddar on top. I’m a cheese fiend, so maybe I’m biased, but that hunk-o-cheddah totally made the burger.
My husband’s Roasted Beet Burger was equally augmented by the cheese on it – this one featured goat cheese. He hadn’t had beets in years, but this burger, with its deep-red beet and tangy goat cheese was a hit. I had a taste and was impressed with the combo as well, and I’m a card-carrying beet-hater.
The fries served with both the burgers were perfectly crispy and seasoned well with something that tasted like Lawry’s. I am a fry connoisseur and these crispy spuds were the real deal.
My friend Elaine had the Honey Dijon pasta as her entrée, and I have to say, this was the most interesting dish of the bunch. Tangy, pungent and absolutely covered in cheese and loaded with grilled chicken, this pasta was one of those dishes that takes two or three bites to decide whether you love it or can’t eat another bite. If you are not a fan of Dijon mustard, this dish isn’t for you; however, if you are a fan, this pasta is absolutely a must-try – cheesy, tangy and unexpected.
Overall, the Omaha Tap House is a pleasant dining experience. I need to go back during a normal evening to truly evaluate the service and to sample other intriguing dishes on the menu, but on the first go-round, I was happily satisfied and will go back for more.