It’s been a long year for restaurants, chefs, owners and the service industry workers who have fought through the 2020 pandemic. It’s been a long year for diners, too, trying to support the restaurants and bars we care about most to make sure they stay open. Business owners pivoted once in the spring, and then again and again, as the weather cooled and the pandemic continued. By now, most of them are exhausted, and with good reason.
It’s a lot to look back on — we’re still in it, to be honest — so I don’t want to act like it’s over. I also know that before the pandemic ends, there could certainly be more restaurants to add to this list.
Year’s end always gives us a chance to look back on what we most enjoyed (we will do that too!) but also what we lost, and here are five spots that 2020 took from us that I’ll miss the most going forward.
Baela Rose, The Dundee Dell and Marks
The 2020 pandemic changed the Dundee dining scene, undeniably. It feels like The Dell’s closing, in July, was the first real sign of what might be coming. It had been a neighborhood beer, scotch and fish and chips watering hole for more than 100 years, and in some ways, was a big part of the Dundee neighborhood’s identity.
I think lots of midtowners felt the same way about Marks. I know I did when I lived down the street. That cozy, charming second level dining room — a rarity in Omaha — gave you such a beautiful view of Underwood Avenue, no matter the season. And I’ll still argue their macaroni and cheese as one of the best this city had ever seen. They’ve made an interesting pivot, and opened a bottle shop and dry goods outfitter on the first floor space of their building. I’m looking forward to checking it out in 2021.
Baela Rose, which quietly closed in 2020, never got the attention I thought it deserved. Chef Kyle Anderson took the fine dining experience, including beautifully plated seasonal ingredients, and made it both more affordable and more approachable than most Omaha diners had seen before. You didn’t need to wait for an anniversary or birthday to justify dinner there; the price point worked on a random Tuesday, too. Every friend I took there devoured the $5 bowl of veggie chips. I loved how the kitchen handled fresh fish.
What’s next in Dundee I’m not sure, but as one of Omaha’s prettiest and most visited neighborhoods, I anticipate — I hope — 2021 brings some new restaurants to the strip of Underwood between 49th and 51st.
When Forno opened in the Blackstone District in 2019, replacing an earlier midtown version of Dante Ristorante, I was excited. It was similar to chef Nick Strawhecker’s excellent west Omaha Italian spot, but with some of its own originality, including tigelle, an Italian bread that was the focus of sandwiches, a cheese and meat plate and, eventually brunch. Forno closed in May, and since then, those standout items have been recreated on the Dante menu out west.
Its closure is a look at restaurant economics and Omaha neighborhoods, and how a concept can thrive in one part of town and stall in another. Forno, like so many other restaurants, also ran into challenges with state regulations that limited seating and required tables to be distanced.
The Grey Plume
The Grey Plume will always mark a specific period in Omaha dining in my memory. The first years I worked and wrote about food in our city, The Grey Plume was on everyone’s lips, and on everyone’s reservation wish list when it was their birthday, anniversary or when they had an out-of-town visitor. It was also the most-talked about place among food writers I know outside of Omaha, and I think most of my journalist friends dined there at least once, thanks to all the national media attention the restaurant got. In some way, it put Omaha on the national dining map.
We dined there for many special events over the years, plus spent many an evening there sitting at the Plume’s bar, particularly after it introduced a lower-priced but still well-executed bar menu of things like burgers, hot dogs and truffle popcorn.
I’m eager to see what’s next in Omaha’s food scene, post-pandemic. Whatever it might be, I’ll be writing about it in 2021.