Blatt Beer and Table isn't yet on the city's radar.
It was packed this summer, when I first reviewed the abbreviated menu of just four items it served during the College World Series.
But since the series, the crowds have eased. Tony Gentile, the executive chef for Flagship Restaurant Group, said business at the restaurant has been going as well as expected.
“Unless they're down here for an event, people don't think ‘Hey, let's go down by the ballpark and get something to eat,'” he said.
That's true — on both my visits, on a weekday evening and a Sunday afternoon, the restaurant was never more than a fourth full.
But people should start thinking about dining in north downtown, because Blatt is serving a creative menu of mostly really tasty and definitely unexpected pub food. Couple that menu with an impressive lineup of tap and bottled beers that is unequaled at other local restaurants, as far as I know, and what you get is a great concept in a challenging location.
The restaurant is almost literally in the shadow of TD Ameritrade Stadium, in a new brick building designed in the style of many older structures downtown. A rooftop beer garden was the place to be during the series; it was empty during my visits.
Inside, the restaurant is rustic-meets-modern, a contemporary pub with lots of brick and metal and big, old-timey black-and-white prints on the walls. It has just two television sets, not enough to push it into sports bar territory.
On our first visit, we sat at a corner table near the open garage door on the west side of the restaurant. I like the atmosphere at Blatt — it's tongue-in-cheek but not cheesy.
We started our first meal with the only real dud we encountered, the kale salad.
If I didn't already know I liked kale, this salad would have done nothing to change my mind.
Partially cooked wilted leaves at room temperature were too tough to cut with a butter knife, but too large to shove in your mouth whole. A wan coriander and white balsamic vinaigrette dressing didn't do anything for me, and the whole thing came off bland and greasy. Crisp apples weren't enough to salvage it.
Gentile said the leaves should have been chopped more, and the salad likely needed a longer cooking time. The kale is sautéed with garlic and onion, then deglazed with brandy, he said. He said he wants to take the dish back to the drawing board.
Things got better from there.
I loved the salmon gravlax BLT, two slider-sized sandwiches on pretzel buns with a mayo-based aioli. The salmon, deeply smoky, paired well with the salty bacon, in the same way that lox and capers play well on a soft bagel. The sandwiches got a bit slippery once I started eating, but I got over it. Homemade salt and vinegar chips tasted just like they should taste, and serving them warm was brilliant — it intensified their already strong flavor.
The Dixie fried chicken sandwich was another hit.
It's a chicken version of the classic pork tenderloin sandwich, and though my husband thought the breading was a bit bland, the rest was spot-on: Tender meat, high-quality lettuce and tomato and a soft brioche bun.
We came back on Sunday, during the restaurant's all-day happy hour.
Chicken and waffles isn't on a lot of menus in Omaha, and Blatt's take on this classic is contemporary.
I loved the cornbread waffle — the crumbly inside and crispy outside was unexpected. Though it was studded all the way through with jalapeńos, I didn't taste the expected heat, but the unusual texture was really satisfying.
I was less thrilled with the bone-in fried chicken wings, which, while hot and juicy, lacked flavor. I ate only one.
Gentile told me the dish has gone through some changes, and it's meant to be eaten all together with your hands.
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I did pick up the triangular waffles — which were already coated in a tangy orange compound butter — dipped them in the maple syrup and ate them with my fingers, but I didn't combine the waffles with the chicken or the side of gravy, which is supposed to be the point.
He said Blatt used to serve a boneless chicken tender with the waffles, so diners could make it into a sandwich, and I think I may have preferred that, even though bone-in chicken is tradition.
The Blatt burger was great: tender, meaty and perfectly cooked. The toppings, grilled onions and smoked cheddar, didn't overpower the taste of the burger itself. Again, the lettuce and tomato were high-quality.
I asked Gentile about the choice to serve it on a brioche bun.
“I think the brioche bun is getting a little played out,” he said. But the burger, decidedly high-end, just didn't work with a plain white bun, he said.
The kitchen works hard to ensure that the bun is crispy on both sides and both top and bottom, and ours was at first, though with tender, buttery brioche and a rich burger, sogginess is unavoidable.
Blatt is doing the gastropub trend in a way that is both creative and approachable. I liked most of what I found there; now, the city just has to find it.
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