Kitchen Table — a new lunch and dinner spot in downtown Omaha — is the kind of place that can change how people eat.
Its small menu varies almost daily and is full of locally raised food that's in season at the moment it's served. Almost everything, including bread, jam, nut butter and salad dressing, is made in house.
Owners Colin and Jessica Duggan are serving this thoughtful menu at a rather unbelievable price point for a lunch in downtown Omaha: Most items ring up for less than $10.
“We decided we could either spend money on labor or on food,” said Colin, who is also the chef. “We decided to spend it on food and do the labor ourselves. There is a lot that goes into it. We love it.”
It's clear the Duggans love it. So did the people who lined up to the small restaurant's door during two recent lunch hours. And so did I.
If this is the direction Omaha fast-casual dining is moving, toward something down-to-earth, seasonally driven, affordable and delicious, I'll be more than happy to wait in line.
Kitchen Table's menu is modern and vintage at once.
Deviled eggs, ants on a log and pimento cheese sit next to a locally focused, artisan cheese plate and grilled bruschetta.
A creative meatless sandwich spread with sprouted chickpea pesto sits next to a classic hot meatloaf sandwich.
There's peanut butter and jelly next to panzanella, an Italian salad made with summer vegetables and chunks of bread.
Opening a locally focused creative restaurant in Omaha used to seem like a pipe dream to the couple. But that changed.
“Whenever we were back over the past eight or nine years, we saw the great steps that were happening here,” Colin said. “We saw more focus on shopping at markets and more focus on artisan food.”
Their farm-to-table concept at a lower price than others who do the same kind of cooking — think The Grey Plume — is changing the scene even more.
I liked everything I tried on two lunch visits and one to-go dinner.
A warm, thick slice of homemade meatloaf is the heart of the meatloaf sandwich, which I devoured one day for lunch. The meatloaf, firm and nicely textured, came topped with a savory slice of white cheddar, a pile of thin-sliced carrots and celery, an onion-tinged aioli and a sweet, house-made steak sauce. Like almost every sandwich, it's made using the house levain bread that's grill-toasted. Layered, distinct flavors mixed with homey touches made the sandwich modern instead of muddled.
The meatless squashed jam sandwich was different but equally satisfying. Marinated, grilled summer squash cooked to tender came topped with mozzarella cheese; sprouted chickpea pesto, which had a fresh, savory flavor; and smoky roasted red pepper jam. The ingredients were neatly tucked between two slices of toasted house bread and served wrapped in brown paper, like all the sandwiches, which made eating easier. The meaty squash and creative condiments satisfied.
The real star of the sandwich menu, though, is The Whole Bird, Colin's twist on the sometimes-flavorless grilled chicken on a bun.
“I was tired of a healthy chicken sandwich,” he said, laughing. “I wanted to fly in the face of that.”
Tender seared chicken breast, confit chicken leg cooked in its own juices and crispy chicken skin make the sandwich juicy and crunchy at once. The yolk of a fried egg binds things together and acts as a sauce and a pile of greens lightens the load. Toasted bread holds it together. It's salty, savory and rather decadent. My husband described it as “damn tasty”; I couldn't think of anything more to say.
All the sandwiches come served with a pile of warm, seasoned popcorn and a small pile of house pickled vegetables, such as carrots and cucumbers. None are more than $9.
Colin cooked at many Omaha restaurants before he and Jessica opened Kitchen Table this spring, including La Buvette and Liberty Tavern as well as the now-closed Brass Grille, Wheelers and Bomba Dia. He moved from Omaha to Missouri for two years and worked at a second location of Liberty Tavern. Most recently he was chef at the Urban Tavern in San Francisco.
The big change he saw in Omaha, he said, was that instead of getting the best ingredients from far-away places, chefs were aiming to get the best ingredients from the closest place possible — from Nebraska.
The Duggans started to look for a spot two years ago, while still living in San Francisco, and found the long, narrow bay at 1415 Farnam St. in October 2012.
They moved back to Omaha in February, started doing Google searches to find local farmers to work with and began renovating the restaurant into the warm, charming space it is today.
The walls are paneled with old brick and repurposed wood. Banquette seating lines the west wall, and about half of the east wall is covered with a built-in planter bursting with greenery. Diners order off a chalkboard adjacent to the raised counter. Colin cooks in an open kitchen, and Jessica works the front of the house, delivering orders and greeting customers.
The Duggans are working with a laundry list of local farmers. The chicken comes from Plum Creek Farm near Burchard, Neb. Greens, vegetables and herbs come from Big Muddy Urban Farm, Blooms Organic, Pin Oak Place and Squeaky Green Organics, all in Omaha. Truebridge Foods in Omaha provides pork. They get steel head trout from Blue Valley Aquaculture, near Sutton. Cheeses come from Branched Oak Farm, in Raymond, and Frisian Farms in Oskaloosa, Iowa.
My sister sampled some of those cheeses in the 211 Cheese Salad at lunch one day. Two hunks of local cheese — one soft, stinky blooming, the other mild Gouda — and house bread covered one side of the plate. On the other side were two delicious salads. A pile of fresh, green, sprouted chickpeas and grains added nuttiness and crunch to the otherwise simple greens, and a house-made mustard vinaigrette brought zest. And a Christmas bean and tomato salad had bright, herbaceous flavor and contrasting texture — my sister could have eaten twice as much as she got. Another day, another friend tried the green salad with the mustard dressing a la carte with a side order of one of the snacks and left just as satisfied.
The Duggans said the 211 salad is inspired by one of their favorite San Francisco restaurants, Pizzetta 211, which has a similar dish. Our only complaint that day was that the house bread was a bit too charred from the grill.
The snacks portion of the menu — smaller than full appetizers but enough to share a bite or two — are mostly nostalgic dishes that the Duggans remember eating when they grew up.
Deviled eggs were cut in half across the middle and stuffed beyond the brim with mustardy, eggy filling. The pimento cheese looked like it came straight from a 1960s Lutheran church cookbook, and I loved every bite. Ants on a log took my friend back to childhood packed lunches. And a caramelized onion dip that's since gone from the menu was like a yummier, creamier version of packaged stuff.
At dinner one evening, my husband and I brought home a grilled pizza topped with sweet corn from Pin Oak Place, whole anchovies, house-made ricotta and mushrooms.
The pizza was good for a place not focused on pizza, and the sweet pops of flavor from the summer corn meshed well with the mild cheese and salty anchovies. The crust was thin, almost like a flat bread, and had a nice, chewy edge.
Though the restaurant was empty when we took our food to go that night, the Duggans said they plan to continue the dinner service and hope to get the word out for people wanting to take home an after-work meal or grab a bite pre-theater. The dinner menu is a bit more complex than the lunch offerings; Kitchen Table also serves Sunday morning brunch, which the Duggans said is also catching on with locals.
Kitchen Table occupies a new, just-developing spot in downtown Omaha dining. It's not a fancy Old Market place that requires a reservation; it's also not Subway or Jimmy Johns. Alongside Block 16, it's affordable, it's local, it's fast and creative. It's delicious. I hope it's not the last of its kind, the kind of place that takes the notion of what eating in downtown Omaha can and should be and turns it on its head.
Kitchen Table is definitely in the conversation for one of the best new places to open in the city this year.
You might have to wait in line. I'll be there, waiting with you.