I took one for the readers last week at the Burlington League, a new gastropub-meets-sports-bar on South 10th Street.
I went straight for what seemed like the riskiest, most outrageous item on the restaurant’s menu: the macaroni and cheese burger, figuring that I would either be really surprised or really disappointed, because with a food item like that one, there is no in between.
The burger arrived pleasantly medium rare, as requested, topped with a pile of well-seasoned cavatappi macaroni and cheese, the whole thing sandwiched by a soft-toasted brioche bun and served with a basket of hand-cut, salty fries.
Not too shabby, Burlington League. Not too shabby at all.
That burger set a theme for my visits to the restaurant, a well-designed, comfortable corner bar that’s putting out surprisingly good food using homemade ingredients. There’s lots of risky, borderline state-fair dishes (hello, corn dogs) on the restaurant’s menu, but they’re elevated versions that are well-executed to boot.
Like that burger. The man behind the bar that evening carefully timed our order, which also included a round of broasted chicken wings, so that the wings came out first and the burger second. He reminded the kitchen a second time — “medium-rare burger” — ensuring that’s what we got. And he answered our questions with humor and knowledge; that’s the kind of service we found across the board.
The restaurant’s broasted wings are made using a pressure cooker, which produces a healthier yet no less tasty alternative to fried wings. I liked their moist-crisp texture and meaty flavor, but I wished I’d gone for a spicier sauce. The house “TBL” sauce, which our server described as a sweet Buffalo sauce, fell flat.
The dipping sauces for the wings made up for it: a chunky blue cheese and a dill-spiked ranch were both tasty, and both are made in house, along with many of the restaurant’s other sauces, owner Jamie Pogge said.
The aforementioned macaroni and cheese burger is, in short, insanity on a plate. I asked my dining partner if he wanted to tackle cutting it in half — we decided to share one instead of ordering two.
“No,” he said. “That’s my nightmare.”
So I went after it, slicing through the thick pink patty, tomato, lettuce and a crisp onion ring on the way down. Eating this sandwich is definitely a knife-and-fork situation, and the best bites were the ones where I stabbed a bit of burger, a bit of bun and a bit of mac. I appreciated that each individual element of the burger had its own flavor: beefy patty, garlicy mac and cheese and crisp, oniony ring.
Pogge said she and her fiancé, Terry Waschinek, who owns the building where her restaurant is situated, travel a lot and look forward to eating in other cities. Her menu is inspired by those travels. She also wanted her restaurant to be a sports-focused spot that still offers atmosphere, she said.
The menu started with just five items, and Pogge has expanded it from there.
There’s a decent wine list, at least for a sports bar, as well as a long beer list. We opted one night for two perfect Manhattans, which arrived, as they should, a balance between bitter and sweet because of the recipe that uses both sweet and dry vermouths. Each came topped with a thick twirl of lemon peel. Another night, we ordered a serviceable glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a locally brewed Nebraska Brewing Company Cardinal Pale Ale.
Being a design-inclined woman, the friend I met for dinner one night first noted the interesting fixtures in the space: a chandelier with big drops of glass hanging in one corner; textured wall treatments, comfortable chairs and flattering lighting. Below the bar is a long strip of plugs, convenient for those who need an iPhone charge.
My friend — a lover of state-fair food to begin with — zoned in immediately on the corn dogs and pretzel bites, so we ordered both. The corn dogs arrived, to our surprise, full-sized. Three to an order, they are lightly hand-breaded, and the dogs themselves are all beef with a pleasant snap. They come with bowls of grainy mustard and ketchup. Pogge said the dogs are breaded in-house.
The pretzel bites, small rounds with tender interiors and chewy outsides, were good, though we both would have liked more coarse salt on the rounds. They, too, came with more good sauces: the same grainy mustard and a creamy cheddar cheese sauce topped with sliced scallion.
The sandwiches at the restaurant were just as good. A broasted chicken sandwich arrived searingly hot with a light, super-crispy exterior and topped with lettuce, tomato and thin-sliced pickle. In contrast to the broasted wings, this sandwich had more of a traditional fried chicken crust, albeit one light and not greasy.
“The bites with all the stuff,” my friend said of her breaded fish sandwich, “are the best bites.”
Indeed, her large sandwich came loaded with lettuce, tomato and an herb-spiked tartar sauce, which next to the hand-breaded, light and crisp fish made for a satisfying experience.
Pogge is smart to take inspiration from elsewhere and bring it to Omaha and execute at a high level. You can be assured when ordering that you won’t have to take a risk like I did. The Burlington League is a keeper.
The Burlington league
Address: 1002 S. 10th St.
Hours: Monday through Thursday 3 p.m. to midnight, Friday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Hits: I was skeptical about the macaroni and cheese burger, but color me converted. Broasted wings are a tasty alternative to fried wings.
Misses: The sauce on a plate of broasted wings fell flat, and a plate of pretzel bites lacked salt.
Drinks: The bar has decent lists of both wine and beer, with many local options for beer. There’s also a house cocktail list.
Prices: Reasonable for bar food, especially with so many house-made elements.
Noise level: Quiet, especially for a sports-focused bar. I had no problem chatting with a friend even when the dining room was more than half full.