By Karri L. Moser
Our family spent 12 years completely immersed in New England and everything colonial. We explored and learned everything about the Revolutionary War, colonial settlements, light houses, sea captains and their homes that dotted the shores, and we walked the paths of the pilgrims. We ate lobster, made blueberry pies, and picked apples at orchards in Massachusetts and Maine. Then, the Army decided it was time to move us again, just when our taste buds couldn’t get any more New England-ized. This time, we would be uprooted from near the rocky shores we had come to love and be transported westward. In the spirit of those early explorers and pioneers, we were to pick up and trek to the heartland. We were getting stationed in Omaha, Nebraska.
I soon discovered that I and everyone else around me knew nothing about Nebraska in general, much less the city of Omaha. Sean would be assigned to the MEPS there and we would live in military housing for Offut Air Force Base in Bellevue, 10 miles south of the city. I cried at the thought. I assumed corn fields as far as the eye could see. I assumed boredom and blandness. I assumed years of a bleak existence in Tornado Alley. I was so wrong and it didn’t take me or my family long to realize it. There’s a reason those pioneers who left New England to venture to the plains never came back, why they put down roots and created what is now one of my favorite places. Omaha is a hidden gem that no one expects until they are in the midst of it and only those who have set foot there can fully appreciate. It is an under-appreciated culinary gem thanks in large part to steak.
Lewis and Clark passed by the site of the future city in 1804 and the actual town was founded in 1854. It quickly grew to be an essential part of the transcontinental railroad and became the mid-point between the east and west. The railroads and breweries made it a quirky hodge-podge town, while the thriving stockyards made it a success and source of beef for the whole country. At one point, the Omaha Stockyards were the largest in the world.
It’s easy to see that they take this beef heritage seriously in Omaha once you notice the vast amount of steakhouses. These are not your ordinary chain steakhouses you see in every town in America. The steakhouses in Omaha are hypnotizing, addictive really. Paragraphs on the menus describe the cuts of meat, the marble of tissue, depth of color and age, and the history and lineage of the cattle the exact cut comes from. As someone who really didn’t have a love of steak, I learned to appreciate the details, tastes, style it was cooked, and what to pair certain types of steak with. Like fine wine, cigars, or bourbon, you learn to savor each piece and justify the price. You learn to relish the heritage and pride in which these steakhouses present a cut of meat as if they are presenting works of art. Since leaving, I haven’t tasted steak or any cut of beef that is quite the same.
When you mention Omaha and steak, my husband and I both light up and immediately think of Brother Sebastian’s, our personal favorite of the ones we tried in the city. It was set up like an old monastery with towering stones, wooden beams, and echoes of chants playing as cloaked waiters showed you around. There were several rooms to choose from when it came to ambiance. My favorite was the library. There was a wine room, brewery room, and other spaces all intimate and inviting. Candles and wall torches lit the passage ways and each small room. Fireplaces flickered in each, also. You felt part of a secret society from hundreds of years ago when sitting by the firelight choosing wine and listening to the descriptions of the marbling and age of the meat. We always ordered a meal for two that came out on one giant pewter-type platter. The steak was enormous and a deep rich red seared to the point of perfection. Vegetables overflowed on all sides with crisp browned potato chunks interspersed around the edges. Wine and more wine would arrive as the monk-waiter would cut through the steak and put half on my plate and half on Sean’s. Just like with wine, the waiter would wait until you tasted a cut and approved of the piece before leaving the table.
I had never been much of a steak eater, certainly not if any red or pink was to be found. But, after learning the depth of character in each piece, how the cattle’s past and environment affect hidden flavors, and how the cooking process unleashes a different texture, I became one, just as I became a seafood lover while living in Massachusetts and Maine. That was the beauty of being transported out west. We adapted. We learned. We experienced. We appreciated what was different rather than mourning what we could no longer have, like fresh lobster. We found so much more that made Omaha great and Nebraska fascinating in general, more that made it clear why so many settlers stopped and made it their home. It was our home for almost two years, but we could have easily stayed forever for so many reasons. Our taste buds would have certainly thanked us if we had.