As much as we would love to do a bit of traveling this fall, it still isn’t safe, so we’re staying socially distanced and doing our traveling retrospectively. We have such fond recollections of all of our trips, we decided to start our blog series highlighting Favorite Journey Jaunts, with tales and photos of our most talked-about excursions of recent years. Please join us for this enjoyable look back.
For this, our fourth installment, we’re looking at a favorite trip from 2019: Steakhouses, Symphony, and Midtown Men (also known as the Uptown Tour). We didn’t go far, but we really stretched the concept of a fun little day trip! We partnered with Omaha Culinary Tours and Omaha Symphony for an extraordinary afternoon and evening, starting with a lively, engaging tour of some of Omaha’s most historic restaurants. If you have never been on a culinary tour, I encourage you to try one as soon as that facet of tourism resumes — and Omaha Culinary Tours is among the best. Over the course of a culinary tour, you visit a number of restaurants and receive a small(ish) bite at each, causing one to wonder in the beginning if you’ll ever get full, and to wonder again, later in the tour, if you’ll be able to climb the stairs on the coach without popping a button.
The theme of the tour was Classic Steakhouses, but we made some slight variations for reasons that will soon become apparent. For example, we started at the Crescent Moon Ale House in the Blackstone District, enjoying delectable Reuben sandwiches right across the street from the historic Blackstone Hotel, where they were invented. The story goes that this delicious melt was dreamed up by a local grocer named Reuben to feed some hungry poker players, and the kitchen manager put it on the menu. After Reubens, tasty beverages, and some Blackstone District lore, we were off to the next stop.
We arrived at Cascio’s Italian Steakhouse ready for steak and more history. We were not disappointed on either count. Alfie Cascio, a third-generation owner who has worked in the restaurant since he was 14, is a magnanimous host and consummate storyteller. Family has been at the heart of his business since day one, and he had lots to share — he was also, apparently, something of a junior bootlegger. Our delicious steak portions were served with pasta and homemade sauce, bakery-fresh bread, and lots of laughter. We even got a kitchen tour!
Much like Cascio’s, Gorat’s has been serving steaks and Italian specialties to Omaha’s discerning palates for more than 70 years. Purchased in 2012 from the original owners by longtime restaurateur Gene Dunn, Gorat’s got a bit of a facelift. Gene explained that they “took it back to what it was in the ‘40s and ‘50s by removing all the stuff from the 1970s.” Their menu received some updating, as well, and judging by our bourbon ribeye and onion rings, they really hit the mark. No wonder Warren Buffett likes it (yes, we heard some great stories).
Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse was our last stop, and although Johnny’s does indeed serve delicious steaks, we opted instead for dessert (you know coffee and dessert is a must on our tours). We were treated to a delicious, cinnamon-laden old-school bread pudding, piping hot coffee, and more history. As Johnny’s has been family-owned and operated since 1922, there was plenty to tell, and we were ready to listen — although by that point, we were dangerously close to slipping into a food coma. A fun feature in this 1970s-style Omaha institution is the menu wall, which chronicles the restaurant’s evolution.
By this time, we were getting close to starting time for the evening’s entertainment, so we bade farewell to Suzy from Omaha Culinary Tours and said hello to Deanna from the Holland Center, who hopped on the coach to greet us and ask how the food tour was (we let out a collective groan in response). We had tickets to The Midtown Men, which is the original cast of Jersey Boys singing all our faves from the ‘60s. We had been singing Frankie Valley hits on our way from Johnny’s, so we were primed. Now, our bus driver did a pretty fine rendition of “Walk Like a Man,” but we were ready for the real McCoy, and that performance is so fun — it’s the perfect combination of lively banter and great music. The fact that they were with Omaha Symphony, playing in a structure built specifically for the symphony’s sound, was just the cherry on top.
Journey travelers generally love a great performance, and we also love to eat, and to learn a little something. This tour checked all the boxes, and we hope you can join us when we’re rolling again. Wear something with an elastic waist!
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