With all the trekking we do through Nebraska en route to Iowa & Michigan & back, the Director & I keep track of our roadside options. Going chowish isn’t really 1 of them, a) because crawling the byroads & backways in search of the troves of chicken shacks, chili emporiums & custard stands they undoubtedly spill forth is only as romantic as one’s willingness to postpone happy hour after all the dreary ones on the road is firm—i.e. not very—& b) because I actually have an abiding fondness for chain hotel lounges in their anonymous sameness (as I’ve detailed here). There’s just something so calming about the bland decor, so appealing about the weird stabs at glorifying American bar snacks & staples.
Actually, though, at The West Omaha Embassy Conference Hotel, the results aren’t half so clumsy as the burnt-orange lobby space the La Vista Nines occupies. Granted, they’re not masterful either—despite the website’s claim that they’re “all prepared by our master chef from Germany!”—being as they are the exceptions to the largely rote rule of the menu: lemon-caper chicken, pork chops in gravy, club sandwiches, etc., with lots of wild rice medleys & buttered green beans tossed in for good measure. Still, there were the quirks I seek. A salad of baby field greens with pan-fried goat cheese, shiitakes, spicy walnuts, tomatoes & honey-thyme vinaigrette, for instance, or tropical fruit sorbets drizzled with chilled vodka.
Or the Cajun potato chips.
Inspired (like so much that’s good & true in the world) by nachos, they’re hand-cut & fresh-fried to golden-brown, bubbly warped disks; smothered in cheese, crumbled Andouille sausage & green onions; & served with, of all things, a fairly spicy remoulade & a chunky, pinkish, but interesting black-eyed pea dip.
Or—I can’t believe I’m admitting this on national TV—the Alfredo flatbread.
While the Director’s “margarita”
was a travesty of the Americanized name—cheddar, basil flakes & tomatoes stuck in a glue of mozz does not a margherita make—my choice was gloriously honest in its gluttony, topped not only with the glut of gut-destruction that is Alfredo (butter, cream & parm) but also yet more mozz, plus bits of grilled chicken & red onion. Ugh! Yay!
Familiar as I am with a few of Iowa City’s diamond dives, it came as a self-surprise that my soft spot for schlock is firmer even than my devotion to dumps. But there you have it: standing between me (with pal Joey) & the likes of George’s, the Deadwood & the Foxhead, only moments away, was
I was powerless to resist.
Not that it offered much beyond the opportunity to say I was there. Sort of a steakhouse, Beefstro looks like a cross between the lobby of a ski lodge & a heartland diner; plods along servicewise; & engages in such exercises in awkwardness as
a chicken Caesar whose supposed grilled hearts of romaine turned out to be raw halved heads of romaine
sprinkled with green-can parm
Is this a common flourish I’ve somehow missed? Did someone mistake my spud for a margarita glass? Not that I minded—that’s 1 less garnishing hand-motion for me! Therein lies my compliment to the chef.