Globeater - Grubbing around the Globe

En route on I-80, all covered with cheese: The goofy gastronomy of Beefstro & the La Vista Nines

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.

Ninesloadedchips

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.

NinesAlfredo

While the Director’s “margarita”

NinesMargherita

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!

The Nines on Urbanspoon

***

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

Beefstrosign !!

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

BeefstroCaesar

see? awkward!

sprinkled with green-can parm
&

salt-lipped baked potatoes. Beefstropotato

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.

River City Beefstro Bar Grille on Urbanspoon

Dispatch from a suspicious oasis: Venue, Kearney, NE

Driving home through Nebraska from Cedar Rapids, we’d planned to return to the

Truck – Paradise-philippines

semi-paradise

we’d found on the way there in Grand Island—a name so topographically off it might as well have applied to the local landmark that was the stand-alone buffet at the Holiday Inn, oozing dressings, gravies, glazes & fillings over every dish like lava covering straw huts. But upon reaching city limits sooner than expected, we decided to press another 40 min. onward to the Holiday Inn in even smaller Kearney—picturing all the while an even downhomier buffet whereupon the average item would surely boast an average of 2 products made by Smucker’s, Durkee &/or Kraft, sometimes 3.

Checking in, though, I was intrigued by the relative luxury of the lobby: matching armchairs, a flickering fireplace, chessboards & coffee table books strewn among ornate

HIobjets

faux antiques.

I was even more intrigued when I got a load of the mod logo on the dining voucher the receptionist handed me—

Venuecard

good for 1 free drink or 10% off our meal. Was this some kind of show of class?

Short answer: yeah, ish!

KearneyBar

contemporary glass vases in fun colors & shapes

Venueart

contemporary art vaguely reminiscent of

Lightforms

Matta

Long answer: we started with wine from a real live list, with non-merlots & everything,

P1020302

served in logo-etched glasses

Venuewine

with focaccia that erred a little on the airy side, & came with butter rather than olive oil, but still, warm & fresh, it was a nice try.

Venuebread

Snobbishly uncomfortable with being mildly impressed so far, I ordered some crabcakes with remoulade & honey-jalapeno dipping sauces, envisioning breadcrumb-coated breadcrumb patties accompanied by ramekins filled with some ratio of Smucker’s to Kraft (what, no Durkee?) that I could ridicule with relieved abandon.

Venuecrabcakes

Instead I found myself chowing down on the real thing—not without a little filler, but not without sufficient crab flavor either; & as for the dips, both were quite distinctive, creamy with a subtle touch of sweetness & a stronger one of heat.

The Italian chopped salad I followed it up with was likewise the real thing—the exercise in balance that a main course salad should be, with generous amounts of salami, pepperoni, hard-cooked egg & tomato (along with lesser portions of cucumber & parmesan), but plenty of green as well; housemade croutons were a bit salty, but their cornbread-like texture was a pleasure.

Venuesalad

The Director’s medium-rare filet mignon, meanwhile, was almost special, with a fierce sear, a magenta interior & a side of remarkably fluffy piped garlic–white cheddar mashed potatoes. Meat & potatoes are meat & potatoes until they’re not.

Venuesteak

Practicing my recently espoused philosophy of sugar-snarfing, I asked to see the dessert list; our waitress returned with a sample tray. At a Holiday Inn on I-80 in Kearney, Nebraska, they’re bringing round the silver like it was the Savoy. Such an incongruous gesture of formality was touching, but not because it was delusional; my peanut butter mousse cake was lovely, really—the layers very chocolatey, not merely sweet, & the filling very peanutty, not merely creamy.

Venuecake

Much to my own sheepish amusement, I really have to recommend Venue. I don’t recommend I-80, but if you’ve got to take it, you might as well do it in style.