Hunkered down inside Gorat’s Steak House on a random Tuesday night, it’s not hard to find the occasional business traveler who’s usually faced with a plate generously laden with crisp, golden shredded potatoes, tube-shaped pasta glistening with bright red tomato sauce, and most importantly, a tender hunk of filet which the kitchen has prepared to a true “medium rare:” pink around the edge with much of the inside still red. When asked about the choice to visit this establishment instead of any one of the other hundreds of choices, most out-of-towners will simply respond, “when in Omaha, you gotta have a steak.”
And of course that makes sense. The industry that made Omaha synonymous with prime cuts of cow was a boon to the city, growing exponentially in the early twentieth century when times were often tough elsewhere, reaching such big-time proportions that it became the largest of its kind—in the world—by 1955. Without this, Omaha would be a very different place, and perhaps not nearly as comfortable of a home to hang one’s hat. Beef brought jobs. Jobs brought people. People eat beef.
In turn, more than 50 years after the pinnacle of prosperity, people still write magazine articles about Omaha’s famoussteaks, tinged with nostalgia about what once was. Nostalgia matters, and the handful of old-school steakhouses still alive and kicking represent a time in Omaha’s past deserving of celebration. But the ghosts of the city’s first restaurateurs would agree that progress matters, too, and change is good. And maybe, just maybe, Omaha could stand to be known for something other than prime cuts of beef, juicy and grilled to perfection.
This story starts with the stockyards and steakhouses, winds its way through some of Omaha’s longstanding neighborhoods, breaks down a remarkable passion for pizza, settles the score on the Reuben being invented anywhere other than Omaha, examines the way Omaha does farm-to-table dining with true midwestern panache, and talks about how it’s possible to be a fast food test market heralded for an outstandingly average palate and home to numerous nationally recognized chefs making headlines at the exact same time.
Omahans will appreciate getting to know the creative minds behind their food, and non-Omahans will be left eager to dig in at the first opportunity. The beautifully illustrated recipes straight from local chefs will complement any home cook’s recipe roster. And the photos will make you hungry. Very hungry.
Omaha-based writer Rachel P. Grace has always loved cooking—other people’s cooking, that is. Something like 13 years in the restaurant industry will do that to you. After a while, anything not cooked in a commercial kitchen feels pretty blasé. (“If my bisque doesn’t come garnished with crispy pancetta and three dots of basil oil served with a doily underliner prepared by the weathered hands of a sous chef, forget it.”) Even after bidding adieu to the industry for a career as a writer/producer, food remained one of her favorite things, right up there with beer and coffee. So in 2011, she started up a food blog called “Fat in Omaha,” giving her friends something to refer to when they couldn’t decide where to have lunch. It turns out lots of people found such a blog useful, and Rachel wrote for Omahype and the Reader before settling into what would become the first book devoted entirely to Omaha’s restaurants. Most of her time is spent—in some way or another—hyping the city, throwing events, and helping promote talented people who are doing great things.