I'm figuring the last time I was in the Dundee Dell in Omaha was probably 35 years ago. It was a dive bar of the highest quality, but had some sort of an endearing atmosphere to the place. I believe it was the first place where I ever had a reuben sandwich and I sort of remember that I immediately liked what I was eating. When I found Pitch Coalfire Pizza, the pizza place that is owned by Godfather's Pizza founder Willy Thiesen, the Dundee Dell was just down the street. I made a point to go there for a sandwich at some point in the future. On a recent visit to Omaha, I had lunch at the Dundee Dell.
Dundee Dell is located at 5007 Underwood Ave. in the Dundee/Happy Hollow neighborhood of Omaha (see map). It's a bustling area both day and night and I was very lucky to get a parking spot right in front of the restaurant just after 1 p.m. When I walked in, I was immediately confused. This was not the same Dundee Dell that I remembered. And after reading some old articles on the wall, it turned out that it was not.
The original Dundee Dell was on Dodge Street, the main east-west drag through Omaha. It officially began in 1934, just after the repeal of prohibition. But Omaha historians say that it was probably open as a speakeasy before that. Three Depression-era brothers - the Cohens - were mobster/bootleggers who ran a speakeasy in the area during the height of Prohibition. They opened the Dundee Dell and ran it for a few years before selling it off.
I read somewhere that Dundee Dell had 11 different owners over the years before Pat Gobel bought the place in 1989. Gobel had an affinity for single malt scotch and began to procure bottles of rare and unique scotches to serve at his little place. He had a handful of friends who shared his passion for scotch whisky and he began serve a large number of single malts.
In 2000, Gobel bought the current property on Underwood and when he moved, he had a large parade up 50th street from the old Dundee Dell to the new location. I understand it was quite the party. The new Dundee Dell is larger and not quite as dingy as the old location. (The old location is still a bar. It's now called the Old Dundee Bar and Grill.) And his new location gave Gobel the chance to expand his liquor selection.
Today, Dundee Dell claims they have over 750 single malt scotches to choose from and served in pegs (1 ounce servings), drams (1.5 ounce servings), or full bottles. Some of the most obscure and rare single malts are available at Dundee Dell, making it a famous landmark amongst scotch aficionados both nationally and internationally. The have scotch boxes all along the walls and rafters of the place (pictured below left), as well as distillery memorabilia on the walls.
In addition to all the single malt scotch they have, Dundee Dell also boasts an incredibly large selection of liquors to choose from. If you have a favorite drink and the bartender knows how to make it, they have it. Their "Isle of Spirits" behind the bar (pictured above right) is pretty damn impressive and would make even the most modest drunk salivate.
Not only does Dundee Dell have a large single malt and liquor selection, but they also an impressive beer menu. Their beer list has over 200 different types of domestic, imported and micro-brewed craft beers to choose from. Dundee Dell is a tee-totalers worst nightmare.
Seated in a booth along the wall in the main dining area of Dundee Dell, I looked over the food menu to figure out what I wanted to eat that particular day. Of course, the reuben sandwiches are awesome at Dundee Dell, but I had been sort of "reubened out" from visits I'd had to other restaurants as of late. There were a number of sandwiches that caught my eye - the tuna melt, a French dip sandwich, and something called the "BBLT" which stood for Big Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato. They use thick slices of bacon on the BBLT and that was sort of tempting.
I wasn't really in the mood for a burger, but I got to looking at their fish section of the menu. Dundee Dell sells a lot of fish and chips dinners, it's one of their signature meals. But at the bottom of the fish menu, I noticed fish tacos. Oooo... I'm a sucker for good fish tacos, especially if they aren't breaded. The description said the cod was grilled, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's unbreaded.
When the waitress came to take my order, I asked her if the fish tacos were filled with grilled and unbreaded fish. She said, "Yes! That's exactly right. It's one of my favorite things on the menu!" So I ordered the fish tacos - two flour soft shells filled with grilled North Atlantic cod and topped with black bean salsa. Lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and a tangy chipotle ranch dressing comes on the side. I ordered a Sierra Nevada pale ale to go along with my meal.
I had just finished my Sierra Nevada when my fish tacos showed up. The cod filets were resting on the black bean salsa. And while the lettuce was fresh, I prefer cabbage on my fish tacos. Oh well, when in Omaha. I ordered another Sierra Nevada and dug in.
And quite actually, the fish tacos at Dundee Dell were very good. The cod was light and flaky and not very fishy tasting at all. With a little lettuce and tomato on top, I put a little bit of the chipotle ranch dressing on the tacos. The dressing was excellent - it had a little bit of a bite to the taste, but the fish, tomatoes and lettuce helped cut into the sharpness of the sauce. Two tacos were more than enough on a hot, dusty afternoon in Omaha. Three would have filled me up way too much, especially with a couple beers under my belt.
The Dundee Dell is one of those places that isn't fancy, but they've cut a niche in the market with the vast selection of Scotch, beers and liquors to choose from. And the food is above average, as well. The ambiance of the place is very laid back and inviting. And I was more than impressed with my fish tacos. The waitress asked me how I liked them and I said, "They were very, very good."
She said, "See? Didn't I tell you? It's my favorite summertime food here at the Dell."
35 years is too long to stay away from a place like the Dundee Dell. With Pitch just down the street and a handful of other restaurants and bars in the area, the Dundee neighborhood is quickly becoming one of my favorite destinations in Omaha.