About three years ago the Nebraska Beef Council started their own "Best Burger in Nebraska" contest that is very similar to the Iowa Beef Industry Council's "Best Burger in Iowa" contest. After a long day, I checked into my hotel in West Omaha after 9 p.m. and looked around for a place to grab a quick bite to eat. I stumbled into a place called Tommy Colina's Kitchen. It turned out that they are a two time finalist for the Best Burger crown in Nebraska. Always up for a good burger, I was happy I found the place.
There is no Tommy Colina - it's actually a hybrid name from the children of the owners, Jon Dye and Grant Lundin. Jon Dye is a Le Cordon Bleu (London) trained chef. His specialty was opening restaurants in the Omaha area. He was the opening chef at such diverse places such as Dave & Buster's, Ted's Montana Grill, Wheatfields, and the Farmhouse Cafe. Dye struck out on his own with the OmNe Seafood Grill about 10 years ago, but it was a short-lived venture.
Dye and Lundin got to know each when they were both working for Greg Lindberg's Absolutely Fresh Seafood restaurants - Shucks Fish House and Oyster Bar, and Bailey's, a breakfast and lunch-centric restaurant. Dye was the executive chef and Lundin was the manager for Shucks. Today, there are three Shucks locations around the Omaha area.
Dye and Lundin looked to do their own thing and they bought a building that housed the former Don Carmelo's pizza restaurant near downtown Omaha. It took them less than two months to transform the former pizza place into Tommy Colina's. They brought a little bit of culinary philosophy with them from Shucks and Bailey's, but with an emphasis on burgers, eclectic sandwiches and interesting appetizers. In the fall of 2012, they opened the second Tommy Colina's location in West Omaha in the Spring Ridge Plaza just off Pacific and 180th St. (see map)
As it was after 9 p.m., Tommy Colina's Kitchen was understandably quiet. Only a couple tables were taken and no one was seated at the bar. I walked over to the bartender and asked if it was too late for food. He said, "Nope! We're serving until 10 o'clock!" I took a seat at the bar, grabbed a menu from him and ordered up a Boulevard Pale Ale.
Tommy Colina's "Triple B" burger was the one that garnered a third place finish in the most recent Best Burger in Nebraska contest. They take their ground steak burgers and top it with thick slices of maple bacon, imported brie cheese, and finish it off with crumbled blue cheese. That sounded good, but I figured it would probably overpower the taste of the burger. They had the "Smoke-n-Spice" burger on the menu that came with smoked jalapenos, aged cheddar cheese and maple bacon slices. The maple bacon intrigued me. I've had it before and it's all right - much more sweet than regular hickory or applewood smoked bacon. If I had the choice, I'd take the hickory or applewood smoked bacon over maple bacon.
In fact, a lot of the burgers had the maple bacon on it. One other burger that caught my eye was "Da Mojo" - it came with the maple bacon, roasted sweet peppers and Havarti cheese. I almost got that.
As my eyes wandered down through the list of burgers, just below the burgers was a box on the menu that featured "Street Tacos". It was four different types of taco-style that blended flavors from around the world and was served on pita bread. The "Calcutta" was interesting featuring thin sliced beef tenderloin, lettuce, tomatoes, sweet red peppers, a mild curry sauce, pickled red onions with Havarti cheese. If I wasn't so set on getting a burger, I would have possibly tried that.
The bartender had come back a couple of times to check to see if I was ready to order. I thought to myself, "This is ridiculous! Pick a burger and go with it!" When he came back the third time I ordered up the "Tijuana Taxi", mainly because I was interested in the smoked jalapeno bacon relish ("Oh, man," the bartender exclaimed. "It's good!") It was topped with pepperjack cheese. And for a buck more, I added a fried egg to the burger. I also had my choice of sides - fries, seasoned homemade chips or pasta salad. I heard myself order the fries fully knowing that I wouldn't probably have more than a couple.
Good burgers take a little time to make and it was over 15 minutes before my burger showed up in front of me. It was served open faced with the smoked jalapeno bacon relish on top of the hard fried egg which sat on the burger covered in the pepperjack cheese. Pickled raw onion rings came with it as well as what appeared to be homemade dill pickles. After dressing up the burger and putting on the spongy bun crown, I was ready to chomp.
The taste of the burger was good. Not fantastic, not great, but - well, good. The beef was cooked the way I like it - medium with a little pink in the middle. I couldn't really get a taste of the bacon in the relish, but the jalapeno slices had a smokey little zip to them. The bun was chewy and held together well with everything that was going on with the burger and toppings. If I had to give the burger at Tommy Colina's a grade I'd have to say it was a B. No, probably more a B+. It was good, but it just didn't trip my trigger like other burger joints have.
I had a couple of the fries, as I thought I would, and they were "blah". They were basically a throwaway for me. And that's all right. I was much more interested in the burger.
A place clear out in Valentine, NE won this year's "Best Burger in Nebraska" contest and I'm sure I won't be going out that way anytime soon - if ever. But this year's runner up was a place that I think has a pretty damned good burger - Dinker's Bar in Omaha. (Click here to see my entry on Dinker's Bar.) I didn't think the burger at Tommy Colina's Kitchen was as good as the one at Dinker's, but it was definitely in the ball park. But there are other things on the menu at Tommy Colina's other than burgers that intrigued me enough to keep the place on my "Restaurants to Visit" list. I would have no problem coming back to the West Omaha location or trying the one closer to downtown.
(Update - I write my reviews of these places sometimes weeks in advance. From the time that I went to Tommy Colina's Kitchen, wrote the review, and having it published - the place closed. A shout out to Bill MacKenzie who pointed out to me the day the review was published that both Tommy Colina's Kitchen locations closed earlier this month. The Omaha World Herald had a short article that stated the businesses shut their doors on July 20th - about a month after I was in there. I don't know if there's ever been a place that I've reviewed and then was closed that quickly.)