I was out in Omaha earlier this spring and decided to stay downtown at the new-ish Hampton Inn and Suites just across from TD Ameritrade Park, home to the NCAA College World Series. Not far from the hotel was a place that I'd been wanting to try for a couple years now - the Omaha Tap House. It was a short drive from the hotel to the Omaha Tap House located at the corner of Farnam and S. 14th St. on the edge of Omaha's Old Market area. (see map)
It turns out that I'm somewhat familiar with the restaurant group that owns the Omaha Tap House. The Letnes brothers - Matt and Kent - also own the Boulder Tap House restaurants in Minnesota. (Click here to see my entry on the Boulder Tap House in St. Cloud, MN.) The brothers also run the Milwaukee Burger Co. locations in Wisconsin. After the Crane Coffee Cafe had closed their downtown Omaha location in early 2012, the Letnes Restaurant Group came in to take over the location and opened the Omaha Tap House in August of 2012.
I found a parking spot on Farnum just down the street from the Omaha Tap House and went in to check the place out. It was a lively place with a number of flat screen televisions with baseball games playing on them. The bar area - although pretty small - featured a number of local and regional craft brews on tap.
I found a seat in a booth in the L-shaped dining area and it wasn't long before my server, Cody, came over with a menu. They had the Lagunitas IPA on tap and I ordered up a pint of that.
Omaha Tap House calls itself a gastropub, but it's just a fancy term for what is really a sports bar menu with a few twists. Burgers rule the menu - they have 16 Tap House burgers on the menu that include the Popper burger that is topped with sautéed jalapeños, cream cheese and jalapeño jam, finished off with brown sugar bacon slices. There's also the Fiesta burger topped with pepper-jack cheese, guacamole, tortilla strips and a chipotle ranch dressing, and for the strong of heart the Defibrillator features two burger patties topped with a choice of cheese, bacon, fried onions, garlic sautéed mushrooms, a house-made sauce and finished off with cheese curds. Wow!
There were also sandwiches on the menu including the Southwest Spicy Chicken sandwich that featured a chicken breast topped with pepper-jack cheese with green peppers and onions, a chipotle ranch dressing, tortilla strips and tomatoes. (For $1 more you can get a slice of avocado on the sandwich.) There was also the Steak-Cheese-Mushroom sandwich which featured grilled chunks of sirloin steak and topped with both mozzarella and cheddar cheese and finished with sautéed mushrooms and served on a soft hoagy bun.
The tacos on the menu got my attention - especially the blackened tilapia tacos topped with mozzarella cheese, lettuce, cabbage, pico de gallo and finished with a jalapeño tartar sauce. They also had the Shrimp IPA tacos - two flour tortillas filled with grilled shrimp that had been marinated in an India Pale Ale beer, topped with lettuce, cabbage, and a house-made lime cilantro sauce.
But I figured on getting a burger. In addition to the select burgers on the menu, you can also build your own burger. They start out with an always fresh, never frozen Black Angus beef patty and from there you get your choice of seven different types of cheese (they also had a smoked cheddar cheese - yum!), then a choice of toppings that included a fried egg, green olives, the aforementioned garlic sautéed mushrooms, and either thick-cut or brown sugar coated bacon. I ended up ordering a Swiss cheese, sautéed mushroom and thick-cut bacon burger from Cody. Fries came with the burger, but Cody said that I could substitute sides such as jalapeño fries, hot bleu cheese potato salad, onion rings or sweet potato fries on the side. I went with the Cajun fries sprinkled with a Cajun seasoning.
There's free wi-fi at the Omaha Tap House, but I was having trouble getting on with my cellphone. When Cody came back with my second beer, I told him that I was having trouble getting on their network. He said, "Oh, yeah. Our network sucks. But we've got permission from Cox Cable to be able to use their system. I just have to go get the password." Moments later he came back with a password and just like that I was on checking messages and my Twitter feed. Cody was a good guy.
And moments after that, Cody came back with my burger. It was served on a small baking sheet with wax paper in the bottom. The side of fries came in a small metal basket on the side. At first glance, the burger looked very promising. The crown of the bun rose high over the patty, but it was soft and spongy.
The burger patty was topped wit the Swiss cheese with the thick-cut bacon criss-crossed across the top of the burger patty. The garlic sautéed mushrooms looked to be fresh sliced and there were a lot of them on top of the burger. But the first bite told me that the burger was overcooked. It was cooked to the well side of medium well with no pink in the middle. It was dry and not very flavorful. The Swiss cheese and bacon helped the overall taste, but I didn't get much of a garlic taste in the sautéed mushrooms. Quite frankly, the only thing that saved the burger was the bun. It was a very good bun, one that stayed together very well with all the other stuff that was on the burger. Light and flavorful, the bun was the best thing about an otherwise disappointing burger.
The Cajun fries were fine. They were thin-cut and had ample amounts of Cajun seasonings on them. They certainly didn't scrimp on the amount of fries they gave me and I was only able to eat about a quarter of what I was served.
OK, so I was a little disappointed with the burger at the Omaha Tap House. Overcooked and somewhat lifeless, I thought the saving grace was the wonderful bun it was served on. I was impressed with the beer selections they had at the Omaha Tap House and Cody's service was very friendly and efficient. The only other quibble I had was that I noticed a 35 cent "service charge" on my bill with no explanation as to what that could be. Upcharge for the Cajun fries? A nominal fee for using Cox Cable's internet? I never asked. But other than that - and an overcooked burger - the Omaha Tap House was a nice place to visit. I only wish I had gotten the blackened tilapia tacos instead.