Out in Omaha earlier this year, I invited one of my dealers and his wife out for dinner. He asked me where I would like to go and I said that I wanted something fun and local. He suggested we go to the Benson Brewery for dinner that evening. "They've got good food and I know you like good beer," he explained to me. It sounded like a winning combination.
Ryan Miller is a self-described beer nerd. His geekdom for beer began after growing up in South Omaha and sampling a number of micro-brewed beers as a young adult. Along with partners Andy Willey and Christian Young, the group came up with a concept of a brew pub that featured cutting-edge brews without using exotic ingredients, and serving locally raised foods.
The group found an old movie house in the Benson neighborhood of Omaha. The Benson neighborhood has gone through a revival with a number of restaurants and shops coming into the area over the past few years. The Benson Brewery opened its doors in June of 2013. The original brewmaster, Andy Elliott, was an apprentice brewer at the Odell Brewing Company in Fort Collins, CO. Elliott eventually left Benson Brewery and was replaced by Jimmy Vollmer, an Omaha native who went to nearby Benson High School. (Home of the "Mighty Bunnies"!)
The original chef at Benson Brewery was Matt Taylor who came to the brew pub from a stint as the executive chef of the Timber Room, the dining establishment located in the Lied Lodge and Conference Center in Nebraska City, NE. About a year after the Benson Brewery opened, Taylor left and was replaced by David Meegan, a Nebraska native who studied at the prestigious Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. After graduation, Meegan worked at the trendy Five Leaves in Brooklyn, NY before moving back to Nebraska to work at Plank Seafood Provisions in the Old Market of Omaha. Meegan continues to use the "farm-to-fork" concept when sourcing locally grown foods.
It was about 7 p.m. when we got into Benson Brewery. The outside of the building features barn board on the facade and the rustic look carries over to the main bar area just inside. Elegant Edison lighting hangs from the ceiling from exposed wooden beams.
We sat in the dining room off to the side, part of an expansion that happened a couple years ago at Benson Brewery. The room featured a wooden floor and a nice planked wall along the east side. It was open and it got loud in there.
There's also a little beer garden out back that was part of the expansion. Open during the warmer months, it featured a number of picnic-style tables and could accommodate 25 to 30 people. There's also a couple of table out in front of the restaurant for people who want to enjoy a beer or two and take in the street-side scenery of the revitalized Benson neighborhood.
We were greeted by Alex, our server for the evening, and given food menus. Looking through the beer menu, I found the Debut IPA they had on tap. It was a hoppy beer, but smooth on the finish. My dealer ordered up the Karha-T, a spiced English ale that he said he liked.
The menu at Benson Brewery is not all the extensive. They featured a handful of entrees including a locally grown Wagyu beef strip steak, a three cheese mac & cheese dish, sausage links and beer-braised cabbage, and a cast iron grilled salmon. For sandwiches, they had a pork tenderloin sandwich, a grilled three-cheese sandwich, a chicken pesto sandwich, and a black bean burger for vegetarians. They had a couple burgers on the menu - a daily special burger and a blue cheese burger.
They had some interesting appetizers to choose from on the menu including a smoked salmon spread; Prince Edward Island mussels in a coconut milk, fennel and an saffron sauce served with warm baguette bread; a poutine appetizer with cheese curds and house fries topped with a gravy sauce; and this appetizer that my dealer's wife wanted to get - the fried oysters. The beer battered fried oysters were served with pickled onions and sprouts along with lightly grilled lemon wedges. The oysters were big and meaty and had a nice taste to them. We made quick work of the oysters as we figured out what we were going to get to eat.
I was torn between a couple of things - the baked mac & cheese sounded good and you can add items such as chicken, chorizo, broccoli or bacon to the mix of three cheese and pasta; and the pork tenderloin sandwich made with pork from Truebridge Foods, a purveyor of fine pork products started by a group of Nebraska veterinarians.
But for some reason I ended up ordering the Cuban sandwich - braised pork, ham and Swiss cheese topped with dill pickles and an IPA mustard and served on a baguette. Now, I usually know that getting a Cuban sandwich in the Midwest doesn't come anywhere near the taste quality of the true Cuban sandwiches I've had in Miami years ago. The sweet Cuban bread - almost like King's Hawaiian bread - is what makes the true taste of a Cuban sandwich. The baguette bread they used for the Cuban sandwich at was pretty basic and they pressed it to give the bread a crunchy outer shell. It was all right - nothing special. At least Alex didn't try to sell it to me as a true Cuban sandwich. A side of house fries came with the sandwich and they, too, were just all right.
My dealer also went the sandwich route and got the shaved prime rib sandwich. It featured thinly sliced pieces of coffee-rubbed slow-roasted prime rib topped with provolone cheese and pickled jalapeños. It was served open-faced on a hoagie bun with a side of au jus and fries. The beef was piled high on the sandwich and it looked very good.
His wife got the fish and chips - beer-battered mahi mahi served with a malt vinegar aioli sauce. Fries and grilled lemons also came with the fish. She thought the beer-battered mahi mahi was delicious - the batter was light and the fish was tender and flaky. She was more than happy with what she got.
While I can't call the food offerings - or the Cuban sandwich that I had - exceptional at Benson Brewery, it was still a fun place to go and hang out. The Debut IPA I had was good with a nice hoppy flavor to it. My guests were happy with the food they got and it was nice to catch up in conversation before, during and after dinner. The service we received from Alex was efficient and friendly. Benson Brewery is a good place to go get a beer and enjoy some appetizers or a sandwich in a very casual setting.