“Best” of Omaha

I have a pet peeve. Okay, I have many. (No surprises, there.) But one in particular is triggered regularly by billboards and restaurant signs throughout Omaha, and it involves the “Best of Omaha” awards.

If you aren’t familiar with the phenomenon, “Best of Omaha” is an award given annually to businesses throughout Omaha. There are 138 categories, for the love of heaven, and not all of them are food-related. The project is sponsored by Omaha Magazine, but anyone can vote for their favorites.

Of course, few Omahans bother–only 12,000 this year, despite a city population of 432,921 (making us the 42nd largest in the United States, thankyouverymuch). Which is why none of the Mexican restaurant winners are terribly authentic, despite the fact that an entire section of the city is populated by Mexicans and Mexican-Americans (and probably folks from Central America, too–I don’t really know).

But I digress. What REALLY bothers me about the whole “Best” debacle is that it doesn’t really have anything to do with Omaha. Meaning that franchises and nation-wide chains regularly win as Omaha’s “Best”. This irritates me to no end. If it isn’t FROM Omaha, it can’t be the BEST of Omaha. It can be the best of wherever it came from. The voters of Omaha don’t seem to agree.

For example, in the Best Bagels category, the winners are: Panera Bread, Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery and Bagel Bin Inc. Of the three, only Bagel Bin Inc. is actually an Omaha original. Famous Dave’s regularly makes a strong showing in the Bar-B-Que category, and it started in Michigan! Starbucks rules the Coffee Shop class. None of the three Best Family Restaurants are from Omaha: Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill, Red Robin and Valentino’s (at least Valentino’s originated in Lincoln–not too far away).

This irks me because…well, we as a nation have become so homogenized. No one seems to know or care much about their community, so locally owned restaurants go by the wayside while we all herd to P.F. Chang’s or McDonald’s or wherever. We eat Washington apples despite the preponderance of orchards around Omaha. We buy ultra-pasteurized milk from Vermont instead of fresh milk from Iowa.

Count me out.

Yes, this problem goes deeper than food. Yes, I really need to shop at Target less and at Fat Brain Toys more. But we’ve all got to start somewhere, and here’s where I choose to start:

  1. The Omaha Originals Dining Club: a coalition of 49 independent Omaha restaurants. I have eaten at 15, and the club includes some of my favorites.
  2. The Omaha Farmer’s Market: a green market, focusing on food but with a few “crafty” items when space allows. Open Saturday mornings May 3-October 10.
  3. The Nebraska Food Cooperative: Nebraska farmers and producers only, so you KNOW your food is fresh. Online ordering cycle usually begins every four weeks and lasts about a week. Pick-up (you can choose from a few sites) is four days after the ordering cycle ends.
  4. Hudson Cream Flour: wonderful flour, produced in a small Kansas town by one of the “last independent flour mills” in the United States. You can buy this at the Baker’s on Saddlecreek (888 S Saddle Creek Road, Omaha).
  5. Kalona Organics: Iowa eggs, milk, cream, cottage cheese, etc. Lots of good ethics choices. HyVee Organic Milk is actually Kalona Organic Milk under a store label.
  6. Wohlner’s Grocery: locally owned and operated INDEPENDENT grocery store. One of the few stores where I can buy local greens, plus soups, sausages, smoked meats, chocolates and breads produced on-site.
  7. Stoysich House of Sausage: an Omaha institution since the early sixties. I am embarrassed to say I have never actually been here, but I intend to visit soon.

I think that’s enough local business plugging for today. But, seriously, take a moment. Look around at YOUR city. What local business can you support?

Next time: my picks for Omaha’s best restaurants.


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3 Responses to ““Best” of Omaha”

  1. _joey_ Says:

    This blog’s where its happenning. Keep up the good work.

  2. mrred Says:

    Love this blog I’ll be back when I have more time.

  3. Dixie Says:

    A great idea. Living in Orlando, I feel like I’m knee-deep in the nationwide chain/franchise stuff all the time. But, there are gems I’m discovering. Winter Garden has a “historic downtown” that houses many locally-owned businesses as well as a farmer’s market on Saturdays. It’s charming and fun for the family. Plus, it’s part of the West Orange Bike Trail so there’s lots of family biking around. I can’t wait to hear your favorite Omaha institutions. Maybe you could send it into Omaha Magazine with a letter to the editor. 😉

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