Just Up the Road
Omaha, Nebraska has received a lot of undeserved tough love over the years. The uninitiated tend to consider it a vanilla sort of place without any outstanding cultural qualities, rather boring, a city without a remarkable skyline, a flyover city. Omaha has always had a lovely framework of art, shopping and entertainment—but true to Midwestern pride, wasn’t boisterous about playing up its fine selling points (or its innovation, which is coming to the forefront).
The naysayers are eating their bland words right about now … Omaha “arrived” years ago, and like many American cities of its size, underwent a quiet renaissance. It’s ready for its close-up and from my vantage point Omaha is a shiny jewel of a city, accepting visitors with open arms.
Next trip up the road to Omaha, check into Element Omaha Midtown Crossing, a boutique Westin property that is Silver LEED Certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. It’s an upscale hotel, with a Zen-like atmosphere to recharge and refresh. I prefer staying in Westins because of their signature Heavenly™ Bed, and Element has other delights like spa-like bathrooms and natural, light-filled guestrooms. Element is located in the heart of Midtown Crossing, with easy access to restaurants and shopping, the Old Market, the stadium, zoo and art museum, in addition to events such as live music and outdoor yoga classes, plus Turner Park for a relaxing after-dinner stroll. The hotel is pet-friendly, kid-friendly (although there’s not a pool onsite) and offers a bountiful complimentary breakfast buffet.
For more information, visit elementomahamidtowncrossing.com.
|Element Omaha Midtown Crossing is a place to recharge and refresh.|
It’s late on a Thursday afternoon in early June, and I made the nearly 200-mile jaunt up Interstate 29 from Kansas City in a neat three hours. Midtown Crossing will be my headquarters for the next 36 hours—it’s a vibrant, sophisticated urban area that opened in 2009 and includes condominiums, apartments, retail and restaurants and is adjacent to Mutual of Omaha, which developed the15.5-acre mixed-use neighborhood. It’s a showcase for positive revitalization.
I check into Element Omaha Midtown Crossing where the motto is recharge and refresh and the atmosphere is laid-back. I take them up on the offer and head to my room for a power nap. Dinner is at 6:30 at The Grey Plume, dubbed the nation’s greenest restaurant by the Green Restaurant Association.
6:30 p.m. The restaurant is a quick five-minute walk from the hotel; I arrive to find a sleek, urbane interior at The Grey Plume, an acclaimed farm-to-table concept owned by Omaha native and chef Clayton Chapman, and is considered a culinary trailblazer. The philosophy at The Grey Plume is one of intense collaboration with farmers, artists and the community. I start with a Shadowbrook Farm’s Spring Greens Salad and choose the Plum Creek Farm Chicken Roulade as an entrée. The food is fresh, honest, uncomplicated and memorable. I pass on dessert, instead opting for some fresh air and a spin around Midtown Crossing.
8:30 p.m. I walk past Delice European Bakery and Café and overpowered by my sweet tooth, decide to go in for a chocolate éclair and espresso. A longtime Omaha favorite, I’m impressed with the bakery’s selection. Satisfied, I turn in for the evening.
|TD Ameritrade Park||Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium|
Today I’m taking a walk down memory lane to revisit some Omaha attractions I remember from family vacations (I grew up in Iowa) and Girl Scout trips: the Henry Doorly Zoo and the Joslyn Art Museum. Later in the day: shopping therapy back in Midtown Crossing and dinner in the Old Market at M’s Pub.
9:30 a.m. The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is spectacular—I walk through the Lied Jungle, America’s largest indoor rain-forest exhibition and then head to the newly renovated Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium. I spend the morning exploring this popular Omaha attraction that is full of school kids on field trips.
12:30 p.m. I arrive at the Joslyn, Nebraska’s largest art museum and a magnificent art deco structure. First lunch at Café Durham in the Museum’s sunlit atrium. Art museum restaurants always have pleasant personalities and the Joslyn’s is special, too. Fortified, I take the afternoon to look through the Museum’s permanent collections and the 1.2-acre Peter Kiewit Foundation Sculpture Garden.
4 p.m. Back at Midtown Crossing, I’m in shopping mode—the Republic of Couture is a surprising experience with apparel and accessories for men, women and children and labels such as True Religion, MEK and Hugo Boss. Parmida Home Concepts features affordable and unique furnishings for entertaining. The Afternoon is a distinctive and eclectic art gallery with jewelry and pieces for the home. Element is calling my name to refresh and recharge, which I do until dinner at Omaha’s beloved M’s Pub in the Old Market.
7 p.m. M’s Pub is one of those places that if you lived around the corner from it, you’d be there nearly every night. The restaurant is defined by a comfortable, sociable and charming vibe, which is punctuated by the solid and terrific menu. I opt for grilled beef tenderloin with smoked paprika smashed potatoes and roasted beet mascarpone. For dessert, the Mocha Fudge Torte, an M’s tradition, is divine—a flourless, ganache-like cake with fresh whipped cream and a strawberry-amaretto sauce.
On the short drive back to Element, I find myself appreciating the opportunity to travel somewhere that the pace is a bit slower and I’m not rushed and jostled; where there are wide-open spaces; and where the people you encounter have that unmistakable brand of Midwestern hospitality and believe in the authenticity of their roots. There’s much more to do in Omaha—see a ball game at the TD Ameritrade Park, catch indie music at the Sokol Auditorium, explore the shops and boutiques at the Old Market, but I’ll save that for my next trip up the road from Kansas City.
And Omaha, by the way, I love you. For real.
To plan your trip to Omaha, check out visitomaha.com.
|Strolling through Omaha's Old Market.|
photos: Courtesy of the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau