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I’ve been wanting to start these weekly posts for some time now as an accompaniment to the menu, the story behind them, where the inspiration came from, how I found or concocted recipes, what worked and what really didn’t work before I put chalk to board.

Most direction comes in the way of what I can’t do. And I’m not just talking no meat, no dairy. That limitation is second nature by now. The bigger considerations are space, time and equipment. What can I make in advance that will hold up so that it’s just as delicious when served? How much stress do I really want to put on my little toaster oven this week? Can I make a cobbler in there? How much stuff can I cram into that steam well?

I like my tiny space. And fitting everything in wasn’t such a problem three months ago when we opened. But now! Farmer’s Market tables are overflowing with delicious things and my brain is drunk with ideas. I’m trying to reign it in.

I’ve been dying to make this week’s panzanella salad. I first saw a photo of it in the River Cafe cookbook this winter. (An introduction courtesy Bryce Coulton of the Boiler Room. Thank you, Bryce!) I salivated. I longed for summer, maybe in Italy, maybe with a glass of Barbera in my hot little hand. I’d been waiting for my opportunity, biding my time for the juicy heirloom tomatoes and fragrant basil. And then last week, like a sign from the culinary gods, I over ordered baguettes. There would be day old bread!

When I was putting together the panzanella I pulled out the River Cafe cookbook and scanned their recipe. I also did an internet search, sticking mostly to Epicurious, Saveur and the tragically defunct Gourmet. After reading a few over I put together my own version based on what I’d seen and what I foraged at the market.

The “Hello Dubai” dish is another item on this week’s menu I’ve been anxious to get to. Maybe not the dish itself, exactly, but a few particular ingredients. My sister recently took a vacation to Dubai. Her husband is currently working in Afghanistan and it was a convenient (if not spectacular!) meeting point. She visited the Dubai spice market and brought back riches! Saffron and hand mixed curries. The aroma created while making the curried vegetables was intoxicating. I’m already devising other dishes to make just to smell it again.

The sandwiches this week include the usual suspects. I really can’t get enough of the Bahn Mi. It’s the freshness of the mint, cilantro and brined vegetables, the crisp and soft, cold and warm, creamy and crunchy. Man, I’m crazy for that sandwich. I have added a collard wrap this week. I was feeling the menu was short on gluten free items and the collard itself is short on respect. I’ve put myself on a one woman crusade to make the collard the hippest vegetable of 2011. Comfort food is in y’all. Dig it.

Natalie Hussey’s desserts also make their first full week debut this week. I am continually bowled over by her flavor combinations and her use of savory herbs in sweet creations. I’m not much of a sweet person myself, so I feel extremely fortunate to have met Natalie. It’s wonderful having that dessert void filled on the menu and having it filled with such sophistication and flavor!

Hope to see you this week!

Love and grub,

Elle

Daily Grub Updates

 

All sorts of exciting things are happening for the Daily Grub in the next couple of weeks…

Look for us in the news! June 22 and 27th we’ll be featured as Fox 42’s “Secret Hot Spot” and at some point this June there will also be a review that will run in the Omaha World Herald.

Now that we’ve gotten our sea legs there are also a number of upgrades we’re planning  – cosmetic changes like SIGNAGE and expanded outdoor seating with some shade cover as well as some menu and scheduling changes. Not the least of which is the end of weekend brunches. At least for the summer season. The summer sunshine has replaced brunches with bbq’s. As it should be! So we’re adapting. Beginning June 14, Daily Grub will be open Monday thru Friday 11 am to 3 pm.  There will be no brunch the weekend of June 12 and 13.

This new weeklong schedule also jives really well with the July launch of Grub To Go. Starting in July you will be able to order, for delivery, from a lunchbox style to-go menu. Eric Brunt will pedal your order to you. Many of you will know (or recognize) Eric as Omaha’s mustachioed bike man around town. He is starting a courier business this summer and has taken DG on as a client. The dude is hard-core. The dude bikes like the wind. So you can expect your food fast, fresh and friendly.

The eat-in lunch menu is also getting a bit of a makeover, or make under. Things are getting streamlined and a little more predictable. You can now always expect to find: two soups, two sopes, two bowls (one of which will always be a curry) and a raw option. A variety of vittles will still be on hand and will include a “bread and spread” selection (this week’s is an orange lentil and harissa pate), a salad and a dessert (mulberry tarts with mulberries from my own backyard this week!). There will also be a lunch special on the menu – two sopes and a side for $10. This week’s side is the sweet potato hash.

What else? Internet! And? The occasional Grub after dark soiree. It really is just so lovely here at night. It would be a shame not to have people over every once and awhile.

Lots going on! Hope to see you soon.

Love (sans waffles),

DG

Month One

It’s been a complete and total whirlwind, rollercoaster, time travel, trip of an experience. Still, every once and awhile I look at Joey in amazement and say, “We have a restaurant. That’s totally wild.”

There have been ups and downs. We’re still sorting things out. Lot’s of things on our honey-do list — make those smoothies colder, revamp the brunch menu, streamline kitchen operations, find some extra room in the budget for another worker bee.

Certain menus have made me happier than others. My friend Erin calls me the Mother of the Food. This last week I was feeling like I needed to be a better mother. I’m liking lunches. They’re a little lighter, fresher, bolder flavors, more colorful. I need to find a way to translate that to the brunch menu and still satisfy those hung over hunger pains we all need satisfied on an occasional weekend. But, despite what I try to remind myself are the inevitable growing pains and missteps, I am on a daily basis blown away by the response and how wonderfully supportive everyone has been.

When I went into this I knew that I was going to have to keep a certain attitude about it. I had to approach the restaurant like it was a studio, a place I created for myself to experiment with food. I could go in, make stuff and then share it with people. Like I was sending out an open invitation to the entire city of Omaha for a little lunch gathering at my place, or getting to have an art opening every week. I knew if I went into it thinking of it as something more serious, I’d get stressed out. And then the food would taste stressed out. And then the diners would feel stressed out. It’d be a bummer all round. I’m holding fast to that idea.

A few farmer visits this weekend have got me invigorated going into month two. New fresh green thing deliveries (fluffy, beautiful speckled bib lettuce, thick deep green spinach, French Breakfast radishes in my favorite shade of magenta and dill, dill, dill!) and the sudden warm weather have got my culinary juices flowing in a new, lighter, crisper, direction. Raw is more and more on my brain. AND the amazing Dana Damewood is going to be photographing my food this week. Honored.

It’s going to be a good one! Hope to see you in month two.

Love and waffles,

elle

A PS to readers – I’d like to start sharing recipes. I’m taking requests. If there is something you’ve eaten at the restaurant that you’d like to know how to make yourself, send me a note and I’ll get it up.

Blogging again! Happy to be here. When they say that running a restaurant is a twenty-four, seven endeavor they really aren’t exaggerating. If I’m not cooking, cleaning or counting, I’m list making, errand running, planning, promoting and at the end of every long, exhausting day, pinching myself that this unlikeliest of career paths has been made possible to me. And thank YOU for that, every single one of you that reads this blog or has eaten a meal. I could not be happier to be doing exactly what I’m doing, exactly where I’m doing it.

 The last two week’s have been incredible. I’m really overwhelmed by the amount of support and love that has been thrown at this project. It’s been so much fun feeding all of you! This last Saturday in particular was a blast. Friends came in and lingered, moving from the bar to tables, expanding in numbers, ordering extra waffle courses, refilling their coffee cups and mate presses. Babies were everywhere, adorable in their Lil’ Grub bibs, sweet potato hash smeared on their little faces. Lots of noise, lots of food, lots of fun.

 Since Daily Grub has opened, a number of people have asked me why I changed the name from Clean Plate. I guess the simplest answer is that it is not Clean Plate. It’s something new and different. You wouldn’t give your children the same name (unless you’re George Forman), or title two sculptures identically. Vera and Mark Mercer have opened five restaurants over the course of their tenure in the Old Market – M’s, The French Café, V Mertz’s, La Buvette and The Boiler Room. They are all done in a similar vein, with a similar aesthetic, but they’re also completely unique from one another and each created with a different purpose.

 With Clean Plate I had a very specific purpose — I wanted to start a conversation about food, the kind of food we’re eating and where it comes from. Every detail about Clean Plate was chosen with consideration of this. I hoped the long communal table would encourage people to share the experience and the photographs on the wall of turn-of-the-century farms and farmers would get folks thinking about the way life and food used to be. The food itself at Clean Plate was as close to out of the ground as it could possibly be – raw. And even the name, Clean Plate, was chosen because it gave the direction to think about what you where putting into your mouth and where it came from.

 Daily Grub’s sole purpose is to create food and an experience that makes you feel good. Nothing high faluttin’ about it. Still seasonal and farm to table, still locally sourced, the menu, is full of simple, tasty, comfort food. Daily Grub is nestled in Train Town, one of Omaha’s great old immigrant neighborhoods, flanked on one side by blue collar, industrial businesses and on the other by a multi-generational, multi-ethnic neighborhood. The name reflects this rough-around-the-edges down hominess. I’m also hoping that labeling this kind of food (food that is usually considered fancy, expensive, bourgeois fare) as “just some grub” might get a few more folks eating this way. And if not, whatevs! We’re having a blast doing it.

 Can’t wait to feed you soon!

Love and waffles,

elle

Eating My Words

Anthony Bourdain and I may find ourselves on opposite ends of the meat debate, but when it comes to edible aesthetics we’re right in sync. When traveling in more remote parts of the world this means a few rules of thumb:

1. Avoid the restaurants that you’re supposed to eat at. You know, the ones clearly targeted at tourists, catering to the more gringo appetites. If there’s a hamburger or a pizza on the menu, walk away.

2. The darker the alley, the more fluorescent lighting, the better.

3. Open air kitchens, lack of sanitation – have no fear! Something tasty is near.

But when I ate at Present Moment, just a short walk down the beach, I broke all of my own rules.

Present Moment is a yoga retreat, spa and restaurant. The first evening we settled into Troncones one of my travel companions insisted we eat dinner there. I trudged over toting my No Reservations chip on my shoulder. I had extremely mediocre expectations for this shi-shi joint and was already lamenting the loss of a meal in some fly infested ally.

Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised. Actually, more than pleasantly surprised, I was delighted, so much so I’ve eaten their twice since.

The atmosphere is beautiful — simple, monochromatic décor composed with natural materials (wood, clay, linen, palm fronds), candle light and an amazing view of sunset from seating on a raised deck that reaches out over the beach. The small bar and open-air kitchen occupy the back half of the dining deck and a Zen garden-like path separates this from another raised platform that is used for yoga classes.

And the food. The food is a revelation. Healthful, fresh, locally sourced, flavorful, sophisticated and delicious. I could enter into another tortilla reverie, this one colored a beautiful shade of azule, or dedicate a week’s worth of blogs to their menu of fresh juices and smoothies. I could wax poetic about the raw coconut noodle salad or the ginger rice. I could, but the breeze is floating through the jasmine and I think I’ve deciphered the message the waves are repeating. Siesta time, siesta time, siesta time…

Hola

Hi all,

It’s been a long time. By now, I’m hoping you’ve heard a mumble or two about Clean Plate’s new incarnation, Daily Grub. It’s been a labor of love. Converting this dark, dirty old bar into a shiny, bright, lunch/brunch spot has taken blood, sweat and lots and lots of tears. But after a winter spent in renovation-induced hibernation, I can proudly announce, it’s close!

To celebrate, I’ve taken a sun saturated break from the Omaha winter. (And in an entirely unfair move, Joey has been left at home to keep on keepin’ on with the dirty work of painting and sanding and mudding and taping.) I’ve been on the Playa de Troncones in Guerrero, Mexico for nearly a week now soaking up the local food culture and packing away more than my fair share of sopecitas. Two local cooks in particular have been huge sources of inspiration. Alberta y Inez.

Inez cooks for the casa I have been staying at. Every morning I wake up to the delicious smells wafting from her open-air kitchen – chilequiles, juevos Mexicanos, beans, handmade tortillas, avocado crema.

Alberta has a restaurant in town. Her small ten by twelve foot stall opens onto an alley off Troncones’s main street. Four plastic tables are set in the alleyway for seating and from the stall’s small studio kitchen Alberta serves the most delicious, lovingly prepared food I’ve ever eaten. Her menu changes daily with some exceptions. Tacos, sopesitas y quesadillas are available every day with your choice of barbacoa, chorizo, pollo, or carne asada. The locally made queso in the sopes and the quesadillas is so fresh it’s almost like a crema. And the tortillas. There is something about these hand made corn tortillas, something so comforting. You can taste their ripeness and you can feel the hands that made them, the warm strong hands. These aren’t just tortillas. They are hand sewn maize blankets. Every bite is like being wrapped up in a grandmother’s embrace. It took nearly three days for me to discover Alberta’s. I give all the sand on this beach to have those three days back. Since, her specials have included a mole con pollo, chile relanos and cerveche.

I come back to the states at the end of this week. I’m looking forward to it. I feel so reenergized by this trip, so excited about sharing these new ideas. And that’s what this blog is evolving into. It will become a place where I write about what’s going on with the Daily Grub, but also what I’m eating (and thinking about eating) outside of the restaurant. I’ll share recipes, stories and research and I hope you’ll do the same. Right now, Inez’s avocado crema is on my mind morning, noon and night. I’ve been having it for breakfast over beans or sopped up with a tortilla. Yesterday I wrapped it up with some mango. Last night, I made a black bean soup and topped it with a dollop. That’s definitely a dish that will get on the Grub menu…

Inez’s Avocado Crema

(all quantities to taste)

avocado – ripe and soft

tomatillo or green tomato

jalapeno

garlic

cilantro

salt

Submerge the tomatillos and jalapenos in water and bring to a boil and let them soak for a bit until they are nice and soft. Toss all the ingredients in a blender and puree. It should be a loose, creamy consistency with no lumps. You can serve it heated or cold.

Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving. It’s a holiday that delivers what is promised. Prepared for in advance with hours spent laboring in warm, aromatic kitchens over food devoured in minutes, it’s a day that celebrates the sensuality and richness of life — the smells and colors and tastes, the sounds of family laughing and arguing, the intangible satisfaction of good conversation. It’s an entire day dedicated to creating an atmosphere of restfulness that gives you the space to reflect on what you are thankful for. And it is the one day a year that we all give thanks, first and foremost, for the food on our plates. 

I have so much to give thanks for this year. Namely, the opportunity to share CLEAN PLATE and to know you — reader, eater, friend.

While so many doors opened this year, a few where shut. Most recently, the Vinton Street restaurant location. Two weeks ago I was writing this…

“Its been too long. The new space is a bit time consuming. (Which might be the understatement of the year.) We’re through with most of the demo and should be starting in on the putting-it-all-together stuff, soon. I’ve posted lots of demo dirty work photos below.

Maybe I should back up…CLEAN PLATE has a new home! The new location is at 18th and Vinton (just caddy corner from Louie M’s Burger Lust). My friend Dave, who is the most enthusiastic construction volunteer, refers to the place in his English steel town accent as “a diamond just waitin’ for a polishin’.” Which is to say, it’s rough. But it’s amazing what a broom and a coat of paint have already done. And the potential! Big open space, high ceilings, wood floors, lots of storefront windows, a kitchen that will open out to my garden side yard!

The Vinton Street neighborhood was also a huge part of my attraction to this building — great architecture, great people and a great history. Originally (and pardon me while I do my history geek bit here), because of the natural ridge created by its geography, Vinton Street was a trail used by the Native Americans. Later it was a cattle trail connecting the market and the stockyards. The CLEAN PLATE building was originally a grain store. Most people now recognize it as the Schneider Hardware building because of its big blue neon sign. It’s exciting to be here and the welcome from the community has been overwhelming.”

Shortly after writing this I found out that the building wasn’t going to be suitable for a restaurant. Bummer. Yeah, maybe THAT is the understatement of the year. But, I’m rolling with the punches. I’m keeping my eyes and ears open for other location ideas. And in the meantime I’m beginning work in earnest on a CLEAN PLATE mentorship program which, come this spring, should have kids in gardens planting veg. 

This delay of game also means BRUNCHES WILL RESUME. Soon. I’ll be making announcements here. I’ll also be making more regular posts. I cook everyday. I write everyday. It seems silly that I haven’t been sharing my culinary musings and misadventures. I’d love your comments and feedback, so make me a bookmark!

I wish you all scrumptious, nap inducing Thanksgivings surrounded by food, family and friends!

Love and green bean casserole,

elle

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