Having lived in major cities practically my entire life, between Washington, Chicago, and New York City, I can’t fathom having difficulty finding a brunch locale on a weekend afternoon. Securing a reservation is a problem I can identify with, but the inability to physically identify a place to brunch outside of a chainy buffet or hotel has never been an issue. Until I found myself in Omaha for a gorgeous wedding at Creighton University this summer. The struggle is real.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adored our weekend in Omaha. The wedding was fabulous and I loved exploring the city, especially the charming Old Market district. Old Market is chock-full of winding cobblestone streets, outdoor restaurants, and funky antique shops. It took all of my willpower to not come home with a handmade dreamcatcher and turquoise jewelry.
However, it blew my mind that despite housing a strong selection of restaurants overall, brunch hasn’t quite caught on in Nebraska. Upon realizing that a group of friends had a free Sunday afternoon before catching our respective flights home, I immediately started my research on the best Bennys and bagels in the area. It was a good thing we were planning for a Sunday brunch since the majority of restaurants that serve brunch in the first place don’t offer it on Saturday.
After a few dead ends, my pursuit of pancakes was settled by locals. My boyfriend Andrew and I were joined by his college friends, Dan and Ali. Dan’s sister resides in Omaha and recommended Stokes Grill & Bar for its close proximity to our Old Market hotel and a killer Bloody Mary bar. We quickly scanned the menu and unanimously decided that said Bloody Mary bar and the prevalence of greasy Mexican food would perfectly fit the bill. We were all a bit banged up from the wedding the night prior with one too many champagne toasts and cigar puffs.
I’m not much of a Bloody drinker so I sipped on my mimosa and surveyed the restaurant’s decor while the rest of the gang created their cocktails. Stokes is rustic and comfortable, with a bit of Southwest flair. Although everything outside of New York seems proportionately huge, the establishment was quite sizable and made even more so by the lack of fellow brunchers at this hour. I couldn’t determine if the low attendance was due to the pouring rain outside or just the general lack of brunch culture in Omaha.
I managed to snap a few photos of the impressive Bloody Mary bar before our group went rampant. It contained pretty much every garnish imaginable for the perfect Bloody with a variety of salts, veggies, brines, hot sauce, and of course crispy bacon. The bar was a fun way to start the morning, although some of my comrades got a little overzealous with the toppings.
The extensive menu contained a number of Mexican-inspired breakfast and lunch items. We quickly placed our orders to appease our hungover stomachs and accommodate our quickly approaching our travel schedules.
Mashed potatoes are my favorite food in the entire world, but fortunately for my starch levels, I have never seen them on a brunch menu before . I gasped when I saw Mexican-style brunch meatloaf served atop a heap of mashers and two eggs any style (poached, as always). This enormous dish tasted just like my imaginary abuela would have made it. The meatloaf was classically prepared and juicy, slathered in salsa verde and accompanied by the mashed potatoes. The Mexican seasoning gave a tasty zip to the dish, but I struggled to eat even half of the oversized entree.
Andrew went with the chilaquiles, basically an excuse to eat nachos for breakfast. I was told by our friendly server that chilaquiles were invented as a way to use stale or leftover tortilla chips and salsa. What’s there not to love with this dish? The eggs, cheese, and meat were evenly distributed amongst the chips and I loved that I could easily steal bites off of his plate. Again, we barely made a dent in another one of the colossal courses.
Ali lives in Los Angeles and has a propensity to order burritos when offered. Her breakfast burrito was a whole lot more than she bargained for. This entree was topped with a heap of bubbling cheese, making it a hybrid between a burrito and an enchilada. Her burrito was gooey and delicious, but she found the home fries a bit bland.
Dan kept it easy with the breakfast tacos. Or so he thought. The steaming tacos, layered in cheese, beans, sour cream, and chiles were unlike any taco I had seen in the past, like tacos on steroids. He remarked that this was the perfect dish to battle his impending headache, until pepper shot out of his nose during an ill-timed joke, but that’s an entirely different story.
Although none of us came close to polishing off our dishes, we were stuffed until dinner and consequently avoided airport food on the way home to our separate coasts. Although we didn’t have many restaurants to choose from in brunch-deprived Omaha, Stokes was a winner.
The Bitches say: B+. The food at Stokes isn’t particularly refined and it was difficult to differentiate flavors underneath all of the cheese, it served its purpose as a fun and casual brunch with old friends in a new city. Bonus points for the great Old Market location and standout Bloody Mary bar.
Stokes Grill & Bar
1122 Howard Street