Monday, June 29, 2009

Spaghetti Works

Restaurant: Spaghetti Works (Ralston)
Address: 8412 Park Dr.
Genres: Italian
Check Constraints: 15% Gratuity on parties of 8+, only one coupon per table.
Chain: Yes | More Omaha Locations: Yes

  • Italian Soda, Strawberry (2.79)
  • 4pc Cheese Bread (3.99)
  • Soda (1.35)
  • Fettuccini Alfredo (7.99) w/Chicken (2.49)
    • Garlic Bread
    • Salad Bar
About forty years ago, Spaghetti Works started here in Omaha. Since then, it's expanded slightly, to Lincoln and Des Moines, but there are still only four stores, total, two of which are in Omaha. This particular spaghetti works is decorated vigorously with old time advertisement signs and such, much like Billy Frogg's, only in much lower quantity. The salad bar is on the back of an ancient truck (probably a mock up) and there is an inexplicable and unidentified bust, which someone has painted badly. It is cross eyed, and if you were trapped with it in a dark room, it might kill you.

Of course, none of that is food, which is what matters, so we'll start at the top. The italian soda (we tried a number of varieties, as the intern decided to get a new flavor every time he got a refill) was pretty uniformly not to my taste. The strawberry, which I actually paid for, wasn't horrible, but it reminded me of my mom's wine coolers, which I used to sneak drinks off when I was a wee lad. Thus, I refute the accusations of my peers that I enjoy girly froo-froo drinks.

The cheese bread needs some help. The garlic bread part of it was quite good, but something in the cheese seemed off a bit. I didn't feel it so much, but Cham will likely harp on it for a sentence or two, and this may well be the only place where I advocate getting the garlic bread instead of the cheese bread. Luckily, garlic bread comes with every meal, along with the salad bar. Toasted ravioli was also ordered, with the beef being of superior quality, while the cheese was, strangely enough, cheese and hot pepper. Unfortunately, the beef was slightly overdone, while the cheese was slightly underdone, and in light of the fact that your pasta and garlic bread are endless, I suggest eschewing appetizers in favor of the higher quality entrees.

The alfredo here was not quite so excellent as Lansky's, but it was still quite good. A tad on the thick side, but definitely lacking in the bitter, and it didn't require any additional parmesan, which is always a step up. I kind of wish I had gotten the monster combo that Mecha got, though. Thirteen bucks, and he got a platter of food that was downright Mexican in its portions. He ended up taking home half of what he got in a box, it was that much, and it was, hands down, the best chicken parm I have ever tasted. I regret only getting one bite, because with more I might have managed to figure out how they made the breading so damn good.

  • Diet Coke ($1.99)
  • Garlic Cheese Bread ($3.99)
  • Hot Italian Pie ($10.49)
That bust was terrifying, all the more so because our flighty and scatterbrained server did not know who it was. Frankly I don't think I could work in those conditions - it's like some sort of bearded Big Brother. Incidentally, the decor didn't sit badly with me, with the exception of the rather inexplicable truck. On top of its inexplicability, it was also all the way across the building from the bulk of the seating, so hitting the salad bar almost required a guide, porters, and an elephant for success.

The salad bar itself was decent (it includes beets!) though there was nothing special about the dressings. I would like to say that I have absolutely no idea how I was expected to get at the middle row of salad toppings - that is to say, the ones buried in the center of the cart. I am not a short person, so the process of liberating some cucumbers involved me trying hard not to mush my face into the sneeze guard while overextending my shoulder to get under the damn thing. I'm not OSHA, but that is hardly an ergonomic design. Maybe they can hire a small child on a stepstool for people six feet and above?

As ND has predicted I will spend some words on the cheese bread. First, the cost is fairly high, at a buck a piece; secondly, something about the cheese blend they use here is off. I'm apparently the only one at the table who could taste it that strongly, but there is a strange metallic tang to the cheese, which just utterly destroyed my desire for the bread. I would chalk it up to a one-off experience, but I've eaten here when it was at the old location and it tasted the same then. Very sadly, they used the same blend for the hot Italian pie, though, as I will explain in a second, that's not the drawback it might appear to be.

One might have expected something called "pie" to resemble a more lasagna-like or baked spaghetti concoction, heavy on the cheese and with a density to it, but instead it's little more than a collection of penne, black olives, sausage, pepperoni, and their spicy sauce, topped with a smattering of the cheese blend and put under a heat source long enough for the cheese to barely melt. It wasn't horrible by any means, but I found myself wishing they'd added more sauce to it; it honestly was more or less bone dry, and without any cheese to hold it together I might as well have ordered one of the the bottomless plates and gotten some quantity.

On the other hand, their alfredo tasted nice, and the chicken parmesan was the best I'd tasted in a long while. It may be the case that there are a few other gems on the menu, but you might have to sacrifice a few visits to the god of the Doggy Bag until you find them.

  • Toasted Cheese Ravioli (5.99)
  • Alfredo Chicken & Mushroom Bake (10.99)
  • Soda (1.99)
I still maintain that it was a bust of Karl Marx and that the restaurant owners may be communist sympathizers. I'm not saying it had any direct effect on the quality of the food, but be aware of the proprietors' political persuasions when patronizing this pasta-ry.

I went to check their online menu because I'd forgotten the exact names of what I'd ordered (I was fairly certain that I didn't ask for Chix Mush Bake by name) and their prices are actually slightly cheaper at this location than what they list there. The salad bar was standard fare: some lettuce with random accoutrement and standard dressings. The toasted cheese ravioli was filled with a creamier cheese and jalapenos, so they were more like jalapeno poppers. They were nothing special and I agree with ND that you should just skip the appetizers and go straight to the entree.

The alfredo chicken & mushroom bake was a mix of button mushrooms, chicken, mostaccioli, and alfredo. The mushrooms were cooked nicely, firm with an almost sauteed flavor. The chicken was inconsequential with chunks so small and scarce that I rarely noticed them. The alfredo was good, but a bit too thick and heavy for my tastes. I would have preferred it lighter. Overall though, it worked and I enjoyed it. However, after spying what Mecha got for $13, I'm not sure I'd get it again.

  • Italian Soda, Kiwi Cream (2.79)
  • 3 Dish Combination (13.99)
    • Lasagna
    • Chicken Parmesean
    • Manicotti (red sauce)
    • Garlic Bread
    • Salad Bar
So apparently I won Spaghetti Works. This particular Spaghetti Works moved kinda just across the street from its older position and modernized a bit. I liked the old place a bit more, what can I say, I'm a sucker for old timey atmosphere and wood.

The kiwi cream soda was definitely kiwi and cream both, pleasant, but not amazing. Although it seems that refills were freeish, and I might have sampled around a bit more if I'd have known, since usually drinks like that are full price refills. I'll have to do that next time. Appetizers wise, the meat ravioli was the winner of the two raviolis, the cheese bread was okay but not amazing, oddly.

As for the main dish, it was their 3 dish combination. Now, on the dinner menu at that link put it at 14.49, but I'd swear mine was, on menu, at least 13.99 if not lower, as Maple mentioned, the prices are different. Like everything here, pretty much, salad bar (decent selection, reasonably fresh, don't know what those other guys are whining about with respect to the sneeze guard) and garlic brad (yay) came with it, but the thing that made everyone agog was the proportions. The chicken parm was a full sized single breast, not mushy in the slightest with good breading, and is probably some of the best chicken parm I've ever had anywhere. The lasagna had a lot of layers, was fairly dense, and still very delicious. No dried parts, cut pretty easily, held together well when cut. Both of these are things I'll get again next time I go for sure. I felt like trying the manicotti, and while it wasn't bad, it wasn't really my thing. As usual with cheese-stuffed tubes, it was a bit annoying to get both tube and cheese in the same forkful. I took half of the chicken parm and the lasagna home as leftovers, reheated a day later, they still stood up pretty well on the flavor front. Good job, Spagetti Works.

  • Meatball Sandwich (7.99)
I'm pretty sure I heard that the truck was a real truck. If you had heard beforehand that the salad bar was in the truck, you'd see it as you enter the restaurant, so it's not really that hidden. I thought there was more seating on the other side of the truck, but if not, it is kind of out of the way. I do agree that the bust is creepy.

In any case, as has already been said, the appetizers were just OK. I had to ask Mecha if he'd gotten some kind of pureed cucumber drink, because that's really what it looked like. I didn't hear what he actually ordered.

I ordered a meatball sandwich, which came on flatbread covered in sauce and cheese. I'm not sure I could have eaten it like a real sandwich, so the knife and fork were used. The meatballs were pretty tasty, and were actually quite soft. I got fries with it, but it seems you can get pasta instead. The salad bar is actually extra for sandwiches. I was reasonably pleased with the portions, but looking back at the $8 in my notes, it might have been a tad pricey, especially with a $2 optional salad bar. While not bad, I'd probably try something else next time. There are plenty of options, and previously I'd only tried the create-a-pasta bowls (which are great).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Chicago Dawg House

Restaurant: Chicago Dawg House
Address: 3113 N. 108th St
Genres: American, Hot Dog
Check Constraints: None
Chain: No | More Omaha Locations: No

  • Traditional Chicago Dog (2.99)
  • Cubby Kid (Corn Dog) (2.49)
  • Side of Cheese (.49)
  • Soda (.99)
Chicago Dawg House is tiny. It's mocked up to look kind of like a Wrigley Field concessions stand, I guess, and they went so far as to have actual fence put up on the bloody wall, so I suppose you can't fault the atmosphere. There is, however, a distinct lack of seating. All the seating consists of a single row of stools under a large counter along one wall. I was less than pleased with the seating, and while the food didn't quite make up for it, it was good enough that if they fixed the seating issue, I'd go back.

The deep fryers seemed to be running a bit on the hot side when we went, because everything was a bit on the crispy side. Not burnt, mind, which would definitely have ruined everything, but definitely crispy. For the corn dog, it was a bit crispier than I like, but because of the heat, it still managed to not ruin the inside, even if it was too hot to eat for a while. Pretty good corn dog, too. Not immense, but good enough, especially when dipped in the cheese sauce.

Everybody wants to know about the chicago dogs, though, I guarantee it. A chicago dog is a monstrosity, really. It's a collection of toppings that I still do not understand someone coming up with, and that I certainly wouldn't have tried had my friends not recommended it most heartily a few years back. Being who I am, unfortunately, I cannot eat a standard chicago dog, so I have them remove the onions and tomato slices, replacing them with cheese, delicious cheese. This has not steered me wrong. I have exactly one beef with these hot dogs, and that's that unlike Portillo's in Chicago, they use very large sport peppers, which changes how the flavor hits. Instead of tasting the other toppings, then getting a burst of heat as you bite into the pepper, you get the heat up front, dulling the taste of the other toppings. If they were to change that one little thing, I would call them pretty close to Portillo's equal, which is, to be sure, a high compliment.

Also, I sampled some of Mecha's chili and Cham's catfish, and let me say, that's some damn good catfish, and the chili is properly beanless, so thumbs up on those.


  • Traditional Chicago Dog ($2.99)
  • Catfish Po' Boy ($4.25)
  • Fries and Drink Combo ($1.99)
  • Cubby Kid ($2.49)
Personal disclaimer: I am from the Chicagoland area. That means, if I wanted to, I could replace this block of text with a one sentence review that should tell you everything you need to know: "The hot dogs at Chicago Dawg House are adequate." Though that sounds like damning with faint praise, it's not - people from my neck of the woods take their hot dogs very, very seriously. Luckily for you, Chicago Dawg House does as well. Their traditional sports the... well, traditional... array of toppings, laid out by the great gods Ditka and Caray in the beforetimes, with the all-hallowed commandment; "THOU SHALT NOT SUFFER KETCHUP UPON THY CHICAGO DOG."

Perhaps it's not that worthy of melodrama, but finding someone willing to give me a taste of home is reasonably hard. Most "chicago dogs" are lacking in key elements like the sport peppers or the all-important kosher pickle spear, but they're all here, including the celery salt and optional poppyseed bun. In fact, my only complaint was that the actual dog (which was the required all-beef version) was only the standard dog size. That said, their online menu claims you can pick a larger version for 50c more, but it's "skinless", which I assume means it's missing a thick casing. So there's a trade-off there; the size vs. the snap of the casing. Either way, this is definitively the best Chicago dog I have had outside the actual city.

Their po' boy was very good as well, especially with the hot sauce (make sure you ask for it). It wasn't anything extremely special, but the catfish breading was delicious and it was served piping hot - as ND mentioned they must have had their deep fryers ratcheted to 11 that day. Some coleslaw on the side (or on top) would not have gone amiss, but they don't have any on their menu. The corn dog was good - and large, and also amazingly hot - but expensive. Hard to tell if they're hand-dipped on site, but it seems reasonable to assume they're not.

In conclusion, then, I have finally found a place I can get a good Chicago dog that is not approximately 500 miles away. If the seating's cramped, well, then there's always takeout.


  • Traditional Chicago Dawg ($2.99)
  • South Side Chili Dawg ($3.25)
  • Onion Woo Woos (rings) ($1.79)
  • Drink ($0.99)
The seating is pretty cramped and all along one wall, and extends way into the back. It's in the narrowest of strip mall spaces I've ever been in, and that makes it rough.

Having gone to Portillo's in mid May, I have to say that this place definitely satisfies on the dog front. Cham gave you the technical description, thankfully, so all I have to add is that they put it together right in my opinion, given my experience. I'm not from Chicago, unlike Cham, so I don't have a long history with the flavor, but it's one I enjoy. Big plus.

The chili 'dawg' I chose, without thinking, was onions and chili, not chili and cheese. A thought to remember for next time. Their chili was high on the cumin flavor, not so high on the heat, which was enjoyable, and all around a great thing to slap on the traditional tube of meat.

Their rings are extremely light on salt and breading, leaving it mainly with light onion flavor, which you may or may not go for. Their cheese was okay. The lack of shakes, in my opinion, is a serious detriment, because I really do enjoy a pair of dogs, fries, cheese, and a shake as Portillos lets me have it, but unless you are really into that combo yourself, you don't have to worry. The service (place is short order) was fast and I have no real complaints. If you want a taste of the real experience, this will serve you well. Kudos.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Restaurant: Lansky's
Address: 50th & L
Genres: Pizza, Pasta, Phillies
Check Constraints: Short order.
Chain: Yes | More Omaha Locations: Yes

  • Chicken Alfredo (7.69)
  • Cheese Bread (3 pieces, 2.69)
  • #1 Giant Chicken Philly (4.95)
  • Soda (1.79)
Lansky's is not hard to find. It has what was, once upon a time, a prime location, and is now still a pretty good one. It also has parking lots on both sides of the restaurant, and an entrance for each lot. In fact, the place is pretty stretched out inside, with the kitchen and half the seating at one end, and the rest of the seating stretched down along the way. Of course, people tend to congregate at the end with the kitchen and the soda machine, but what else did you expect?

More importantly, Lansky's is a local chain, with a restaurant each in Omaha (this one), Bellevue, and Council Bluffs. The Lansky's menu is kind of a mix of Italian, pizza, phillies, and sports bar, as you'll see with the selection of appetizers we ordered. For the record, the cheese bread is excellent, and comes with an oversized cup of handmade marinara for dipping, as do like, half their appetizers.

Lansky's has three ways to order their phillies. You can get them plain, just meat and cheese, which is how I like mine, or you can start heaping onions, peppers, shrooms, and other such nastiness on them. For my money, a giant hoagie with two or three pieces of quality cheese over which is heaped a huge helping of well seasoned chicken and nothing else, just cannot be beat. I couldn't even -start- on it this time, so I took it back to work, threw it in the fridge, and had it the next day, and it was every bit as good as fresh.

The chicken alfredo, though, oh man. I ate it there, of course. Every last bit of it, nearly down to licking the plate clean. I have been to actual professed Italian restaurants in Omaha, and not one of them has given me an alfredo quite so delicious. They only have grated parmesan, but you won't need it at all, the sauce is nearly a perfect blend of garlic, cream, and parmesan, very much unlike the overly creamy and occasionally slightly bitter stuff I've had elsewhere. It comes with two big chunks of garlic bread, which also goes well with the alfredo, and it's made with a huge helping of the same chicken as they use for the phillies, which really just puts the whole thing over the moon.

I got two excellent meals for eighteen bucks, and I gave most of the bread to other people. Go to Lansky's. Eat. Enjoy.


  • Regular Chicken Philly Meal ($6.99)
  • #3 Style, (Peppers, Onions, Mushrooms)
  • Regular Drink, Fries
  • Regular Fried Ravioli ($3.95)
  • 3pc Garlic Toast ($1.85)
  • Beer Cheese Dip ($1.25)
"Nastiness", says ND. Delicious, says I. The only right way to enjoy the phillies is with the full complement of sauteed toppings, including green peppers, onions, and mushrooms. If you're desperately in need of more flavor I would support getting a tub of the marinara for them, but ketchup is for french fries. And heathens. The food here is what I would call "generally solid". Could you find a better cheesesteak in Omaha? Probably. Will you pay more? Possibly. The advantage here is the known quantity factor.

Their fries are seasoned, but nothing overwhelmingly special. The ravioli can probably be avoided - it's not burnt to a crisp like some places, but it's essentially nothing but a taste-free carrier vehicle for the pretty good marinara - or the beer cheese dipping sauce. This stuff is worth it, but eat it fast, because as it cools down it rapidly moves from "delicious" to "government cheese" status. Their garlic toast is also decent, but there's no reason not to get the with-cheese version like ND did.

Last point - the menu is expansive. It's not Wheatfields-big, but it's sizable. I know businesses that order work lunches out of here, which not a bad option, because it's good, cheap, and there's really something for everyone on their menu.


  • Build it your way Calzone ($4.75 + $2.00 for 4 toppings)
    • Canadian Bacon
    • Pineapple
    • Green Peppers
    • Roma Tomatoes
  • Regular Drink, Onion Rings ($4.44 as a combo)
  • Regular Spicy Pub Pickles ($4.45)
Knowing Lansky's has parking in the back is important for first-time visitors, because the front parking lot is kinda tight. I went with the pocket pizza option, as Lansky's will not only do pizzas by ingredients, but the calzones as well (with the same price as a personal size pizza.) This is good because their actual standard calzone selection, while containing a few delicious options, is very limited, and I didn't want to double up with anyone's choices there.

I think that next time, I'll sub out the tomatoes, which were admittedly good, for more cheese, as the calzone didn't seem to have quite enough cheese binding it on its own. The ingredients were solid (what do you want from pineapple?) and the crust itself tasty. This calzone, as prepared, was not hugely messy or difficult to cut, but I'm sure that can vary based on what exactly you get. They come with dipping marinara/pizza sauce, as there's not a lot (or maybe any inside), and I think that's the largest reason why this calzone, at least, wasn't a mess factory.

On the appetizer front, I actually liked the ravioli and could taste flavor in it, but it wasn't amazing or anything. The spicy pub pickles were as advertised, not too spicy though. Onion rings were fine too. The Beer Cheese sauce was pretty good as well. Cham's estimation of 'solid' for this place is not wrong, although I have to admit that this place has an excellent Aloha pizza (I like their topping choices) as well. And, having done it, the calzones reheat well enough, too.


  • Italian Sausage Calzone ($5.95)
  • Regular Drink, Fries ($3.08 as a combo)
If I had seen the build-your-own calzone, I probably would have gotten exactly the same one Mecha did. I spotted the Hawaiian pizza option in the menu and thought that looked good, but wanted something more like the calzones. Italian Sausage was a fine choice, however. The calzones are pretty good sized. Due to work, I ended up taking home a corner of the calzone and a handful of fries. I could have finished there, but I felt like I needed to get back to work sooner and didn't really want it sitting in my stomach all afternoon anyway.

The calzone was pretty crumbly. It definitely could have used more cheese to hold it together. This style calzone had an awful lot of green/red peppers--maybe a little too much for my tastes. The marinara was a little hard to use with the calzone guts spread all over the plate. Still, it was tasty enough that I was pleased with it. The fries were actually pretty good. They weren't too dry or greasy. They were also lightly seasoned. The calzones reheat well enough, but the fries are another story. They were edible, just not nearly as good as the first time around.


  • Vegetable Calzone ($5.25)
  • Regular Drink, Onion Rings ($4.44 as a combo)
I was originally going to try the Reuben, but then I made the mistake of asking Moogle what he was getting and my fate was sealed. Unlike ND, I loves me some peppers and onions, so I went with the Vegetable Calzone. It was the size of a medium pizza folded over. The crust was a nice tasty crispy and chockful of mushrooms, green and red bell peppers, onions, and black olives. The peppers were cooked so they weren't soft and were on the verge of crunch. The onions didn't overpower any of the rest of the filling. Unfortunately, as Mecha lamented, the filling didn't bind together well. It could have used a good amount more cheese. I ended up cutting off a piece of calzone, scooping some crust and filling into my mouth, then shoving a half forkful of marinara in there to taste. It was a very good calzone, though next time I'll probably roll my own because a Hawaiian Calzone sounds really good.

It was a good price and a good calzone. I'll be going back.