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Posts Tagged ‘Big Mama’s Soul food Kitchen’

            Recently I found myself on a tour that stayed several nights in Omaha.  I have to admit I thought it wouldn’t be a very fun place, but I was pleasantly surprised.
               In Nebraska, the rolling prairie is so dominate that many pioneers used to compare it to an ocean as they sailed their prairie schooners across the Oregon and Mormon trails.  The land was made up of very rich soil and today the state is a leading producer of corn, wheat, and cattle; thus the nickname the “Cornhusker State”.  
            In 1854 Nebraska became a territory and the Homestead Act of 1862 gave 160 acres to settlers for a nominal fee which created a land rush that helped Nebraska become the 37th state in 1867.  The state has more miles of rivers than any other state, which helped create good growing conditions for the settlers.
            Hardy pioneers settled on the west bank of the Missouri River which was the river that helped Lewis and Clark cross the continent.  In the north part of the city, the Mormons spent the harsh winter of 1846-47 as they pushed towards Utah (there is more about this in my Salt Lake City article).  With the Mormon and Oregon trails going through here, Omaha became known as the “Crossroads of the Nation” since it played a key role in western expansion.
             In 1854 the town was founded when the Omaha Indians signed a treaty with the US government and a flood of pioneers settled there.  The town was characterized by lawlessness and drunkenness, with only pioneer justice for law.  The name means “those going against the wind or current” which fit the attitude of the town at that time.
         The city was also the site of the groundbreaking for the first transcontinental railroad in 1863 which also started prosperity. In the 1870’s with the development of Omaha stockyards and packing houses, the town grew so quickly it was dubbed the “Magic City”.  Many immigrants and several regional breweries started. 
          Our city guide told us that the city has a very strong economy and ranks 8th among the nation’s 50 largest cities in per capita billionaires and Fortune 500 companies.  The Mutual of Omaha’s dome is very contemporary in architectural design and has seven floors underground.  There are also two dozen other insurance companies.  And nearby is the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Command Center in the suburb of Bellevue.
          Also famous there is Boys Town established in 1917 for troubled children.  The kids learned to become responsible citizens by the founder and administrator, Father Flanagan.  He directed the school from 1927-41 and it is still going strong today.  Hollywood even made a movie about it starring Spencer Tracy.   If you visit here, there is a neat museum (Spencer Tracy even donated his Academy Award statue) and also drive through the campus. Be sure and stop at the gift shop because it is always good to support the local economy!
            While we were there we spent time exploring many of the ethnic and culinary delights of the city.
            We started with a dinner cruise and music on the River City Star Riverboat.  Some of the things our guide showed us the next day on our city tour were Warren Buffet’s home, St. Cecilia’s Spanish Cathedral, the Blackstone Hotel—home of the first Reuben sandwich and TD Ameritrade Park—home of the College World Series.  We also saw the Omaha Community Theater where Henry Fonda started acting.  Did you know Marlon Brando’s mother gave Henry Fonda acting lessons?
          On another day, we spent the morning at the Henry Doorly Zoo.  This zoo often outranks both the Bronx and San Diego zoos as a favorite due to “total immersion exhibits”.  It is awesome when you are walking through tunnels and the animals are in natural habitats surrounding you. Because of all the wealth in the city, a lot of it has been spent on children and animals and you can see the love and money that has been given to this zoo.
          There are many great places to eat in Omaha but our tour had an emphasis on ethnic cuisine.  W had lunch at Big Mama’s Soul Food Kitchen on the Turning Point Campus (formally known as the Nebraska School for the Deaf).  This place was featured on the Food Network and also selected as the 56th best place to chow down in America by the Travel Channel.  Naturally we had southern fried chicken as our entrée and I can’t begin to tell you how awesome her desserts are.  Big Mama takes time out to speak to our groups.  She is a wonderful inspiration to the over 50 crowd.  She overcame a lot of obstacles to open her restaurant late in life and is still going strong.
            Some of the other ethnic places we ate at were the German American Society where we had German food and were treated to a show with German folk dancers and singers.  The Renaissance Mansion, the historic home of Minnie Storz Higgins, served us Swedish meatballs and cabbage rolls.  At the Bohemian Café we watched a Kolacky making demonstration and then headed over to the Lithuanian Bakery and Café.  Our final dinner was at St. John’s Greek Orthodox Church where we ate Greek chicken and naturally baklava for dessert while enjoying the dancing the folks put on.
          I think everyone gained at least five pounds on this particular tour.  But what else can you expect when you are in a state that is a leading producer of popcorn, Kool aid and spam and so many choices of food from “the old country”.

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