Okay, Poke!

The first time I went to Nite Owl, they hadn’t been open for long. It was the day after Christmas, and I brought the GaGas with me to meet Tony and his husband Edward for lunch. I immediately realized my mistake, it was clear that they weren’t really there for the under-21 set — but all sides made the best of it, and I liked the general vibe. It felt familiar, like an East Village bar I would have gone to back in the day. Plus, it’s always kind of refreshing in a town like Omaha to find a place that’s not child-friendly.

Then our food arrived, and I knew I was really onto something special. It was thoughtful, sophisticated and eclectic — the kind of stuff that chefs make for themselves at the end of service, when they have all the best ingredients on hand, but want something hearty enough to soak up the stress of the kitchen and some fine whiskey. 

I usually do have the girls with me, though, so I don’t get back to Nite Owl as often as I might. I feel like that makes this week’s Dandelion featuring N.O. chef Dustin Fox custom-made for me. All that great Nite Owl-style food, served in the light of day, and I can bring my entourage.

“I’m usually so focused on that late crowd that it’s been fun to change it up when planning this menu,” says Dustin, who attended the culinary school at Omaha’s Metropolitan Community College and worked at the former Vivace and The Grey Plume before coming to Nite Owl. “I wanted to do food that speaks to how much we love spring and summer here in the midwest, and highlights the bounty of delicious food that grows within 50 miles of here.”

That said, the thing Dustin’s making that I’m most excited about is the tuna poke bowl, which marries fresh tuna and pineapple with black sesame seeds — presumably none of which are from Omaha-area farms.

“The places I’ve traveled really influence what I make,” says Dustin, who recently returned from a trip to Cuba. He says the ceviches there, as well as time spent at San Francisco’s Liholiho Yacht Club, gave him the idea to do a poke bowl.  “I eat a lot more seafood — which I think a lot of Nebraskans don’t get a chance to do — and I enjoy bringing dishes like that here to the Midwest.”

Dustin’s loving pineapple these days. “I think it can go with just about anything,” he says. He’s also planning to do a wagyu burger with smoked pineapple, blue cheese and bacon for tomorrow’s event, plus an island-style pork slider with tropical fruit chimichurri, and an Asian-style vegan burger.

This idea of using local ingredients in new and different ways perfectly sums up Dustin’s cooking philosophy — all the more so when it’s done at a pop-up event like Dandelion or a bar like Nite Owl. “I believe in making the smallest waste footprint possible, while still exploring different flavor profiles and letting local flavors shine,” he says. “But I don’t take myself too seriously. Good food should be accessible and fun — not something you can only afford to eat on special occasions.”

As if the chance to eat poke bowls on a Friday afternoon wasn’t occasion enough.