Jan 20, 2018 02:27PM
By Niz Proskocil
Its offbeat location next to a gas station may make some first-time visitors to Finicky Frank's a little apprehensive, but diners shouldn’t be dissuaded. The small, locally owned cafe in Omaha’s Florence neighborhood has a hidden-gem quality and offers well-made, thoughtful fare with homespun style. Dishes are prepared from scratch with a focus on seasonality, and many ingredients are locally sourced; some come from as close as owners Brian and Kesa Kenny’s 11-acre Ponca Hills home.
The Kennys opened the first incarnation of Finicky Frank's in 2007 in Ponca Hills. The following year, the restaurant moved to its present location at 9520 Calhoun Road, just northwest of North 30th Street and Interstate 680. The eatery is named after a neighbor who always turned his nose up at whatever Kesa was cooking. His usual response: “Oh, God, don’t make that. Don’t do that.” “Frank is very particular, very finicky,” Kesa says.
During the last 10 years, the family-friendly spot has acquired many loyal customers from the surrounding area as well as other parts of the city. The restaurant rises above its nondescript, next-to-a-gas-station setting with a welcoming patio entrance surrounded by decorative wrought-iron fencing and lots of flowers and plants.
Inside, the space is warm and inviting with a classic black-and-white checkered floor, artwork, a spacious bar, and a charming “European flair,” says Kesa, who previously ran the former Center Street Cafe near 35th and Center streets, which closed in 2002. Though not a trained chef, she’s an enthusiastic, self-taught home cook who enjoys experimenting with new recipes and putting her own spin on dishes. “I’m always thinking, ‘What can I make next?’ I love to try everything,” Kesa says.
She sticks to a “keep it fresh, never frozen” philosophy and uses local ingredients whenever possible. That could mean seasonal produce from the nearby Florence Mill Farmers Market or vegetables grown on her land, which is cared for by a husband-and-wife gardening team. During growing season, an abundance of garden goodies—everything from radishes to bok choy—winds up at the restaurant.
Though just one page, the menu features a craveable lineup of salads, sandwiches, soups, and daily specials. On a recent visit with a dining companion, we sampled several dishes and found the food just as comforting as the ambiance. A pair of crab cakes off the appetizer list pleased with their plumpness, plentiful lumps of crab meat, crispy exterior, and tender center.
Another popular menu item is the Reuben sandwich. Two slices of marble rye hold a heap of lean, thinly sliced corned beef and melted Swiss cheese. Sauerkraut brings brightness and tang, balanced by a pleasant sweetness from the housemade Thousand Island dressing. It’s served with onion rings or fries.
Onion rings get a soak in buttermilk to make them tender before being coated in a batter of flour, egg, and salt. They’re fried until golden brown and served with a dipping sauce made from stoneground mustard, mayo, and honey. The rings seemed slightly undersalted, but that’s far better than the opposite.
The special that evening was chicken roulade stuffed with ham and cheese, served with a rich, luscious artichoke cream sauce. A side of wild rice satisfied with its nutty, earthy flavor and pleasingly chewy texture. The dish was quite good, but without a vegetable, the entree felt incomplete. A small salad included with the special featured mixed greens—no sad iceberg lettuce here—tossed with mozzarella balls, yellow bell pepper, crispy croutons, and cherry tomatoes, all perfectly dressed with housemade herb vinaigrette.
FINICKY FRANK'S 9520 Calhoun Road | 402.451.5555 Food: 4 stars Service: 3.5 stars Price: $$ Overall: 4 stars
Visit finickyfranks.com for more information.
This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.