Salt, Flour, Water, SupportNov 04, 2019 12:40PM ● By Virginia Kathryn Gallner
Walking into Farine + Four, the scent of espresso and tiny monsters on the chalkboard menu greet you immediately. On a sunny day, the garage door opens to a patio overlooking Triangle Apartments. Sarah Bohling, a familiar face from longtime Omaha fixture Caffeine Dreams (and bassist for local indie bands Icky Blossoms and Thick Paint) may be on hand to take your order.
From the front counter, it is easy to see cooks preparing toasts, sandwiches, and coffee, without walls or windows to separate them from the restaurant.
“What we do here doesn’t have secrets,” says Ellie Pegler, owner and head chef at Farine + Four. Pegler designed this space with purpose. The abundant sunshine is important—not just for the aesthetic, but so guests can see how their food is prepared. “Every restaurant I’ve ever worked [in] has been in the backroom,” she recalls. “Here, we get daylight all day long.”
All the colors of her interior design represent the four primary ingredients of bread: white for salt and levain [leavening], brown and copper for flour, and blue for water. The name is another example of the elegant minimalism that characterizes the space. Farine + Four signifies “flour” and “oven” in French.
Pegler’s journey into the food industry started at 15, when she was grounded for having a boy in her room. To keep her out of trouble, her parents told her to get a job at The Cookie Co. in Lincoln. She ended up working there for nine years baking cookies, muffins, and rolls.
She attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, graduating with double majors in political science and Spanish. Desire for adventure led her to Santiago, Chile, for a change of scenery before starting law school.
The food culture in Chile, she explains, is heavy on fish. “At the time, I was vegetarian, so it was a lot of potatoes,” she says with a laugh.
Despite the potato-based diet, Pegler’s adventure abroad may have inspired her. She changed her plans for law school and moved to New York City to start a nine-month program at the International Culinary Center.
“I really liked working with my hands. A desk job was never going to fulfill me. I figured that if I was going to do it, I was going to go big. I wanted to learn in the hub of the food world, which is New York.”
She already had her bachelor’s degree from the Culinary Institute upstate, so it was an easier transition back into the food industry.
She worked in a baker position at Aquavit, NYC’s Michelin-rated Nordic restaurant, for two years. On a whim, she decided to try the world of pastry. She designed the bread program at Marea restaurant. After two and a half years there, she served as the head baker at Vaucluse on the Upper East Side.
Her work at Aquavit sparked a passion for Scandinavian flavors—drawing on her own heritage as well, since her grandmother came here from Norway. On Instagram, they have posted pastries such as Swedish dream cookies, utilizing hjorthrornssalt (ammonium carbonate) to create large air pockets.
Pegler is also a certified sommelier, and selects all the wines for her menu. These pair beautifully with the hand-painted bonbons—which line the pastry shelves like jewels—or a refreshing taste of house-made ice cream.
One of Pegler’s favorite dishes is the Green Bowl: white and red quinoa, buckwheat, and millet, tossed in a miso vinaigrette with toasted almonds, black sesame, and lemon zest. Many of these ingredients are locally sourced.
Omaha has been a nurturing community in which to start her business. Looking around the space, it is easy to see she does her part to support other small businesses: wallpaper by Birdhouse Interior Design, signage by Arbor Street Studios, professional aprons by Artifact, and a glowing sign from Omaha Neon. The tiny monsters that catch the eye upon arrival were drawn by Lincoln artist Abigail Ervin.
Another feature that sets Farine + Four apart is the flour mill that resides in the dining room. They mill their own flour with organic wheat and rye berries. This flour, Pegler explains, retains more vitamins, minerals, and fibers than its shelf-stable counterparts.
The location at 3020 Leavenworth St. places them fairly close to Blackstone, Midtown, and downtown. The bakery provides bread and pastries for at least 20 area restaurants and coffee shops, including Le Bouillon, The Boiler Room, Myrtle & Cypress, Rally Coffee Co., Artemis Teas, and Archetype Coffee.
Brian Zuerlein of Mayne St. Market in Benson describes how they support each other as local businesses. “We’ll run a special and she will post it [on social media], so people know that’s her bread.” They have been partnering with Farine + Four for over a year now.
Another of Pegler’s favorite partnerships is with Au Courant, whose menu changes every two weeks to keep choices new and exciting.
“It is a warm, vibrant food scene, with more restaurants and more diversity,” she says. “Why would Yoshitomo compete with V. Mertz? Both are executing at a really high level, doing very different things.”
Their local support extends to the menu, which includes a regular rotation of vegan items, all crafted with locally sourced ingredients. Farm Table Delivery, one of their local partners, supplies fresh produce that inspires seasonal changes.
In Pegler's opinion, this is what sets Omaha apart from New York City. In NYC, she says, everyone is competing against each other. Here in Omaha, everyone is trying to help each other out.
“Everyone supports everyone,” she says. And the proof is in the pastry.
Visit farineandfour.com for more information.This article was printed in the November/December 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.