Tastes to Remember: Reminisces of Shuttered Omaha Restaurants
May 28, 2020 10:05AM
By Ryan Borchers
There’s a particular kind of sadness that comes from watching a great restaurant go out of business.
It’s no secret that Omaha has become a more foodie-friendly town in this century. Eateries to satisfy all manner of appetites seem to pop up every month. Still, nothing can match that one place where they season the burgers just right, or where a couple had the best anniversary dinner of their lives, or where a person can eat comfort food after a long, tough day.
Omaha has seen many places like that close down in the last five years. Here are five Omaha Magazine chose to highlight.
Being one of Warren Buffett’s favorite restaurants wasn’t enough to save this classic Italian steakhouse, which served its final customers on Dec. 31, 2015, after 81 years in business.
Originally called Piccolo Pete’s Restaurant, it was founded by Sicilian immigrant Joseph Piccolo. It was famous for Italian dishes and a host of other offerings, but the prime rib was the most popular item on the menu.
The building retains its notable neon sign shaped like a piccolo player. Inside, it had the oak paneling and low lighting typical of a midcentury fancy restaurant, as well as a huge crystal ball over what used to be the dance floor.
Fortunately, not all is lost. Scott Sheehan, who would have been a third-generation owner if Piccolo’s had stayed open, still has the old recipes. You can sample the former restaurant’s wares at his mobile food truck, Anthony Piccolo’s Mobile Venue.
Sushi Japan Yakiniku Boy
Blue Sushi Sake Grill is probably the first restaurant Omahans think about when they think about sushi, but in 2015 The Omaha World-Herald crowned West Omaha hole-in-the-wall Sushi Japan as the metro area’s best place for sushi.
The intimate dining room made for a quiet and relaxing spot to enjoy a meal. The menu was chef’s choice, and the fish was always fresh. Standout dishes, according to The World-Herald, included the rainbow roll and yellow nigiri.
Unfortunately, the restaurant closed after 18 years when the owners, Yoshimasa and Yoshie Mizuno, decided to retire in April 2019. The month previous, their daughter Tamae succumbed to cancer. Soon after, chef Arturo Ramos also passed away due to cancer.
The Petrow family had a long run in business in Nebraska, beginning in Fremont in 1903 when Nick and John Petrow started Petrow’s Fremont Candy Kitchen. Nick opened Petrow’s at 60th and Center streets in 1950 as a drive-in, and it stayed in business until December 2019. Nick Petrow, the grandson of the aforementioned Nick, and his wife, Michelle, decided then to retire.
Petrow’s was an Omaha institution, racking up several awards over the years. It was named a Best of Omaha winner by the public as recently as 2018. They specialized in diner-style food, with some of its most popular dishes including the pork tenderloin sandwich, hot roast beef sandwich, and waffles.
The biggest star, though, was the ice cream, handmade from a recipe that was over 115 years old. The clown sundae, with vanilla and chocolate ice cream, chocolate and marshmallow topping, spanish peanuts and an upside-down waffle cone, was a favorite.
Amato’s Cafe and Catering
Amato’s definitely didn’t go out of business for lack of exposure. It sat in the now-bustling Aksarben Village, ran plenty of radio ads, and was featured on episodes of the popular television shows Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and Man v. Food.
The food was certainly popular, too, particularly the pancakes infused with ricotta and the homemade Italian sausage.
Alas, it closed up shop in 2019 for the simple reason that Ann Amato elected to retire, about two years after her husband and co-owner Sam passed away.
Sam started the business, contrary to the modern trend, as a food truck and served classic Italian food to Omaha for over 45 years. A much-admired figure among regular patrons, he loved talking with customers and famously invited them to “put your elbows on the table and laugh out loud.”
Of all the restaurants on this list, the Bohemian Cafe was probably the most unique. It was founded by Czech immigrant Louis Macala in 1924 and, despite a few location changes, stayed on 13th Street throughout its run. At the time of its closing, Terry Kapoun was a third-generation owner, his grandparents having purchased the restaurant in 1959, and his brother Ron was the head chef.
The Bohemian Cafe was a much-loved institution of Omaha’s Czech, Bohemian, and Polish communities, a place where you could eat genuine Czech fare and where the staff dressed in traditional Czech outfits. The boiled beef with dill gravy was a beloved dish, as was the liver dumpling soup. You could get homemade apple strudel and kolaches, too.
The restaurant’s legacy lives on, however. Infusion Little Bohemia Beer Hall occupies the cafe’s former spot. Visitors can go there and still see the Bohemian Cafe’s entryway doors, hand-painted tiles, and neon sign.
This article first appeared in the "60 Plus" section of the June 2020 issue of Omaha Magazine.