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Omaha Magazine

A Return to The Kitchen: Elkhorn Venue is Perfect Fit for Chef Karl Marsh

May 27, 2021 04:54PM ● By J.D. Avant

When Aaron McKeever, co-founder of Eat Fit Go, was looking for the right people for his latest endeavor, Barrel & Vine, he eagerly turned to seasoned chef Paul Militzer and former chief culinary officer at Eat Fit Go, Karl Marsh. 

 The restaurant and music venue near 204th and Pacific streets will be a true food destination spot in Elkhorn. A restaurant and venue with this selection demands culinary experts to craft a menu capable of satisfying guests from both sides of the Platte River. Hence the hiring of Militzer and Marsh. 

“My first foray back, and I’m a little nervous,” Marsh said, referring to his absence from day-to-day restaurant work for the past 25 years.

The longtime chef had worked in restaurants since his early teens on the West Coast, graduating from the now-closed Century School of Culinary Arts in San Diego. Afterwards, he helped launch Southern California’s iconic George’s at the Cove restaurant as a line cook, eventually working his way up to night sous chef.

Marsh would continue his in-kitchen work throughout the years, managing upscale hotel restaurants such as the Hotel Finisterra in Cabo San Lucas and cooking for A-Listers at several Planet Hollywood locations. In the 1990s, he wanted to get out of the restaurant business and focus on computer programming. 

 Fortunately, a mentor suggested he continue utilizing his culinary skill set in a corporate environment. Marsh worked in corporate test kitchens over the next several years. He enjoyed being director of new product development at Chevys Fresh Mex, and found his dream job as corporate executive chef at Omaha Steaks after moving to Omaha with his wife in 2002. 

The dedicated chef wasn’t interested in working day-to-day inside of a restaurant kitchen after he moved to Nebraska, but he could never turn down a chance for a great dining experience. He enjoys trying out new eateries around town and recognized the upsurge of quality restaurants as time progressed.

“The food scene in Omaha has gone forward with leaps and bounds since I moved here,” Marsh said.

While he tried to resist the urge of returning to the kitchen, Marsh admitted he was always open to going back if an opportunity arose that met his specific criteria.

“I always said I would never do it again unless it was the perfect concept, perfect location, perfect people I’d be working for, and the (restaurant’s) finances would be perfect,” Marsh said. 

Once he realized McKeever’s Barrel & Vine met his prerequisites, the talented chef was ready to head back into the kitchen as executive chef and a business partner.

 “Aaron McKeever’s vision is incredible,” Marsh said. “I’ve been around food and restaurants for over 40 years. I wanted to be a part of this project because it’s such an intriguing concept and amazing location. I hope Omaha residents enjoy it and think the same of it as I do. We want everyone to come out and give us a shot.” Located in a budding corridor, including the Dalmore Apartments and additional retail space, the exclusive spot is set to open soon.

This ambitious foray boasts five interconnected venues, including a charming dining room, formal bar, patio, upstairs poolside bar, and to-go food window. It will also feature live, onstage music provided by touring country western and rock ’n’ roll bands traveling along I-80.

Barrel & Vine’s atmosphere is ramping up to be a standout experience among the city’s food scene. Different sections of the restaurant will have different impressions, and guests will find food items at the upstairs poolside bar not found in the downstairs dining room. 

Marsh assures guests will enjoy themselves whether they are wearing jeans or formal wear.

“We don’t ever want to exclude any type of guest. One person might want to eat at the downstairs patio, one might enjoy table service at the bar. Hopefully it will appeal to everyone,” Marsh said.

 Co-executive chef Militzer looks forward to offering a variety of fare throughout the different venues. He foresees busy days and nights, and compares managing the kitchen in the unique venue to his time handling concurrent weddings and birthdays as executive chef at Happy Hollow Country Club.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Militzer said. “Something that Omaha hasn’t seen before.” 

Militzer has crafted a brunch menu equipped to please an assortment of appetites. Fans of traditional meals will enjoy his smoked specialties, including salmon, chicken, and baked potatoes. Those with more adventurous cravings will enjoy the superfood salad, chorizos, and strawberry French toast.

“We’re going to rotate things out quite a bit. We’ll be able to switch things up so it doesn’t get stagnated,” Militzer said.

One on-trend menu item is a tater tot poutine. “Once you eat it, you can’t stop,” Marsh said of the decadent Canadian-based dish with a twist.

The poutine features a delicious bourbon maple syrup gravy, cheese curds, and tater tots. The chefs plan to serve the poutine several different ways, including as a pizza, a side item, and an appetizer. They hope people will enjoy eating the food as much as they have enjoyed working on the dishes.

“I like everything to pack a wallop and be memorable,” Marsh said.

 The list of delectable items on each venue’s menu persists with comfort foods and new favorites, including mac ‘n’ cheese, Nebraska steaks, artichoke pizza, and what Marsh hopes is the best burger in Omaha. He said all dishes will be crafted with the highest quality ingredients in a dream kitchen for chefs, featuring an infrared finishing oven, hybrid steak broiler and grill that cooks the bottom and top of meat at the same time, and a pizza oven.

With everything in place, Militzer foresees multiple soft openings before opening day to help familiarize staff with the process. They’ll stick with an approved initial menu and limit specials throughout the primary phase.

“The biggest thing is patience,” he said. “[It] takes time to get something off the ground”

Marsh credits McKeever’s vision and leadership for giving them the opportunity to give Barrel & Vine a first-class grand opening.

“Typically you never get to do them right,” Marsh said, referring to other restaurant launches. “I’ve never had this much time and the opportunity to put this much thought into what we’re going to be serving. Hopefully it will be a culmination of my entire career in this menu. I’m really excited about that.”

As it stands, Barrel & Vine is ready to give visitors an exclusive experience worthy of more than just a couple hours visit according to Militzer. 

“I think it can be a place you can come and spend the whole day,” Militzer said when asked what he envisions a great night at Barrel & Vine will look like. “People can come to the pool in the afternoon and have snacks, [then] come back at night and have dinner or drinks in the bar and enjoy live music. There’s nothing like it.” 

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This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

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