Old School Cool with a Contemporary Feel at The Committee ChophouseMar 01, 2022 11:49AM ● By Tamsen Butler
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
There are two entrances into The Committee Chophouse: one from the street and one from inside The Cottonwood Hotel, formerly the historic Blackstone Hotel. Enter through the hotel to appreciate the sheer magnitude of the hotel’s history, courtesy of black-and-white photos of famous people who visited the Blackstone Hotel in its heyday.
“Being in the same space as Jackie and JFK, and Nixon and Truman, that is just amazing,” said John Onsa, the hotel’s food and beverage director. “I think, to me, as a history buff, it’s just like going back in time.”
Blackstone Hotel was built in 1916 and hosted a variety of celebrities, politicians, and other notable people. When Cottonwood Hotel opened on Nov. 17, 2020, The Committee Chophouse wasn’t far behind with an opening date of Dec. 15 that same year.
The restaurant is named after a weekly poker group by Blackstone Hotel’s owner, Charles Schimmel. The Committee Chophouse manages to offer an old-school vibe without feeling outdated.
Guests can start at the trendy Cottonwood Room lounge, featuring an eye-catching tree fixture as the main focal point. The lounge offers comfortable seating with a VIP feel. Walking into The Committee Chophouse, it’s obvious great care was taken to ensure a welcoming atmosphere with a touch of Rat Pack nostalgia.
Onsa calls The Committee Chophouse the “crown jewel” of the building, and with good reason. “My first thought in here was I felt a little like Frank Sinatra,” Onsa said. “We have these traditional four-top tables and booths, but we also have the half-moon booths. Couples like them because you don’t feel like you’re on top of anybody; our servers love the set-up as well and they love serving in this restaurant.”
Committee Chophouse is quickly making a name for itself within the Omaha food community as a premier steakhouse. “The steaks are incredible. We have an amazing prime beef program. Chef Jason and Chef Brandon [Kalfut] spent a lot of time making sure our beef selection is the best. They will not accept any product that is not of the highest standard.”
Executive Chef Jason Sirois helped open the restaurant and has plans to “break the barrier of what you know as a classic steakhouse.”
Sirois said his team doesn’t receive pushback when they try innovative menu items that deviate from a traditional steakhouse menu. “Omaha’s come a long way when it comes to that. It is a steakhouse first but that doesn’t mean we can’t branch out and try some new things. Everyone who comes in here [is] pretty open to things, which is cool because we don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves.”
He continued, “We’re working on a lot of new stuff now. We’re working on going from classic steakhouse to doing some more modern things. We’re continuing to push the envelope so we can stand out among steakhouses.”
Sirois said his favorite menu item is “by far, the Cowboy Ribeye. It’s a beautiful 20-oz., bone-in ribeye.” Onsa’s favorite is the Delmonico, a 16-oz. prime steak. “But we have some amazing sides, too,” Onsa added.
The fact that a restaurant opened, let alone flourished, during a global pandemic is a testament to the teamwork and dedication of the staff. “Chef Jason has built a really incredible brigade of chefs. They all know each other and as he’s grown, they’ve grown. In a COVID situation, that’s rare,” Onsa said.
Sirois added, “I’m the luckiest chef in Omaha. I couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of guys and girls—they all have grown so much. It’s trust and faith in people and hoping that everyone buys into what we’re trying to accomplish. We always say we’re not a team, we’re a family.”
Sirois was born in Omaha but spent time as a chef in Las Vegas and different areas of Colorado. His culinary career started small, working various kitchens straight out of high school and moving around to learn different cuisines. He was accustomed to the “old-school” way of chefs screaming at their teams and throwing things around, but said, “Times have changed. You have to work hard to build a culture that people want to be in. It used to be that there was a line of people waiting to take the place of staff who left. It’s just not like that anymore.”
And though it’s common for chefs to have several jobs in a short period of time so they can learn, it’s not the same at The Committee Chophouse. “People stick around because there’s opportunities for advancement,” Sirois said.
“Our staff doesn’t have to go from job to job—they can grow here and get to the level that they want to and that increases our retention,” Onsa said. “It makes us a better restaurant and a better hotel when we keep people.”
A dedicated staff and impressive menu, coupled with a space that is rich in history, makes for an exceptional dining experience. Legacy guests (those who had parents or grandparents who once frequented the original hotel) feel just as at home at The Committee Chophouse as do guests visiting for their first time. Onsa said that oftentimes these legacy guests will arrive at the restaurant “dressed to the nines” to honor the history of the hotel.
The two private dining areas boast a contemporary feel while honoring the past that is The Committee Chophouse. The rooms are both “sought-after,” according to Onsa, but getting a reservation is easier for a weeknight. Weekends are typically booked far in advance. Onsa said the rooms are perfect for small groups for birthdays, corporate gatherings, or any other event in which the host wants the guests to have a special experience. One room features the original poker table that helped inspire The Committee Chophouse’s legacy, refurbished to be used as the dining table but still featuring the original felt and some playing cards underneath the glass top.
Special touches such as complimentary valet parking and the signature cocktails in the Cottonwood room make a visit to The Committee Chophouse feel like a journey into the past. Guests are treated to food that’s both classic and innovative from a menu carefully crafted by a culinary staff dedicated to their craft.
Onsa said, “We can create an experience that’s like a big city, but right here in our customers’ backyard. That’s what’s great about Omaha—we have the tools to do that.”
Sirois agreed. “Yeah! Small town, big city attitude,” he said.
Onsa and Sirois agree—if anyone were to earn the title of Omaha’s “Rat Pack,” it would have to be the three owners of the Cottonwood Hotel. “They are a bit of a Rat Pack, yeah they are,” laughed Onsa. “In the sense of they are really fun, successful, and approachable; yes, Matt [Dwyer], Jay [Lund], and Tom [McLeay] are our Rat Pack.”
The Committee Chophouse is getting started on what could be a long tenure. Sirois said, “What isn’t next? Chef Brandon is talented and he’s chomping at the bit to start pushing the envelope and maybe start a tasting menu. I think everyone is ready to show what we can do. We want to create experiences here that customers want.”
Visit thecommitteechophouse.com for more information.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.