The Great A-Z Food Tour Group Visits the Woodcliff RestaurantAug 29, 2022 03:53PM ● By Tamsen Butler
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
The Great A-Z Food Tour group began as a way for a group of friends to stay connected while supporting local restaurants as COVID-19 began to wane. Most of the members already knew each other through various sports teams their children were on together—those youngsters are all adults now. Other members came along when they were invited by an existing member.
They call themselves an “ever-expanding” group, led by Karen Sykora, who reluctantly admits to leading the group while also claiming that the group leads itself. When she pulls out her red notebook and starts asking the group to decide what their next restaurant will be, one of the members leans over to me and whispers, “She’s not the leader—she’s the instigator.”
I joined the Great A-Z Food Tour group on their “W” trip. This expedition took us out to The Woodcliff Restaurant in Fremont, a lodge-type restaurant nestled within a lake-side community. We went on a Thursday night, which is Woodcliff’s “Burger and Beer” night.
On the way to The Woodcliff Restaurant, the other group members told me stories of their culinary adventures. It’s nearly an hour drive to there, so there was ample time to get a feel for how this group operates.
There seem to be a few rules by which this group abides:
They follow the A-Z protocol of visiting restaurants in alphabetical order.
The restaurant must be locally owned and within driving distance, but they’re willing to cross state lines for a fun experience.
An “unspoken rule” they told me about is the restaurant must serve alcohol. And though they chuckled at the idea of speaking this “unspoken” rule, they all agreed it was important.
ykora estimated the group has around 17 members, though this number fluctuates. Not everyone makes it to every dining experience, and she said there are typically around 10-12 people each time they go. The night we went to The Woodcliff, there were 11 diners in attendance.
Nearly every appetizer on the menu was ordered and passed around the table. Of particular interest was the order of onion rings. Sara Zivney is the group’s resident onion ring expert, tasting them everywhere they go. When the onion rings arrived at the table, the plate was passed to Zivney, who surveyed the pile before taking a bite, then happily announced to the group that the rings were tasty. After that proclamation, everyone else grabbed a handful for themselves.
I tried the Crab Rangoons, which weren’t bad, but the Portobello Mushroom Fries were a savory treat. The Jalapeño Popper Dip, served with corn tortilla chips, was a favorite of the group; and those who ordered the Woodcliff Wedge salad enjoyed the taste and presentation.
Nearly everyone in the group ordered the special for the entree: a burger featuring jalapeño peppers that isn’t always on the menu. While some people in the group thought the jalapeños were too much and pulled them off the burger, others heeded the waitress’ advice that the chef would not want anyone ordering the jalapeño burger without the chilis and kept them on to retain the integrity of the sandwich.
One member who ordered the ribeye steak raved about the flavor. I ordered the walleye sandwich, solely because we were seated in a room overlooking the lake, and ordering fish seemed appropriate. The sandwich was good, the fish filet not too greasy, the pickled red onions adding a unique flavor to an often banal dish. I was pleased with my meal, though it’s not one I would willingly drive nearly an hour to repeat.
The desserts really got the members excited; we ordered one of everything and passed it around so everyone could indulge. The star was the berry cheesecake, which featured a Cap’n Crunch crust and looked like something from a child’s daydream. Everyone who sampled it raved about the taste, one member declaring: “It tastes fresh, like summer.”
All in all, the Great A-Z Food Tour group gave The Woodcliff Restaurant a big thumbs up. As they gathered the wait staff and the chef for photos after the meal (a group tradition), the members gushed to Chef Sam Trahan about the quality of the food.
I’m inclined to agree that Trahan is a talented chef who obviously cares about his craft, and who isn’t adverse to coming out after the meal to mingle with patrons.
The Great A-Z Food Tour members admit that their idea isn’t unique. “There are plenty of food groups doing the same thing as us,” one member said. “But they don’t have matching t-shirts like we do!”
After my time with this fun group, they visited Yummy Crab for “Y” and have plans to visit Zaika Indian Cuisine to finish up the alphabet—and then they start back at “A.”
Visit thewoodcliffrestaurant.com for more information.
This article originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.