Turning Up the Heat, Raising the Stakes: The Farnam Hotel’s Dynamite Woodfire GrillJun 23, 2023 01:01PM ● By Tamsen Butler
Photo by Bill Sitzmann.
It’s easy to imagine railroad proponent and philanthropist Henry Farnam walking through the Farnam Hotel on his way to have a meal at the Dynamite Woodfire Grill. He would probably wear a suit with a stiff collar, as most men did during his era (the 1800s).
Perhaps he’d pause at the Catalyst Lounge—named for the spark that lit the dynamite used during the building of the first transcontinental railroad. He might realize that the Lone Tree Landing coffee shop is named after the lone tree where he and his cohorts frequently met to discuss railroad development in Omaha. And if he was paying very close attention, he might notice that the carpet throughout the hotel and into the restaurant is an artistic rendering of a topographical map of the river by which the lone tree stood.
“Not many people notice the carpet,” said Dynamite Woodfire Grill Executive Chef Robert Murphy. “Everything around here is done with a purpose.”
Mr. Farnam would likely be greeted warmly by every employee he encountered—and some who would go out of their way to encounter him with a greeting and offer of help, a common practice at the hotel. Upon approaching the restaurant adjacent to the lobby, he might immediately realize the cleverness of the restaurant’s name and its nods to the assembly of the railroads.
The menu at the Dynamite Woodfire Grill would likely surprise and delight him, just as it surprises and delights modern-day visitors. Chef Murphy is well traveled, and it’s reflected in his cuisine. He elevates comfort food with innovative, global influences. His many travels taught him about different flavors and ingredients that aren’t common in American comfort foods.
For example, on Murphy’s menu, deviled eggs become Bloody Mary shrimp deviled eggs. Other adventurous starters include Reuben Croquettes (a favorite of the hotel’s general manager Shane Lonowki) and octopus.
“I’ve experienced a lot of stuff in my day,” said Murphy, who has 30 years of experience. “You may not recognize the Caribbean or Asian influences in my food, but they’re there.”
Operations Executive Robert Smith noted that the restaurant’s wood-fire grill leads some guests to believe the restaurant is all about steaks.
“People see the grill and think steak, but more things than just steak are charred on the grill,” he said, adding that he personally enjoys the grilled vegetables. Scallops, salmon, short rib, chicken, and burgers also appear on the menu.
Cuisine card is in the process of getting its seasonal update. Chef Murphy is particularly excited about adding steak tartare to the menu, but his favorite dish changes depending on “current trends, local markets, and what farms have available.”
The Sunday brunch offered by Dynamite Woodfire Grill features a “Light & Wellness” menu, which includes smoothies and fruit platters. Meanwhile, the “Farnam Signature” menu sports a salt-crusted prime rib Benedict, a brunch burger, and more. Brunch salads are also featured, including a chicken and waffle salad with fried chicken bits, waffle croutons, field greens, and a maple bourbon vinaigrette. Guests can finish brunch with key lime mousse or a slice of chocolate peanut butter cream pie.
At time of writing, the restaurant locally sources around 20-30% of their ingredients, but that number will increase exponentially as the weather warms, Murphy noted. Filet and ribeye come from a farm in Lincoln, microgreens are supplied by Nathan Pfiefer in Omaha, and additional fresh components are sourced from Long Walk Farm in Council Bluffs and eCreamery in Dundee.
Murphy enjoys working in a restaurant that celebrates Omaha history and culture. Every piece of displayed art throughout the hotel and restaurant is by local artists, with one impressive piece in the restaurant’s dining room telling an important, dramatic event from downtown Omaha’s storied history.
“Do you see the pattern of the wood?” Chef Murphy asked, gesturing toward an imposing installation consisting of staggered wooden beams stacked on the wall. “That’s wood from M’s Pub. And that pattern is a recreation of the aerial shot taken after the explosion.”
This is the eighth hotel restaurant in which Chef Murphy has worked—and it has proven a positive experience for him as he flourishes his take on approachable, internationally influenced fine dining. He recalled that back in the 2000s, hotel restaurants became “taboo” because they were “bland, boring, and overpriced.”
Today, as the Dynamite Woodfire Grill demonstrates, that’s no longer true.
In fact, most diners at the Dynamite Woodfire Grill are Omaha natives. Many of them don’t even realize the restaurant is part of the hotel, Murphy explained, because there’s an exterior entrance to the dining room from Farnam Street.
General Manager Shane Lonowski described Dynamite Woodfire Grill as “a cutting-edge restaurant with an innovative atmosphere” while Smith said, “It’s chic, relevant, elegant, and up to date. It’s not dated—far from it.”
Lonowski added that it’s a “wine lover’s paradise” because of the extensive wine offerings. Smith, who also happens to be the only master sommelier in the state of Nebraska, has many connections within the beverage industry—tapping them to expand their stock of wines and spirits that can’t be found anywhere else in the city.
“Rob opens doors for things that Nebraska is often overlooked for,” Murphy said. “Several bottles of wine that we have can only be found here in the state. He tries to appeal to a wide audience.”
Locally owned by Angie and Jason Fisher, the hotel is part of the Marriot Autograph Collection. So while they must adhere to some Marriot standards, they have the liberty to give the hotel and restaurant an ‘Omaha feel.’
The hotel and restaurant are of a notably high caliber for a smaller market.
Said Lonowski, “They’re the best team in Omaha! And Chef is a thoughtful and artistic chef. He’s intentional,” Lonowski said, adding that some staff members have work experience in Michelin Star restaurants.
Smith agreed with Lonowki’s assessment of the team.
“Hospitality isn’t just food,” he affirmed. “Service is what you do, hospitality is how you make people feel. We’re not just selling wine—we’re selling a lifestyle.”
Of his team, Chef Murphy said, “It’s a massive amount of brain power, all chugging along in the same direction.”
Smith said the Omaha population was ready for a high-end hotel to open, and had the resources to support it.
“Omaha is unique. The fifth-generation Omahans are used to coastal markets. They expect things. Omaha’s really enigmatic as far as what’s the next step,” he said. “This area’s about to explode. It’s reminiscent of big markets 20 to 30 years ago.”
As Omaha continues to expand and its people refine their tastes, Dynamite Woodfire Grill smolders as an emerging hot spot. As for how Henry Farnam would react to his namesake hotel, one can only speculate. However, if he could experience the hotel and restaurant’s attentive staff, delicious food, and expansive wine offerings, lending a smile and a tip of his hat doesn’t seem farfetched.