Jukebox Skipping

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Buffalo Company NEW OWNERS -- Wing Review

Buffalo Company
MUCH Improved
4725 South 96th Street
Omaha NE 68127

Last year I wondered into Omaha's Buffalo Company because the Omaha World-Herald named it the place for "Omaha's Best Wings". Please don't make me relive the rest of that review...just go ahead and read it here.  Let's just say I had the complete OPPOSITE take on their gut-wrenchingly bad wings. 

Flash forward to this year.  I received an email from the new GM of the NEW Buffalo Company that read: 
"Hi Scuba Steve,
 I read your last review back in April of 2013 on Buffalo Company and was hoping to talk you into a revisit.  Hopefully if I give you the full history on how and why the restaurant was the way that it was when you visited, maybe you will give us a second chance?  What happened to a really great place of almost twenty years was that it had deteriorated rapidly over the last two years when the original owner sold the business. 
That's why a long time customer and HUGE fan of Tim (the original owner) bought the business when it folded in December 2013. He brought back Tim to train the staff, remodeled the place top to bottom and just reopened it on April 23 2014. All your old favorites are on the menu along with some new exciting additions as well. I think you'll find it to still be the best place in town (again) for Wings, Pizza & Subs. Come back. I know you'll be surprised and thrilled. Hope to see you soon."
Seems legit enough.  So I stopped by a month or so ago and sat down with GM Clayton, the kitchen manager Mike, and one of the new owners.  All great guys.  All want to make that place successful again. And, they paid for all my food.  So, it didn't really seem right to me to do a review on wings that I didn't fork-over the cash for.

I vowed to be back there in a week or so, and yadda...yadda...yadda...I made it back there last week with two of my kids.

First Impressions:  Keep in mind that I've been in here once before so I can already tell you that place is 100% cleaner than before.  The first thing that will pop out at you when you order is the price. 10 wings will set you back $10.25.  Just for comparison sake, that same order at Oscar's will cost you $6.99.  Like in the old place, you place you order at the front counter and grab a seat.  In 15 minutes or so, they brought out our wings and they looked (and smelled) very Buffalo wing authentic.  Always a bonus when they come to your table still steaming hot and the spice from the sauce burns your nose just a bit.  Celery? Check Bleu Cheese? Check.

Score: 8

Great Sauce
Sauce: As usual, I went with the medium Buffalo sauce to keep things consistent, and it was great. Nice orangish color, great smell, and very authentic Buffalo flavor.  Some of the best sauce in town. All 10 wings were coated pretty uniformly but there may have been just a bit too much sauce for the ones on the bottom.  Not like they were totally drowning or anything, but, you run the risk if your wings aren't always crispy enough that this could potentially make the ones on the bottom a bit soggy.

Score: 9

Perfect Size
Crispy: For those that follow HitThatDive on Facebook, you'll see the comments from others that have been here on the "crispy factor".  And as you read, the number one complaint that other's have had was the lack of real crispiness.  I have to agree here.  All 10 wings were thoroughly cooked, yet they all lacked that desired crunch.  I know Clayton and Matt will read this, so just leave the wings in 1-2 minutes longer than and I think that takes care of this once and for all.  When it comes to chicken, I always err on the side of a bit overcooked as opposed to a bit undercooked.  Just my opinion.

Score: 6

Could be More Crispy
Size: As their menu states: "At Buffalo Company we only use the plumpest, juiciest and largest chicken wings available.  Out wings are always fresh, never frozen." I can't argue with any of that.  Good-sized wings...big but not HUGE. All pretty uniform in size so they're easier to cook...just leave them in a bit longer.

Score: 9

No Complaints Here
Extras:  Always a thumbs-up for a wing joint that has the common sense to put a roll of paper towels on every table! As far as the bleu cheese goes, I didn't mind it at all.  Not great, but not awful.  Local wing expert Matt Morinelli did not like the bleu cheese at all...and I generally trust his judgment on everything wing related.  So, let's call that one a toss up.  My only other observation, and this may be my ADD talking (and the fact that I walked in just after what would be a lunch crowd) is that it gets a tad bit boring as you sit there.

In a place like Chipotle, you already have your food when you sit down.  And in a traditional bar/restaurant, you have servers checking on you and swooping in to bring you another beer while you wait, which some how is just enough human interaction to make a wait seem not quite as long.  Keep in mind that I generally need a Mariachi band following me around to keep me from getting bored in less than two seconds...so this one might just be me.

Other than actually HAVING a Mariachi band, I don't know how this one could be fixed.  Maybe the best thing to do for impatient bar people like me is to go next door to the 21st Saloon and order Buffalo Company food from there...which you can do by the way.

Score: 8

Final Score: 40 out of 50

Keep in mind, that my first trip to the old Buffalo Company ended up with a final score of 16...so these guys are in the right direction for sure.  Are there still a few small things to work on...I think so. But nothing glaring...and nothing that can't easily be remedied the longer they're in business.

And while this was strictly a wing review...don't sleep on the rest of the menu.  They sell good pizza (even by the slice) and have some of the best bread in town that's flown in directly from one of the oldest Italian bakeries in Buffalo, New York.  I would HIGHLY suggest the Buffalo Chicken Sub.

Ultimately, give Clayton and Mike a shot one day for lunch and dinner.  Give them your honest feedback...they're looking to make this place one of the best in town again and I can't say enough about how great they are to talk with.  Just keep those wings in the fryer a tad bit longer.

Bufalo Chicken Sub on a KILLER Roll

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Happy Birthday HTD

Four years ago today I decided to walk to a bar by my house and write about my experiences while I was in there to amuse a few friends.  There was no goal in mind, it was just something I'd always talked about doing. Which made waking up to the following note on Twitter this morning pretty cool.

Well, to say there was no goal in mind isn't exactly true.  I told Mrs. HitThatDive that if I could get just one story written about the newly created "HitThatDive" I would consider the entire thing a rousing success.  Mission accomplished...and then some.

What's happened in the four years since my first post is something I never saw coming, not in a million years.  For the grand total of $0 I've ever made from the blog, I've lost count of all the friends I've made through the occasional sporadic ramblings of HTD.

For those that don't know, when my family and I moved to Nebraska nearly 10 years ago, we knew nobody.  And I mean NOBODY. No family, no former classmates, no one. I moved a wife and three young children halfway across the country for a job that, well let's just say didn't really work out, and we found ourselves stranded in Omaha with our closest friends roughly 1,100 miles away.

Mrs. HTD had no real problems meeting and making friends with the Stepford wives of West Omaha. But our choice of location in which to buy a home, because we knew nothing about the area, proved to make it far more difficult for me to find a few dudes that shared my love of old bars and generally just liked acting silly.  Men of West Omaha...live a little...will you!

Wait, where am I heading with this?  Oh yeah...HitThatDive.  A funny thing happened a few months after starting HTD...I got an email from someone I didn't know that said he and his wife love reading the blog.  First thoughts I had were "People actually read this shit??" Knowing that people other than my friends in Pittsburgh and Washington, DC were reading on a regular basis gave me enough encouragement to keep going. So thank you Mark and Becky Wells.

HTD meandered on for nearly a year, I was written about in December of 2010 by Omaha World-Herald reporter Josefina Loza, so I had already met my "lofty" goal.  By May of 2011, interest seemed to wane in what I was putting out there (well it was in my mind anyway) so in a shocking move to those that know me (not) I said "F*** THIS!" and deleted the HTD Facebook page and Twitter account and stopped writing about bars all together.

For whatever reason, on what would have been the first anniversary of HTD, I decided to log into Blogger to see if anyone had clicked on any of the reviews that were still on-line. And what do you know, my second review ever written (The Elbow Room) was being read like crazy.  So I posted this question on HTD to see what the hell was going on. This was the response I got back:

"I found out because someone I know, that goes there frequently, posted it on Facebook as a kudos to Ben. And since we're all very proud of the Elbow Room and our bartenders, we all had to spread the word! Thanks for the great review! Hope you can stop in again!"
Apparently that was the only encouragement I needed to create a new Facebook page (from scratch) and a new Twitter account (a note about deleting a Twitter account, you can't use the same name twice which is why it's now @HitThatDive1) and started writing about bars again.  What's happened since then...well...that might take me too long to ever put into the proper words.

It would be IMPOSSIBLE for me to thank everyone that I need to thank properly.  I just did a quick count and nearly half of the 314 people that I'm "Friends" with on Facebook I met directly from HitThatDive nonsense. And that number doesn't even scratch the surface of the friends I've made from doing this...old men on flip phones aren't really down with social media ya' know.

Although, I suppose I can thank the one person that's made HitThatDive possible...and that's my wife. There might not be another woman on the planet that condones and encourages her husband's "hobby" of dive bar hopping quite the way that Shelley G does. So thanks wife!

By the end of today, HitThatDive will have been read more than 500,000 times.  I'm not sure if that's good or not, seems like a lot to me, but I'm sure Google gets that every .08 seconds.  Ultimately, numbers don't really mean a lot to me when it comes to the fun I have from doing this....it's the friendships that I've made that make the whole thing worthwhile.

In a recent interview I did with Tom Becka I said "If HitThatDive means something to even just one person, it means something to me."  For those that continue to read and play along with all of this after four years, I can never thank you enough.  Here's to some of the best friends a person could ever have...now will one of you deadbeats buy me a shot tonight so we can celebrate? Cheers!

Monday, July 21, 2014

JC's Lounge, Omaha -- REVIEW

4971 Q Street
Omaha NE 68117

Hmmmm...where to start on this one? For years I've driven past JC's on my way to hockey practice, or just when I'm on my way to goof off in that general part of Omaha.  As you make your way east on Q just crossing over 60th Street, it's hard not to notice this place. Is it open?  Is it abandoned? Is it safe to walk into?  And more importantly, why I have I never met anyone that's ever been in here?  I mean, I know A LOT of bar people (and bar stories) and yet not a single person that I know has a clue about anything that goes on inside JC's Lounge.

Let's see what's behind the front door.
(Editor's Note: The sign out front clearly states "JC's Lounge", yet the few meager Internet mentions of this place call it "JC's Bar" for the sake of this post it will be called JC's Lounge ...because that's what the damn sign says. Moving on.)

As a general rule, I don't have a fear of walking into any new bar alone...ever. But man, this one just had me slightly freaked, out so I enlisted the help of long-time HTD posse members Tito and Maria and we decided to meet there on Saturday afternoon at 4:00. After running into them both in the parking lot, and being the gentlemen that we are, Tito and I of course allowed Maria to walk in first...

PROS: A trip back in time. Funny old guy regulars. Mint condition circa 1951 bar.
CONS: It took me this long to finally stop by and have a few beers. 

Not what I expected
First Impressions:  The anticipation of walking through the front door was much like riding up the first hill on a big roller coaster for the first time. It seemed to take forever, and you have no frame of reference of what to expect once you get to the top.

We walked in the front door, and wow, this is not what I expected.  It's a seemingly clean and friendly looking bar...we didn't even get the "Who the hell are you?" looks from the regulars.  Clearly I'm not picking up on the right vibe yet, because surely this simply can't be just your friendly old neighborhood bar...can it? I just always assumed really bad things happened in here.

The Bar: It's not until you sit down that you really get a sense of just how authentically vintage everything in here is including the living room area complete with couches, fireplace and a wide assortment of trophies.  What really stands out is that, even though there is nothing new in this bar, everything they do have has been well-cared for over the years. The bar itself seats about 12 people and there are enough table and chairs to easily seat another 50 people comfortably.  In all the years of driving past here, I never really guessed this place would be as big as it is on the inside.

An orderly bar area
They have three beers on tap of the usual suspects, but what really was an added bonus was the decent bottled beer selections in the neatly organized cooler to the right of the bar.  Is it enough of a selection to keep the beer snobs happy...thank goodness no! But for the regular bar goers, that want a bit more a choice than just a mass-produced domestic beer, check out the cooler, you'll be pleasantly surprised. Of note...for you "wine connoisseurs" they have a box of Franzia White Zin ready to roll!

The Crowd:  Other than the three of us, the youngest person in bar (all dudes by the way) had to be late 40ish and the oldest had to be pushing late 70s.  One of the older guys came complete with a trucker hat that simply said "Old Fart" on the front. A quite bunch when we sat down, they were happy to just be sitting there and watching some old movie on the 1980's-looking TV behind the bar. But then, a funny thing happened, we asked about the history of the place.

It was like they had been waiting for someone to ask that question for years. We learned everything from how many bars used to be in the general area when the packing plants were going strong (39), to the fact that no one really knew how old JC's was...but they were guessing just post Prohibition.  You can tell a lot about a bar by the pride that the regulars have by hanging out in there...and the smiles on their faces and the way that they laughed as they told stories about the area...made me like the bar even more.

Never expected this
To sum up how friendly they all turned out to be, I agreed to tote one of the regulars with me to our next stop, Little Polonia, because he was on his 11th DUI and finally didn't want to risk another one.  I have never been thanked more for taking someone out of a bar as I was by every single person in there. More on this dude in the review of Little Polonia.

Service:  I never did get they guy's name, but our bartender for the afternoon has been working here for more than 30 years I think I heard him say.  Usually I take better notes, but out of respect for the people in the bar, I didn't want to look disrespectful by sitting on my phone the whole time while I was in here.  Back to the service, perfect. Fast, polite and never made us feel unwelcomed.  It was a real testament to this guy's bartending skills, that in a place that I'm assuming doesn't see too many new faces in the course of a day, we never felt out of place from the moment we sat down.

Prices: All I know is what we were paying for domestic bottles of beer and that was setting us back $2.50 each. Not bad at all.  I didn't really see the prices of anything else, but I think it's safe to assume that you're not going to gouged here no matter what you order.  If anyone wants to check this place out, let me know and your first glass of box wine is on me just so I know the price of that too.

I dig it
Food:  Basically the general assortment of neatly arraigned chips and Slim Jims and pork rinds.

Entertainment:  JC's has a great area to shoot pool and throw darts in, a vintage shuffleboard table, jukebox and few other video games that I'm guessing really don't get played all that often.

Bartender Chat: I have never, in all my years, have seen a bartender so thoroughly happy and appreciative as this guy was when I agreed to give Captain DUI a ride down Q Street to another bar. He seemed to be equal parts elated that I agreed to give the guy a ride, mixed with a bit of guilt that he wasn't stopping me from toting the bar loudmouth to the next place.  In the end, it seemed he was more willing to live with a hint of guilt and happily waved the dude goodbye when we walked out the door. Of note...every single regular in there thanked me for giving the guy a ride and asked me to stop back (if I were still alive) to tell them about it.

Restrooms:  Smallish.  Not awful.  The men's room is far enough removed from the bar area that you could get down to some serious business if you ate too many of the pork rinds from behind the bar to still not offend anyone.  The ladies room is conveniently situated in the living room area.

Works for me
How Far Did My $20 Go: Well, keep in mind that there were three of us AND that JC's does not take credit cards. Of course, I always come armed with a rumpled-up $20 in my pocket so I was able to easily pick up two rounds and throw down a hefty tip with money left over.

Final Thoughts: In today's world, bars like this are a rapidly dying breed. But it's not hard to stand inside this place and get a sense of just how great it must have been in its heyday.  Simply by the way the inside of JC's is maintained to this day, you can still feel the sense of pride that the owner and the bar's regulars have for this place.  Is it fancy? No. Is it modern? Not in the least. Does it give you the impression that the people that call this bar home still give a shit about it? Absolutely.

From our brief time there, it was clear that the stories that must have emanated from this place over the decades, coupled with the deep knowledge of South Omaha history the still resides with the regulars to this day, makes this a must stop for all Omaha bar history buffs.

Just how old school retro is this place...the fact that some sort of 1950's forcefield rendered all of our cell phones nearly obsolete just added to its overall charm.  It was almost a sign from generations ago that this bar was for telling stories of the past face-to-face, and not thumb-to-thumb via texts, as you just sit and enjoy the company of those around you.

I will definitely stop back to JC's Lounge again if for no other reason than to learn more about how the area used to be and to see if anyone with 10 or more DUI's needs a ride to the next bar down the street! This should come as no shock but I would definitely HIT THIS DIVE.


Worth a stop for sure

Sunday, July 20, 2014

JC's Lounge, Omaha -- PREVIEW

Ever wonder what this place on Q Street was like on the inside?  I always wondered if this is a "don't judge a book by it's cover" kind of place.  Or, is it one of those shady bars where you are "never heard from again" after walking in the front door.  So I met up with HTD posse members Tito and and MC...and we gave it a shot.  And were totally amazed. 

Were we amazed in a good way, or a bad way? Well, what fun would that be to tell you now.  Full report tomorrow. On a side note...I think I got my writing "mojo" back...so look for an onslaught of HTD updates all week!

Would you walk in here alone for the first time?