The SBH Review: An iconic Dundee destination, resurrected

At Ooh De Lally, which has moved into the midtown Omaha space that long housed Marks, a meaningful mission meets macaroni and cheese.

There are a million different ways to start a restaurant review. This one begins with macaroni and cheese. 

In this case, a rather Omaha famous macaroni and cheese, a version of it I didn’t think I’d ever be eating again. 

The mac and cheese in question is served at Ooh De Lally, the new, nonprofit, mission-driven restaurant that this spring took over the iconic second-floor bay occupied for decades by Marks Bistro. Diners – myself included – mourned the loss of that signature spot when it closed about three years ago. We mourned the loss of its aerial view of Underwood Avenue, its welcoming, shady patio and its most popular menu item … that macaroni and cheese.

So when it reopened as a new concept, I wondered about that signature dish, made so locally famous by Marks. Would it be back? Further, would it be the same? 

A few bites into a bowl of “Marks signature mac and cheese,” as it’s listed on the new menu, slathered in creamy cheese sauce and topped with a layer of crisped bread crumbs, I tasted that ever familiar tang of blue cheese, the Marks signature. But the sauce didn’t have the “cheese pull” of yore. The bowl was bigger. The bread crumbs weren’t as dense.

It wasn’t the exact dish lodged in my memory. Was it still good? Absolutely. 

Like the mac and cheese itself, Ooh De Lally is similar to Marks, but not identical. Reinventing a familiar, much-loved dining room in Omaha is a tall order, particularly when Omaha diners get so attached to certain dishes, servers and spaces. Ooh De Lally is in the space that used to be Marks, but it is – in many ways – not Marks. I think that’s OK. 

Ooh De Lally, at 4916 Underwood Ave., was for many years the site of Marks Bistro. The notable second floor dining room has been reinvented and rebranded as Ooh De Lally, a nonprofit creating job opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals. Photo by Sarah Baker Hansen for the Flatwater Free Press.

The biggest difference, a lovely one, between old restaurant and new: Ooh De Lally is a nonprofit focused on creating culinary careers for formerly incarcerated adults.

Through a partnership with Metropolitan Community College and funding primarily from the Sherwood Foundation, a dozen Ooh De Lally employees are currently at some stage of the reentry process after exiting the justice system. Another three employees were incarcerated because of substance abuse. That’s almost half of the staff of 36, said Director Tim Steinbach. The remaining staff, he said, are not part of the reentry program, but instead, he said, support the mission and want to “help people.” 

Our new Omaha newsletter

Tim Steinbach Courtesy photo

The program happens under that unusual name – “ooh de lally,” a reference to a carefree 1970s children’s song in the Disney “Robin Hood” cartoon. Steinbach described it as the restaurant’s “rally cry.” 

“We are not just a restaurant,” he said. “Restaurants are important, but we are trying to change things. And that is our reminder of who we are. We are all standing for something.” 

Steinbach said the menu is designed to be simple and executable. The restaurant has a very small kitchen, he said, so the new dishes had to be workable. He anticipates the current menu will be in place until this fall, when it will change with the season. 

The macaroni and cheese, which Steinbach told me is based on the Marks recipe,  is one of a few holdovers from the past: smoked chicken lasagna as an entree and bread pudding on the dessert list are the other two. Everything else is new. Several of the dishes we tried during two dinner visits, particularly the entrees, are very good.

One of several larger entrees on the menu, Ooh De Lally’s short ribs come topped with a thin peppercorn gravy, fried parsnips and a root vegetable puree. Photo by Ben Vankat for the Flatwater Free Press.

Seared scallops, for example, come wonderfully cooked, with a crisped exterior and tender inside, paired with bright sections of blood orange and seasonal asparagus crusted with black sesame. The dish, arranged prettily on a white plate, gets finished with micro wasabi and a yuzu ginger gastrique, a sort of sweet-and-sour sauce. It’s bright, tasty spring season food, and my friend who ordered it said she enjoyed it, particularly the well-cooked seafood. 

The smoky flavor of chicken is evident in the smoked chicken lasagna, a hearty dish with plenty of tomato sauce and plenty of cheese, the sort of stick-to-your-ribs comfort food that would hit the spot on a cold Omaha winter evening. 

The beef in the short rib entree is cooked to perfection, with the kind of tender, juicy meat I’d expect. A root vegetable puree plus fried parsnip means if you order this one, you should probably like the taste of earthy vegetables, though I did get some sweetness from the puree. The cooked parsnips could have been warmer, and my friend wished the peppercorn gravy would have had more heft; though nicely seasoned, it had a texture closer to a pan reduction sauce. 

Plated simply, seared scallops come atop wedges of blood orange and next to black sesame coated asparagus topped with a yuzu ginger gastrique and micro wasabi. Photo by Sarah Baker Hansen for the Flatwater Free Press.

The lobster roll (the second I have written about in as many reviews) is the warmed, brown butter version instead of the cold version of the sandwich. A brioche roll comes stuffed with plenty of big hunks of seafood, a pile of French fries and a side of  lobster-based aioli. It’s a fine take on the sandwich.

I liked it better than the ODL Burger. Mine arrived close to well done – the server did not ask how I wanted it cooked, and I did not specify – and I found the slice of buttermilk blue cheese on top to be rather pungent. It also comes topped with soft grilled onion, a thick cut of bacon and English mustard.

The appetizer menu has several hits: the Dundee dip is essentially a take on fondue, topped with several dippers: fingerling potatoes, salami, tomatoes and, on the side, several pieces of toasted bread. The tomatoes are especially tasty, and the dish sort of gives a “pizza without the crust” vibe. As it sits, some grease might appear on top of the cheese, as it did in our bowl, but the flavor is good.

I really enjoyed the tempura-style fried Brussels sprouts, a different take on the vegetable. Not too crunchy or too soft, the sprouts hold their shape and pack plenty of crisp, garlicky, cheesy flavor.

Featuring both tequila and mezcal, the Sage Advice is served up and gets its color from a lemon blueberry shrub. Photo by Sarah Baker Hansen for the Flatwater Free Press.

Also new is a craft cocktail program. The bar has a menu of classics and another of originals, and our friends helped us sample several. Favorites included the bright pink, Mezcal-based Sage Advice, garnished with a fresh sage leaf clipped to the rim of the coupe, and the classic Aviation, a gin-based summertime staple. 

Staff at Ooh De Lally are professional and knowledgeable; though one evening the cadence of service seemed a touch off. For the most part, the team is cohesive and the timing is right. Steinbach said right now, there are about 80 people interested in getting into the restaurant’s program. Future start dates are based on incarceration release dates, and the current staff do not have a set end date to their time working at the restaurant. They can keep working at Ooh De Lally after graduating from the Metro-run credit program. 

“They can stay as long as they want to stay,” Steinbach said. 

A warm version of the classic East Coast sandwich, the lobster roll comes served on brioche with warm brown butter sauce and a side of French fries. Photo by Sarah Baker Hansen for the Flatwater Free Press.

The restaurant offers employees in the program the chance to try different roles within the restaurant, including both in the front and back of the house, he said. Getting a breadth of experience sets them up for success in future restaurant jobs. 

I asked Steinbach how a nonprofit restaurant operates; he laughed. 

“We are still trying to figure that out, and we have a lot of conversations about that,” he said. 

He described the restaurant as a business trying to do good. The plan, he said, is for Ooh De Lally to be profitable by the end of 2025.

The restaurant business is a tough one, and Ooh De Lally is pairing the business model with some lofty, important community goals. That’s bringing diners on board – Steinbach said lots of people come in and try it after hearing about the nonprofit’s mission. 

But just as many, he said, come in because of the nostalgia of Marks, and, of course, that mac and cheese. The restaurant is serving what appears to me to be a winning blend. Future-focused good and classic comfort foods turn out to be good dining partners.

The Ooh De Lally details


Address: 4916 Underwood Ave.

Phone number: 402-698-8333

Hours: Tuesday through Thursday 4 p.m to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday.

By Sarah Baker Hansen

Sarah Baker Hansen launched her own food website covering the food scene of her hometown, Omaha, in 2020. She works as the Director of Public & Media Relations at Emspace + Lovgren. For eight years, she was the food critic at the Omaha World-Herald. She started the periodic Food Prowl series, wherein she created teams of tasters and found favorites in a number of categories. The series resulted in close to 40 “best of Omaha” winners, including Reuben, fried chicken, ice cream and more. She won a 2015 Great Plains Journalism Award for best review and a 2017 Great Plains Journalism Award for best feature.



Every Friday, we’ll deliver to your inbox Nebraska’s most interesting, meaningful, deeply reported and well-written news stories.