The SBH Review: Sushi and burgers? Memoir opens trendy new chapter for Omaha restaurant group

I’ve been thinking a lot about how a restaurant tells us who it is. Memoir, a new, super-hot downtown Omaha restaurant is dedicated to that exact task: telling a story. 

It’s the tale of Omaha-based Flagship Restaurant Group, an arbiter of cool in this city for two decades with spots like Blue Sushi Sake Grill, Roja, Plank and Blatt Beer & Table. Flagship expanded from that original west Omaha location of Blue into downtown Omaha. It opened a modern food hall, Flagship Commons, inside Westroads, second locations of concepts in Omaha, and a slew of other restaurants and bars in Austin, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Des Moines and elsewhere. 

Now, with Memoir and a new Mediterranean spot in the Old Market, Clio, plus two more downtown concepts on the way, it’s making a splash all over again, 20 years later. 

With such a diverse lineup, how does one get to the heart of the story?

Memoir, at first blush, can appear a bit scattered. Sushi next to classic Italian American pasta dishes; a grilled cheeseburger next to an Asian-inspired flat iron steak. 

The story does not always work. But when it does, it’s a page turner. 

A classic smash burger inspired by Pyro, a Flagship concept in Phoenix. The two thin patties get topped with spicy pickles, shaved onion, American cheese and a special burger sauce on a brioche bun. Photo by Sarah Baker Hansen for the Flatwater Free Press

“This is our home base. I love the Old Market,” said Flagship co-owner and Chief Operating Officer Anthony Hitchcock. “It just made sense to bring together a little bit of what we have done with all our brands and create an American grill.” 

Anthony Hitchcock

Hitchcock said Flagship has worked on the idea of Memoir for about two years. Tony Gentile, another Flagship owner and its chief culinary officer, said he saw Memoir as Flagship’s “20 year restaurant.”

“Our version of the American grill was going to include everything cooked over charcoal,” he said. After buying the best commercial charcoal oven they could find, Gentile said they began looking for ways to incorporate existing concepts and ideas “without it feeling like you were at one of our restaurants.” 

Customers seem to dig the concept. Memoir is incredibly busy, and the first evening, the only seats available to reserve were at the bar — a choice I’m fine with. The big, circular bar offers great people watching.

The corned beef meatballs don’t specifically call out the Reuben, but the influence is there: a hint of briny corned beef, a puree of sauerkraut and pickled cabbage. The dish gets finished with a sprinkling of fresh herbs and a rye “crumble.” I wished the meatballs had a firmer texture — I found ours a touch mushy — and most of the flavor in this dish, I thought, came from the pickled side elements.

Inspired by the classic Omaha Reuben, the corned beef meatballs feature a sauerkraut puree, pickled cabbage, fresh herbs and a rye crumble. Photo by Sarah Baker Hansen for the Flatwater Free Press

Memoir can be a bit uneven. The tale of three entrees proves it.

The Pyro cheeseburger — inspired by the burger on the lunch menu at Pyro, a Flagship concept that opened about a year ago in Phoenix — might be my favorite of anything we tried. “One of the best new burgers in Omaha?” I wrote in my notes.

Indeed, I think it might be. The two smash patties are lacy and tender — smoky from the aforementioned charcoal grill — stacked high with cheese, dill pickles and shaved onion on a warm brioche bun. Each element is flavorful on its own, and together, they’re just great. 

Contrast that to the rigatoni alla vodka, which arrived nicely plated but a few bites in it delivered just one element: heat. I found the sauce dominated by the Calabrian chili, and not in a good way. Lost were the tomato cream and notes of lemon, and the melty stracciatella cheese didn’t do anything to put out the fire or balance out the dish. I made it through half the bowl, then quit. 

And that stands in stark contrast to the Memoir dip au jus, an incredibly complex version of a diner favorite. Smoked shaved beef is tender and meaty with a crisped edge and plenty of flavor from the smoker. It’s topped with a bright, spicy horseradish aioli and melty crescenza cheese, a soft, Italian cow’s-milk cheese that brings a hit of nuttiness. It’s all on a crisp outside, soft inside French roll. The au jus is rich with beef flavor. It’s well executed and worth ordering. 

Memoir’s version of a French dip features shaved beef that gets smoked in their signature oven, then topped with crescenza cheese, which is a creamy, Italian cow’s milk cheese. It’s finished with horseradish aioli and served on French bread. Photo by Sarah Baker Hansen for the Flatwater Free Press

The menu has a variety of shared side dishes. We sampled the cheesy potatoes with bacon, heavy enough on cheese that a scoop out of the dish provided an impressive cheese pull. These are creamy and light, with a sprinkle of bacon bits on top that add crunch and depth.

Memoir’s dining room is a lovely space, decorated in hues of dark green, navy, burgundy and warm gold, with textural elements, rich fabrics and warm lighting. The busy, open kitchen and bustling bar are at the heart of the space, which Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture designed in partnership with Flagship. It’s an alluring dining room drawing guests like a magnet. 

Outside, a patio wraps around the front of the restaurant, facing 10th Street and the Old Market, positioned on the corner of the new Mercantile development. 

Memoir is a dining room and bar where people want to hang out in, be seen, eat and socialize, writes Sarah Baker Hansen in her review of the popular new downtown Omaha spot. Courtesy photo

Hitchcock said lighting and music are critical elements to the dining experience. In this case, Memoir nails it.

Another night, our dining experience, too, was better, top to bottom. 

I had mixed emotions about the handful of raw items and sushi rolls on the menu, at first glance. Of course it’s part of  Flagship lore, via the success of Blue sushi just a few blocks away, but did it belong here?

Gentile said he knew, given that longtime success of Blue, that sushi had to be part of Memoir’s story.

A spicy puree of yellowtail and crab in this sushi roll gets topped with shallot, cilantro, ponzu sauce and a crisp garlic chip. Photo by Sarah Baker Hansen for the Flatwater Free Press

“We have created incredible seafood (distributor) relationships over the years,” he said. “Sushi has undoubtedly become very Americanized, and if it’s our version of the American grill, it’s gonna also have sushi.” 

Our serrano yellowtail maki was quite good: not overwhelmed with sauces or mayo, instead simply dressed with ponzu and a crispy garlic chip. Inside, the rolls had a crab and yellowtail mix, lighter on the mayo, along with shallot and cilantro. Against my own preconceived judgment, I found the roll light and well executed. I didn’t need any soy sauce for dipping.

Tony Gentile

If you have eaten at Blue and enjoyed it, I suspect you’ll like these original rolls, which will feel familiar.

The prime flat iron steak has mixed influences, with its Brazilian red chimichurri sauce on top and base of Asian fried rice made with sticky rice instead of a longer grain. It’s sort of an Asian-inspired risotto, with tiny chunks of vegetable and plenty of umami.

I ordered my steak medium rare, and I think it came out closer to medium. A lot of the flavor comes from the “mojo marinade,” which Gentile said is a simple blend of tamari, citrus juices, olive oil and salt.

There’s a nice list of house cocktails, and we tried two. The “Men of the West” is Memoir’s version of an old fashioned, with a twist: sarsaparilla. I generally don’t like root beer solo, but it works well here when blended with bourbon, amarena cherry and angostura. The Scofflaw is a light, summery sipper, heavy on pomegranate blended with rye, Dolin blanc vermouth, grenadine and lemon. It’s a fruiter version of this classic cocktail.

An Italian bent on a margarita, the cocktail includes tequila, amaretto, lime and basil. Photo by Sarah Baker Hansen for the Flatwater Free Press

There’s plenty of agreeable wines to choose from, including a lighter bodied sangiovese that goes well with the smoked French dip, and a cabernet blend I’d recommend pairing with the steak or the burger. 

Memoir, Flagship Restaurant Group’s latest restaurant, is located at 930 Harney St. in a new development near the new Gene Leahy Mall. Courtesy photo

Memoir is a new story in downtown Omaha that’s just beginning. The Old Market, where I have lived for more than a decade, can sometimes feel like it’s no longer the main spot where new restaurants choose to open, as they once did. But Memoir is a room that people want to hang out in, be seen, eat, socialize. It’s the kind of excitement I think downtown Omaha needs right now, and I’m glad it’s here. 

After more than 20 years, I think it’s safe to say that Flagship still knows, for the most part, how to tell a good story inside the walls of a hip, new space and get the city excited once again. 

Memoir 

Website: https://www.ourmemoir.com

Address: 930 Harney St.

Phone number: 402-513-7055

Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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.

1 Comment

How do you not weigh 300# ? I salivated reading your review of the Pyro burger. Seriously, though, I enjoy your reviews and wanted to say Hi to you at the Wilkinses a couple weeks back. I appreciate your love of all things foodie in Omaha!

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