The Railcar brings together a melting pot of culinary cultures
Omaha’s strong heritage with the railroad contributed heavily to the blend of cultures enjoyed in the Midwest, especially with the variety of food found here. Chefs from around the world immigrated to the United States to work on passenger trains, cooking foods specifically to cater to the different ethnicities of workers. Today, Chef Jared Clarke, owner of The Railcar, offers a menu that still represents the great Melting Pot of the country.
Clarke has an undergraduate degree in Food Science from the University of Nebraska—Lincoln and spent a number of years cooking for restaurants in Lincoln, Chicago, and then Omaha after moving back to be near family. He’s always had a fondness for the railroad and a strong interest in the influential role it played on American food. He had thought about the concept for a railroad themed restaurant for years, but he didn’t want it to be overly kid-orientated. Rather, he wanted it to be a causal, upscale restaurant that blended modern American food with different styles such as Italian, Greek, and Polish.
His vision turned into a reality in December 2012 when he opened The Railcar. Since then, Clarke continually focuses on giving his customers new experiences each time they come in. This includes changing the menu six times per year and rotating specials every month. Because a majority of his ingredients are locally sourced, many of the menu items feature seasonal offerings. For example, in July and August, sandwiches include fresh tomato slices, then at the end of September tomatoes are made into a fresh jam spread, which he said heightens their flavor potential.
As fall approaches, Clarke has transitioned into some new offerings. One includes a smoked pork pastrami that’s brined, cured, smoked, and sliced in-house. “Every year I try to master a new technique,” he said. “As a chef I always try to better myself and push myself to learn a new skill.” Another new feature is Clarke’s own version of chopped steak, which he ate growing up. His version is made with Wagyu beef from Blair, NE, cooked in a porter beer pan sauce and served with caramelized onions and country style potatoes. “It’s a modern type of rich, homey dish,” he said.
Other new features include lobster hush puppies, scallops topped with a fresh roasted corn pesto and apple chutney, and pork osso buco, which is traditionally a dish made with veal. Clarke also likes to incorporate trends from other cities he visits while traveling. Charred vegetables are an example, and he added charred carrots to the new menu. “By providing a new cooking treatment that makes them taste more savory than sweet, it changes the whole flavor profile and provides a completely different experience,” Clarke explained. “People are surprised we can get carrots to taste the way we do.”
Family style, or communal dining is another trend that Clarke said customers might enjoy. They can call ahead and order half a suckling pig for the entire table to share. “I’m always evolving with customers and what they want,” he said. “Chefs like to try new things, and customers trust that I’ll come up with new items that they’ll like, which can be hard for small restaurants.”
Clarke does listen to his customers. In fact, Railcar’s popular Sunday brunch is now offered on Saturdays as well, thanks to requests. And it’s not a typical American breakfast. The menu includes bistro style items such as chicken waffles with bourbon maple glaze, lemon ricotta pancakes, and different styles of eggs benedict as well as unlimited bloody marys. “People are looking for more unique options, and that’s what I’m trying to give them,” he said.”