It’s no secret the Midwest raises incredible beef, and most Omaha restaurants offer at least one steak dish on their menus. Spencer’s for Steaks and Chops has secured a unique niche serving Certified Angus Beef, which must meet no fewer than 10 exacting standards, resulting in the most tender, juicy, and flavorful meat. Quality ingredients, exceptional cuts, and impeccable service further set the beautiful restaurant apart in a town with a storied steak history.
Established in 2008, Spencer’s is a favorite destination for both locals and visitors, with many Berkshire companies in town for the famous shareholder meeting booking parties and dinners annually. Aaron Taggart, General Manager and Glenn Wheeler, Executive Chef, welcomed me to the newly reopened dining room, which retains its cool charm while following social distancing standards.
Spending his formative years in a town about an hour east of Chicago, Wheeler spent many childhood hours watching cooking shows on PBS, including notable Cajun cook Justin Wilson. After graduating culinary school, he met Louisiana Legend Paul Prudhomme at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, who encouraged the young chef to visit New Orleans. Wheeler did just that, tasting and cooking his way across the city. Returning to Omaha, he moved quickly up through the ranks of Omaha’s most notable restaurants, soaking up knowledge and experience, ultimately finding his way to Spencer’s, where he’s led the kitchen for more than 10 years.
When Spencer’s closed on March 16 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Wheeler kicked off an altruistic endeavor the very next day by inspiring local food service professionals to feed the community. He shared, “Chefs feed people; it’s how they show love and care. The Omaha hospitality community just continues to grow in strength.”
Wheeler has made his mark in a city of food-lovers, and Taggart enjoys learning from him and observing the effect he has on the community. A 2015 Omaha Restaurant Association Hall of Fame inductee, Wheeler is no stranger to charitable causes, making regular appearances at the annual Art and Soup (VNA), Too Many Cooks, and March of Dimes fundraising events. Recent work with Triage Success Youth Program and Dandelion Pop-Up have fed not only the community but the hearts of those involved.
Taggart credits his mom for planting the hospitality bug. “I grew up in restaurants, waiting for Mom in booths with my chocolate milk and crayons,” he reminisced. The manager takes great pride in his colleagues, remarking, “This is the best team I’ve worked with. At this caliber of fine dining, everyone is a professional.” He’s never found a good reason to leave the industry he loves, finding ways to learn and grow with each unique customer interaction.
The space at Spencer’s is evocative of a classic steak house with starched white tablecloths, dark wood, dim lighting, and jazz music, but that doesn’t mean the food is stodgy. The kitchen delights in infusing menu items with creative twists and flavors. Wheeler draws from a deep flavor bank gleaned from reading (over 500 cookbooks in his collection), travel, and nostalgia borne of life experience.
Wheeler’s seasoned palate is realized in the Seared Tuna al Pastor small plate, a playful and inspired interpretation of traditional tacos al pastor. The tender fish is crusted with guajillo and achiote, quickly seared, draped atop avocado-wasabi aioli, showered with crushed corn nuts and finally drizzled with a pineapple-infused sweet soy sauce.
Prior to the pandemic pause, protein dishes changed seasonally, and Wheeler is grateful that the reopening coincides with peak produce season. Safety regulations require disposable daily menus, which enables the kitchen to more frequently add new dishes that explore creative flavor combinations.
The bar menu is anchored by classics such as The Big Spence burger: a flavorful mixture of chuck, short rib, and brisket, topped with hearty accoutrements including thick cut black pepper bacon and the restaurant’s signature bourbon-bacon onions.
The ribeye, in true steak house fashion, is unadorned and perfectly cooked to your preference, so tender you barely need employ the substantial steak knife. Applewood smoked bacon and pickled grape tomatoes create a perfect balance in the traditional crispy wedge salad, making it an excellent starter for any meal. On the lighter side, the Alder Smoked Scottish Salmon dish is smoky, perfectly cooked, and served on a bed of bright vegetable succotash.
For dessert, Pastry Chef Derek Smith artfully crafts a substantial apple pie, a 3-day process that results in perfectly cooked apples and a crust that tastes more like cake than the traditional short crust. Generously studded with cinnamon, drizzled with caramel, and served with ice cream, the dish is a perfect way to linger after a shared meal or celebration.
Food is an integral part of celebrations, encouraging friends and family to gather with joy, making the most of every occasion. Spencer’s for Steaks and Chops is honored and grateful to be a part of your life’s special moments.