Tucked into the quaint Old Market Passageway, V. Mertz has been captivating diners with old-world charm, exceptional wines, and innovative flavors for more than 40 years. First opened as a wine bar, the dark wood and dim lighting of the romantic space is reminiscent of a wine cellar, but originally housed fruit during a time when the area served as an actual market. It is easy to lose track of time and place here, making it well-suited for an intimate meal.
Ownership of the establishment has changed hands over the years, but, in General Manager Matt Brown’s view, “always in the right way to the right people, never straying from the general skeleton of intention.” Operating from a guest-first mentality, the establishment boasts incredible staff who seem to effortlessly balance history with eyes on the future.
In the tiny kitchen, Executive Chef Jacob Newton and his team coax complex, layered flavor out of quality local products. Formally trained in the culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University in Denver, his first experience at V. Mertz was under Chef Jon Seymour, during which time they “cooked everything that sounded good.”
Hungry for knowledge, Newton spent time learning from several local chefs, then spent a few years in Charleston working for James Beard award-winning chef Mike Lata. It was there that he learned how to run a successful restaurant. His takeaway? Leadership is about fostering a cohesive culture in which everyone has the confidence to embrace history and step boldly into the future.
Menu options change daily to take advantage of seasonality, which is best expressed in the chef’s tasting menu. According to Newton, “Ingredients can be local but flavors global, and local doesn’t have to be within 50 miles.” Sustainably farmed and line-caught seafood round out the fresh menu options.
In the dearth of winter, when fresh vegetables are scarce, focus moves to mushrooms, local microgreens, and edible flowers. Recently, a derivation of their house-made gluten-free cracker was used to crust gorgeous oyster mushrooms from Flavor Country Farms. The satisfying vegetable-forward dish is served with sauce Espagnole, cranberry mostarda, and a flavorful horseradish gremolata.
Local proteins, including Morgan Ranch Wagyu beef from Burwell, Nebraska, are always featured, including the 8-ounce strip used in the popular pepper steak. Steak au poivre (steak with peppercorn sauce) is nearly always on the menu, and on this day featured bone marrow emulsion and broccolini, nestled near écrasée de pommes and smoked butter. “The beef remains constant, but the sides change seasonally,” explained Newton.
The kitchen takes great pride in offering house-made charcuterie, crackers, and accoutrements, and features a rotating menu of artisan cheeses as either a starter or dessert. Bread service featured fresh toasted coconut rolls brushed with pork fat and served with smoked butter.
Pastry Chef Ally Peralta brings a joyful creativity to the kitchen, experimenting with unique flavor combinations grounded in solid French technique. Featured on the dessert menu this winter was an elderflower pavlova served with yogurt, quince foam, and candied celery.
Brown encourages service staff to take their own path by providing different routes to learning, resulting in genuine, inspired, and thoughtful service. When interacting with guests, Brown advises servers to “never be afraid of not knowing something.” Wise words coming from such a knowledgeable person. In the eight years he’s been managing the restaurant, Brown has achieved four sommelier levels and is currently working on the multi-faceted and notoriously challenging Master Sommelier certification.
Boasting over 400 bottles, the wine list at V. Mertz is certain to have a bottle or glass that will enhance the dining experience. “Wines reflect specific areas of the world and work with food in a harmonious way,” said Brown, who works closely with Newton to develop pairing recommendations that elevate both food and wine, often in surprising ways.
Certified Sommeliers on staff are happy to provide personalized pairings for any item on the menu, and a creative cocktail menu is available for those who prefer a more spirited accompaniment to their meal.
Both Newton and Brown describe the V. Mertz dining experience as customizable, serving guests through keen observation and intentional conversation. This service philosophy manifests itself through small, thoughtful touches such as personalized menus, cozy intimate tables reserved for special occasions, or simply remembering personal preferences across visits.
In addition to managing V. Mertz, Brown is in his second term as president of the Omaha Restaurant Association (ORA), an organization that provides a network of support to local restaurant owners, as well as myriad philanthropic pursuits in the community. Omaha offers diverse, high quality fare, and the ORA continues to foster the city’s unique, collaborative community of food-service professionals.
At V. Mertz, Brown and Newton feel a responsibility to honor the tradition and history, yet are emboldened and unafraid to adapt. “We want to customize new experiences while preserving past stories and traditions,” shared Brown. Over the years, the restaurant had changed in subtle ways but remains genuinely focused on facilitating unforgettable guest-centered moments through excellent food, wine, and service.