Circo means “circus” in Italian, so the team behind the west Omaha eatery took a whimsical, unpretentious approach to both the space and the menu through innovative European-inspired dishes and jewel-toned decor. The warm finishes, sparkling fixtures, and greenery that adorn the dining room welcome patrons who settle into banquettes for an evening cocktail or nosh.
Quiet and unassuming, Executive Chef Dave Smyrk brings a Zen quality to Circo’s kitchen, whether crafting handmade stuffed pasta, crusty focaccia, or rich porchetta. An accomplished pastaiolo, Smyrk credits past mentors with giving him the confidence to experiment with dough formulations and creative pasta folds and shapes. The executive chef is proud of his tenure in this often tumultuous industry and said he’s grateful to be designing a menu and a system where his crew is bringing ideas to life through the execution of delicious food.
Smyrk’s signature carbonara and Cacio e pepe pastas, plated in artful tangles, ground the northern Italian-inspired menu, but dishes such as the cleverly-named Circ–Os (anellini pasta with hot Italian sausage) bring lighthearted fun to the table. Filled pasta such as taleggio ravioli with beef cheek ragu, and ricotta and spinach tortellini marry interesting fillings with al dente pasta.
Taking inspiration from central Europe, aperitivo plates include the traditional Serbian dish ajvar (charred eggplant and roasted sweet red pepper) and focaccia with honeyed ricotta. Additional diner favorites include fried pizza dough with a cascade of creamy burrata, or tender calamari steak perched atop sauteed garlicky greens.
Main dishes such as porchetta with white bean cassoulet and gremolata, pan-seared scallops with bitter greens and braised root vegetables, or the roasted chicken with spaetzle and mustard cream feature European flavors found just outside the Italian border. Depending on seasonal ingredient availability, special dishes such as the whole fried branzino or golden-brown seared scallops also make special menu appearances.
General Manager Andy DeVault is enthusiastic about the endeavor, “I feel like I’m living the dream—of course in dreams, the hard work isn’t featured, but this is where I want to be and what I want to do.” Service is paramount to DeVault and staff, whose knowing eyes anticipate guests’ needs, helping them to celebrate special occasions and moments through thoughtful touches such as personalized menus. DeVault elaborated, “The goal is making somebody’s day by helping guest visions come to fruition.”
Principal owner Tom Meade, a veteran of the Omaha hospitality community, is the central figure that binds this group together. The culinary professional expressed pride in being part of the Nebraska food scene. “It’s neat to be a local and know there are spots like this flying under the radar just a bit,” Meade said. “We’re all here trying to make the diner’s experience as great as we can.”
Bar Manager Dylan Grell’s enthusiasm for the beverage program is infectious. After working in Meade’s orbit for several years, he relishes the opportunity to experiment with ingredients and expand his knowledge. The current wine list offers European and American wines, and twice weekly (Wednesday and Sunday) guests can choose from a curated selection of half-price bottles.
“We kept the cocktail list classic when we first opened to gain trust with the customer through consistency,” shared Grell. “But now we’re getting a little more interesting.” A self-professed whiskey aficionado, Grell features different bourbon and rye whiskies in four distinct Old Fashioned cocktails.
Details matter, whether the bar team is squeezing fresh juices daily or crafting and stamping bespoke clear cocktail ice. Eight beer taps feature a blend of brews from local breweries Keg Creek and Kros Strain to Kansas City’s nearby Boulevard as well as Italian stalwart Peroni.
The convivial happy hour is an excellent time for patrons to try something new from both the beverage and aperitivo menus—wine pours are increased to 8 ounces and staff is pleased to suggest interesting pairings.
In the new year, Circo plans to offer plated dinners and host special occasions in the well-appointed adjacent party room. The space, which features a separate bar, holds up to 40 but is available for groups of 12 or more with prix fixe menus.
According to Meade, “every plate, every guest, every time” is the mantra that drives his culinary management company. “The reason we work long hours and accept the challenges of this industry is because we like making people happy—we really care.”
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