Sunday, June 28, 2015

Lincoln summer sounds: Jazz in June

Some of Lincoln’s finest people watching and street food also happen to coincide with a free jazz concert in June. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

Yes, I finally made it to the aptly named “Jazz in June” last week. This event, located on UNL’s campus in the Sheldon sculpture garden, is a summer concert staple in its 24th season.

It was impressive. And confusing—where did all these people from?! I know, Lincoln has a population of 250,000. Sometimes I forget. I just wasn’t expecting this many people to congregate in the Sheldon’s sculpture garden after work on a Tuesday. 

Or at least, I wasn’t expecting enough people to merit multiple “recycling stations,” myriad volunteers and even a UNL bike valet (which is, by the way, a brilliant thing and way more fun than a car valet—not that I would know.)

I guess good street food and people watching will do that. And jazz, of course.

Jazz in June Lincoln Nebraska
The jazz aficionados, in their natural habitat.
The music is great. It’s jazz, after all, so you know what you’re in for and can’t really go wrong. Especially when Jazz in June hosts a lineup of talented musicians from across the country. 

Actually seeing the musicians, however, is a bit more challenging. The gardens are packed to capacity for this event and prime seats go fast.

But why watch the musicians when you’re in Lincoln’s prime people-watching locale? The crowds are half the fun. My sister and I even spotted a George Clooney look-alike. 

We really did watch the musicians for most of some of the night, as well as the few brave couples who got up from their lawn chairs to try some jazz moves. My sister and I joined them by the end of the night. Because when in Lincoln, and when at Jazz in June… You dance. 

Or at least enjoy the people watching. 

—Lincoln from a local

Lincoln falafel finds: Amsterdam Falafel and Kabob

Who knew deep-fried chickpeas could taste so good? Lincoln isn’t short on falafel finds, and with the June opening of Amsterdam Falafel and Kabob, capital city dwellers have another reason to love the chickpea.

Amsterdam Falafel and Kabob bills itself as “European street food,” with a menu that incorporates Indian, African, Turkish and Egyptian flavors. The name strikes me as a little geographically confusing. I've generally associated Amsterdam with bikes and canal, but maybe it's also a Dutch falafel haven.

Geographical correctness aside, Amsterdam Falafel and Kabob made their Haymarket location known June 17 with free falafel sandwiches. And as expected, the promise of FREE! food drew a crowd—including my coworkers and I.

Amsterdam Falafel and Kabob

Fast forward. We abandoned the June 17 feeding frenzy but made plans to return when the promise of a “fast-casual” restaurant could actually hold true. (You can order anything off the menu to go.) 

As it turned out, a lunch visit last week seemed almost as slow. But the falafel. Oh, the falafel. It was worth the wait. 

Amsterdam’s menu is simple and straightforward. First, pick falafel or kabob meat. 

If falafel, choose classic or spicy. If kabob meat, choose beef or chicken. 

Final decision: choose a grilled flatbread sandwich, a salad or a hummus plate for your falafel or kabob.

Done. And delicious. At least, this was the consensus among my coworkers and I. 

Here are a few food photos of our recent trip and some semi-foodie notes:

My spicy falafel on a hummus plate, aka the chickpea trifecta: chickpeas (falafel) on chickpeas (hummus) on plain old chickpeas. Plus, a little cabbage and couscous—an alliterative foodies dream. 

Amsterdam Falafel and Kabob
My foodie coworker was a fan of his flatbread falafel. That's about all I know, but it looks tasty. 

My red-shorts-wearing coworker went with the beef kabob salad and curry fries. Yes, curry fries. Not curly fries, as he originally misheard. 

Amsterdam Falafel and Kabob
And finally we have coworker #3, who couldn't quite keep his fork out of the photo due to his beef kabob enthusiasm. A good sign. 

Amsterdam Falafel and Kabob
One more curry fry photo. I couldn't resist. The little blue fry forks are the coolest.

European street food on a Haymarket side street—a falafelist's dream come true. No, falafelist is not a word. But you'll see it here again, because I have more falafel finds to share. 

So, have you tried Amsterdam? Did you love it or do you just think I'm crazy for liking chickpeas? (If the latter, please see the the first photo in this post. I have plenty of fellow falafelists.)

—Lincoln from a local

Friday, June 19, 2015

Where to find the best Runza aka "cabbage bun"

Runza cabbage bun Leon's Grocery
You too can find these beautiful buns around town. 

I promised Lincoln: quintessential and quirky. And there is nothing more true to that sentiment than the Runza. 

As an out-of-state college student, I’d sometimes bring friends home with me over school breaks. Which would, of course, always include a trip to Runza. Our pre-meal dialogue usually went something like this:

Friend: “What’s a Runza?” 

Me: “It’s like a hot pocket with cabbage and beef.”

Friend: “Oh. It sounded like a carpet-cleaning place.” 

If you’re from Nebraska, you know the drill. Runzas are to us what deep-dish pizza is to Chicago or crab legs are to Baltimore. (I may have made that up. But I think crab legs are a Baltimore thing.) 

If you’re from Lincoln, you may also know that Runza sandwiches originated here—in 1964, out of a small food shack by Pioneers Park. 

If you’re a German-from-Russia in Lincoln, you also probably know that the Runza recipe originated among our people. (Yes, I’m half German-from-Russia, which is an actual thing. There’s even a museum in town.)  

The Runza fast-food restaurants are great. Brilliant. There’s nothing like bringing Volga German fare to the masses. And there’s nothing like a drive-through Temperature Tuesday on a blustery winter day.

But to find my favorite “cabbage bun” (don’t want to cross any trademark boundaries), I have a single recommendation:

Leon’s Grocery, 2200 Winthrop Road

This local grocer makes a mean cabbage bun, served fresh Wednesdays and Saturdays. They’ve kept this schedule since some coworkers and I discovered their culinary bounty a year ago, but if you’re ever in doubt, just give ‘em a call

Leon’s serves a variety of cabbage buns, but my German-from-Russia taste buds prefer the original.

Pro tip: Pick up some salt and pepper packets at the deli counter and season to taste. These buns won’t taste as sodium-packed as their trademarked counterparts, but that’s why I love them. My coworkers also perfected the art of ketchup and mustard add-ons, but I'm a traditionalist. 

—Lincoln from a local

What's the buzz about Lincoln? And why I’m writing Lincoln From a Local

State capitol from the inner courtyard. 

As a recent college grad, I distinctly remember how many jobs I applied to in Lincoln, Nebraska.


I was raised in Omaha, left “the Good Life” for college and was open to living just about anywhere after graduation. 

Lincoln, however, was not on that list.

Chalk it up to an Omahan sense of urban superiority, a mental dismissal of Lincoln as a college town or a disdain for returning to the city on my birth certificate, but Lincoln was definitely not on that list. 

As for the one job I applied to in Lincoln? Well, that’s the job decided to take. And I don't think I'm alone. As students and young professionals seek affordable places to start their careers, this capital city has some perks.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Lincoln had a 2.1% unemployment rate as of April this year. The city consistently figures into Top 10 lowest unemployment lists, placing third in this report from Forbes Magazine.

As a native Nebraskan, I already knew the Midwest trended toward low unemployment. I didn't know the city had a growing number of startups, joining Omaha and Kansas City on the Silicon Prairie. Lincoln entrepreneurs are capitalizing on the city’s affordability, strong economy and close-knit community; the city place third on Nerdwallet’s “Best Cities for Young Entrepreneurs to Start Small Businesses.” 

It didn't surprise me, then, when Lincoln recently appeared on CBS News' “Best up-and-coming towns for college grads.” A year and a half after my own move, I’d have to agree with their assessment. Lincoln is up-and-coming, just like the college grads it’s attracting.

I want to show you a bit of my Lincoln: the quirky and the quintessential. I want to show you Lincoln, apart from the data-driven lists and tourist branding. (Nebraska is Nice don’t ya know?) 

I may show you the three best falafel finds or where to go sailing (yes, sailing) near Lincoln. Or tell you my top tips for faking Husker fandom. 

If you’re new to this city, maybe I can let you in on a few things to do, eat, see or experience. If you’ve been here awhile, maybe you can let me know what I’m missing. Whether you’re a student, a college graduate, a young (or “old”) professional, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what makes Lincoln, Lincoln. 

—Lincoln from a local*

*Local may be a stretch, but I'll try to pull it off. Plus, alliteration.