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Nebraska - Trail's End on the Cornhusker Highway
updated: May 15, 2010, 9:30 AM
By John McCafferty (aka McSeas)
|The Big Red N reminds us that we're in Nebraska football country.
The sullen look of a dining hall in a motel in Sioux Falls, ND, caused me to leave in a huff, minus the free breakfast, and get a really good breakfast down the road at a Country Kitchen - an excellent diner chain.
It was a lovely, bright, farmy morning and I zipped back to Omaha, en route to Lincoln, NE, my last sightseeing stop, if you can call it that. Had some time to kill before the flight home from Omaha.
I stopped in Omaha only for coffee and an Internet café, which I was surprised to find. The Downtown is so old and stolid that it's almost eerie, to me. Looks like it's been carved out of rocks.
But there's a lovely park and river view area about 20 miles southwest of town on I-90. You climb a tall observation platform and read that the name Nebraska is from an Oto Indian word that means, "flat water." Observant French explorers also noticed that the big river was indeed flat, as water usually is, and named it the Platte, meaning, of course, "Flat River". Nice to have that settled.
Farther on in the direction of Lincoln you find a very interesting and well-maintained Strategic Air Command museum. I'm impressed, whether SAC is important now or not.
Approaching Lincoln before noon I began looking for a good burger, and found it. I lunched outside of town in a pork-out diner with a name so generic I forgot it. Something like "Bill's Diner" or "Mabel's Eats." I hadn't seen this much fatback since Indiana a few years ago. And I'm talking about human backs, not pork ribs.
Several big guys were disappointingly silent while we all ate classic quarter-pounders and big fries and drank big Cokes and belched big time. "I dunno," I thought as I walked out to my car, "Maybe I better mend my ways before I kill myself by gorging on deep-fried organic matter."
In Lincoln, it was hot as hell and I ate a dangerously large ice cream cone (butter pecan, my favorite). It was dangerous to my health because I had to take my eyes off the road repeatedly to eat it while driving around town. I licked furiously to keep it from dripping all over me, even with the car's A/C going full blast. SO hot that afternoon.
I took refuge in the local library, which had a fine bank of computers ready, and contentedly sent email home and to a few other places where people might care what I had to say.
The afternoon was closing down under one final layer of humid heat and I procrastinated on leaving the comfy library by idly chatting with the librarian. He was interested in my trip and, moved by my frustrated food stories, offered me directions to "the best steak you ever ate." It was "The Steak House," with a capital T, out on "Cornhusker Highway," which sounded like a joke name, but wasn't. That's what the big street out yonder north of town is called.
I was delighted. Where would you find such a steak if not in Lincoln, NE, home of the mighty Cornhusker football team? Corn-fed beef on the hoof, and that was just the football team. A fitting climax to this T-Bone travel tale.
I drove across town to the comically drab Super 8 Motel and chatted with the tough broad-type running the place. I told her, "Looks like this place is geared toward food and football."
"And beer," she added. Didn't seem to be joking when she said, with resignation in her voice, "Not much to do here but drink beer and watch football."
"And eat steak," I said.
"That's all there is," she concluded.
I showered away the cares of the day and drove back into town, turned left toward the Cornhusker Highway, passed the enormous concrete wall that backed the Cornhuskers football stadium, and after a mile or so down the highway, The Steak House hove into view.
So this was the venue for my last dinner on the road here in the land of meat and corn. "All right, McC," I said, talking to myself as I often do, "let's hack and gnaw our way in and outta this place…"
I entered the cavernous building with quite a few tables already making noises -- it was about 6 p.m. -- and one of the strenuously smiling waiters led me to my own feeding trough. It was just light enough in there to see what you were cutting up -- "where the lights are low and the prices are high," as they say. But the prices were about right. This was Nebraska, not San Francisco or Los Angeles.
I ordered the T-bone steak and stressed that I wanted it PINK IN THE MIDDLE, OK? GOT THAT? THAT'S MEDIUM, RIGHT? The happy young man assured me that "you got it," and went for my salad.
He brought the steak and waited for my approval. I cut in next to the bone and it was … damn, it was overdone. Just a little pink in there by the rib. I sighed heavily and assured him that it was OK, just overdone. He became abjectly sad, apologized and reached for the plate, saying he'd take it back, no problem. In his eyes you could almost see dollar signs with wings.
"No no no," I waved him away. "It's OK. At least it's tender." It was more meat than I could eat, and I got physically tired from all the chewing. It was good. Just a tad tough from over-cooking.
Aw the hell with it, I thought. I'm goin' home to eat. I left the sad guy a nice tip in the name of Karma. He was now smiling again because I looked well fed and not unhappy. I declared the Prairie Schooner trip officially over.
Conclusion: I bought a box of frozen Omaha steaks in the airport and vowed to cook them the way they should be cooked: medium well, over mesquite charcoal. Californians know how to do these things.
The Platte River slowly winds its way through Nebraska.
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