Though its location—the actual boiler room of the 19th century Bemis Mag Building—exudes history, this restaurant has been mapping Omaha’s culinary future since its 2009 opening. A list of 500-plus bottles favors elegant Old World wines to complement the bright, fresh flavors of Chef Tim Nicholson’s seasonal cuisine.
From the Sommelier: “One of the fun aspects of The Boiler Room is that we have a really service-oriented staff, coupled with an expansive list. That means different servers gravitate towards different areas within that list. So depending on who your server is on a particular night, you may have your first “Holy S—“ moment with wines from Jura, Grüner Veltliner, or orange wine from Friuli. Eventually, you have repeat diners calling for these wines, and hipping their friends and family to them too.” —Anthony Johnson, The Boiler Room Restaurant
Dish We Loved: Pig head terrine with anchovy aïoli, pickled shallots, peanuts, mustard greens, and chili oil
Johnson: Tim and I were young when we started in the restaurant, and it was already pushing Omaha to be more interested in things like drinking grower-producer wine and eating locally sourced food. It’s snowballed in the last few years.
Nicholson: We really train our staff to be more knowledgeable, and the more guests know—where the food comes from, how the wine is made—the more approachable it is. Omaha was learning and the palate was changing, and it’s been cool to see it advance.
Johnson: There’s a “Six Degrees of Boiler Room” across town, so we can go support our former colleagues and it extends [into the] community. The goal is to expand the dining vernacular of Omaha.
How do you help make guests feel comfortable with the food and beverage programs?
Johnson: It’s just having well-trained, friendly and approachable staff. If you’ve seen photos of the building, it’s a little intimidating, and then you open a wine list that’s 21 pages of European words. It’s our job to be ambassadors and let them know it’s not that scary. They’ll still eat and drink something delicious.
What’s your process for collaborating?
Johnson: A lot of it is unspoken. I’m always bringing wine for him to taste and he’s always having me taste food.
Nicholson: Tony will see me working with a certain ingredient and we’ll talk about what it is. Like he’ll see me building a pig head terrine, or he’ll taste new sauces so he’ll have an idea of what wines will work. We have a menu meeting daily at 4:45 and everyone eats, and Tony will ask them what wine will pair well with each dish.
Johnson: If I taste a bottle with a distributor and I don’t think it will go with our food, it won’t go on our list. I’m always thinking about what makes the most sense with our food.