Gather is the type of new Old Market restaurant that long-time Omaha diners haven’t seen in several years.
The Old Market arguably hasn’t welcomed a good, higher-end new restaurant since 2013, several years before the infamous M’s Pub fire.
Gather, located in a rebuilt space also destroyed in that fire, is working to change that — and hopefully helping to improve the Old Market’s culinary future after the neighborhood suffered through the twin Old Testament disasters of fire and viral plague.
The restaurant opened in the fall of 2021 at 1108 Howard St., in the spot formerly known as The Market House and, before that, Vivace. It’s aiming for that difficult target of “something for everyone,” sitting between being agreeable to most diners but still satisfying to the more adventurous. During my two recent visits, I found a lot to like, and as a diner who often feels let down by such a broad approach, I left pleasantly surprised.
Here’s what I mean: There’s a super solid hamburger, but also a bolognese made with elk meat. There’s other wild game on the menu — a bison steak — but also one of the better prepared pieces of salmon you’ll find anywhere in the neighborhood.
There’s recognizable appetizers like crispy Brussels sprouts, but there’s also bone marrow fried rice, which aims higher than most dishes on the menu, and almost (almost!) executes.
I can’t think of a new Old Market restaurant since the opening of Le Bouillon, down Howard street, that makes me more excited to be a downtown dweller. I still prefer standbys like Bouillon, Buvette and Boiler Room. But Gather could find its way onto my regular list.
Let’s start with that burger, which arrived perfectly cooked to medium as I ordered on a soft, bready bun with a substantial pile of shoestring fries. Most of the food at Gather is nicely seasoned; here, that includes the peppery wagyu hamburger, salty fries and a chili de arbol fry sauce with more of a spicy kick than I expected.
The burger comes interestingly topped with shaved cabbage, cooked but still crunchy; roasted mushrooms; onions; and smoked gouda, which has a pronounced smoky flavor. House-made, skin-on French fries are always a treat, and the ones at Gather are crisp-tender and delicious.
The tomato-forward Elk bolognese comes packed with not just hunks of elk but also wagyu and bison. Gather’s original location is in Jackson Hole, Wyoming; this focus on wild game makes sense, to me, when a diner knows that.
Paired with thick-cut homemade pasta, Pecorino cheese, grilled baguette and an optional soft cook egg, which we added, the dish is well-executed with a nice depth of flavor, particularly from that combination of meats. I appreciated that it wasn’t a throwaway dish, as pasta dishes on such broad menus often are.
If you haven’t been back in this space since the fire and resulting water damage that closed The Market House, you’re in for a surprise. Gather’s dining room has been completely transformed, with the bar now on the west side of the vast dining room, a totally open kitchen and not just a front patio, but one on the backside, too.
Inside, art from local artist Watie White decorates the walls, and downstairs is the much-Instagrammed hydroponic garden, which is fun to walk through after your meal. The restaurant sells bags of greens and herbs for diners to take home, too.
We sat at the bar during one visit and on that new back patio during another, and found friendly service in both spaces, with advice and recommendations if a diner asked and well-executed drinks from Gather’s cocktail list.
The Old Market Fashioned is a balanced, smooth version of the classic made with local Brickway bourbon or rye. The Caliente Wey is labeled as a house favorite, and I can see why: it’s like a slightly spicy, jalapeno blackberry margarita made with zingy house limeade.
The Becky is a tasty summer spritz sort of number made with a few of my personal favorite ingredients: prosecco, St. Germain and grapefruit, topped with house-grown basil. Call me basic if you will, but I promise it’s good.
The restaurant has both a red and white wine of the day, which equates to a rotating house selection. I took the bartender’s advice and upgraded to a pinot on the by-the-glass list, which I liked better than any of the house wines I tried.
The Mediterranean burrata appetizer is a crowd pleaser: Olive oil-grilled Naan comes with a big ball of the soft cheese; mild hummus; and a smoky tomato, cucumber, olive and balsamic side salad. It’s light and tasty, with nice temperature contrasts and no surprises.
I had my eye on the bone marrow fried rice from the moment we first sat down at Gather, and what really surprised me here is the presentation: the sushi rice spiked with soy and bone marrow comes served in a straight-edged rectangle, topped with a pineapple and cucumber salad, nori komi furikake, which is sesame seeds and roasted black seaweed and a soft cooked egg, which we added. I longed for more umami in this dish, or some type of depth. Instead, it fell disappointingly flat.
In contrast, the pan seared miso salmon might have been my favorite dish on the menu. It’s wonderfully cooked: a tender, mid-rare center with an exceedingly crispy skin. The sizable filet sits atop house-grown bok choy and mustard greens and the rest of the bowl is full of flavorful bites to pry out: hot Fresno peppers, pineapple, sour cherries and miso-glazed peas, all topped with a yuzu vinaigrette.
The red wine marinated bison strip arrived medium rare with a nice char on its exterior. Bison can be dry, but this is decidedly not. I liked the new twist on the side dishes: sweet potatoes topped with a mild Boursin cheese fondue, old-school pickled red beets and room-temp charred stalks of broccolini.
A quick line on dessert: the doughnut holes are great. Though they’re fried, the finish is crisp instead of greasy, with a cakey interior. They come with three sauces for dipping: a thick, cool chocolate; a sweet vanilla; and a fruity blackberry; the latter two are great when combined.
Prices at Gather are on the higher side. The burger clocks in at $19 and is the most affordable of the large plates. Most are in the $30 to $40 range, with the red wine marinated bison sitting just shy of $50. While the atmosphere, to me, feels more everyday, for some, the prices probably veer into “special occasion” territory. After tip, both of our tabs stretched above $100.
All that said, I liked almost everything we tried. Gather does a lot and does most of it well.
It’s rare for me to say, but I think almost any diner will actually find something to enjoy here, and that’s a rare feat in the Old Market or the restaurant world.