I’d heard a lot about Winchester Bar & Grill — in particular, about the burgers at Winchester — long before I ever set foot in the dive bar dining room a few weeks back.
I kind of love it when rumors turn out to be true.
Winchester made me feel like I was in some gem of a small town, far-flung dive bar, but with really good food. And, as a person who has spent a fair amount of time eating mediocre food in small town, far-flung dive bars, finding one this good in Omaha is, I think, pretty notable.
All you small town dive bar lovers out there, take note.
Those burgers everyone mentioned seem to be the house specialty. There’s ten different varieties on the menu, plus a make-your-own option and an Impossible burger, for those meat-free folks.
We sampled three: the Rustler, the Patty Melt and the Dakota Territory. Each featured what might be the best part of a Winchester burger: a 6-ounce patty perfectly smashed and charred, with lacy edges that read almost crisp, ample amounts of salt and pepper and a perfectly pink center. For a burger lover like me, this is heaven.
Winchester offers no shortage of bun styles, toppings, sauces and other condiments for its burgers. The Rustler, for example, comes topped with cheese, bacon, onion rings and Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce on a brioche bun. The Dakota Territory comes on a garlic-toasted onion bun with both Swiss and American cheeses, bacon, tomato, house made wow sauce, remoulade, lettuce, pickle and onion.
Toppings seemed fresh across the board. My friend who ordered the Rodeo burger found the sweet barbecue sauce a bit overwhelming, and my husband thought the flavors of both the secret wow sauce and the remoulade blended together on the Dakota burger, making one indistinguishable from the other.
The sides of fried delights like onion rings, sweet potato fries, curly fries and cheese curds, which we sampled another night, all seemed from a freezer package versus being homemade, , but I can assure you we polished them off regardless.
Otherwise, complaints are few.
About that wow sauce: I asked our server one night what might be in it, and she came back to report it’s a secret recipe with several ingredients the kitchen won’t reveal. I suggest ordering a side of it specifically for fry dipping. It’s not the average mayo-and-ketchup “fry sauce” you see at many places, and has a mysterious but tasty hint of sweetness I couldn’t quite pinpoint
I have always liked a patty melt — that sort of just greasy enough diner specialty — and here, Winchester nails it.
One of those lace-edged smash patties sits below a heap of caramelized onion and melted Swiss; Thousand island dressing tops all that and the whole mess gets smashed between two pieces of just-greasy, crispy toasted marble rye. Perfection.
Inside, Winchester has that typical small-town bar look and feel: televisions playing sports, a pool table, Christmas lights, lit Budweiser signs, daily specials scrawled across a chalkboard, a long bar with refrigerators full of domestic beer. The business does a brisk trade on the evenings when locals arrive to play sand volleyball on the adjacent set of outdoor courts or to sing karaoke on the stage in one corner of the dining room.
It’s worth noting that the kitchen pumps out a regular lineup of homemade comfort food that’s reasonably priced and, if their social media is any indication, looks just like what mom used to make. The lineup includes hot beef and gravy over mashed potatoes, meatloaf, chicken parmesan, spaghetti and meatballs and Friday night chicken fried steak.
On Tuesdays and Saturdays, one of those cheeseburgers with a side of fries clocks in at just $6.99. These days, that’s a price that not even a fast food drive-thru can beat.
There’s more than burgers and home cooking on the menu at Winchester. We also tried their Tommy wings, which arrived coated in Parmesan, butter, garlic and herbs and grew on our trio the more we ate them. Super crispy and garlicky, with tender meat inside, the finish of cheese is unusual in this context, which is generally so focused on sauce.
Whenever I see a Reuben on a menu, I try it. I’d call Winchester’s version Reuben-adjacent versus a classic. Hand pulled beef comes topped with sauerkraut and Thousand island, but here the sandwich is served on a marbled rye instead of dark, and also includes shaved red cabbage and both American and Swiss cheeses. I’m rarely a purist, but the Reuben is one of the times I am. Winchester’s version, while good, is cheesier than most, and has a different texture because of the cabbage’s crunchier texture.
There’s also a version of an east coast chopped cheese sandwich, here called a “Winchester WIlly,” and served in both a small and large size. For us, the small was more than ample, particularly because this sandwich is super cheesy, super creamy and super rich. Ground beef comes chopped together with onion, mushroom and lots of cheese, then served on a toasted hoagie bun. I’m not sure what else I can say.
For me, Winchester lands solidly in the same category of some of my other favorite divey food spots, like Dinker’s, or Barrett’s. There’s some surprising home cooking and some creative moments, and, of course, a great burger.
The only thing I wish for? A small-town style munch basket featuring all those fried finger foods in one, delicious pile, with a side of that special Omaha wow sauce, of course.
Winchester Bar & Grill
M-Sat: 11AM – 2AM