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V. Mertz Offers a Welcoming and Unforgettable Fine Dining Experience

Reviewed by Chris Corey
June 20, 2024
the outside of omaha's v. mertz with their vertical sign above the archway entrances

V. Mertz is an Omaha icon nestled downstairs in the historic Old Market Passageway. Mark Mercer opened the restaurant in 1977, naming it after his wife, Vera Mertz Mercer. It boasted one of the first dedicated wine bars in the country at that time.

The restaurant transitioned to fine dining in the 1980s. In the early 2000s, V. Mertz started offering tasting menus with a focus on local producers. Today it offers fine dining that’s more accessible, welcoming and inviting.

Closer angle of Omaha's V. Mertz entrance

A look into the V. Mertz dining area.

The atmosphere is warm and romantic. The walls are dark red brick with wine racks made of a rich dark wood. There’s something to be said for a restaurant that’s been around so long yet still fills the dining room most nights – it’s a good idea to make a reservation to guarantee your table. Clearly, V. Mertz has been doing something right.

That something starts from the way you’re greeted in the informal entry, to the highly trained team of servers, to the care that is taken with the entrees. The servers take time to explain the menu, and when your food arrives at the table, they set it before you, describing what’s on your plate.

Utensils are brought on a platter, and if you happen to step away from your table for a moment, you’ll likely find your black cloth napkin replaced with a freshly folded one when you return.

Details like this elevate what is an already fantastic dining experience and isn’t something we see very often, especially when the dress code is “smart casual.”

At the helm is executive chef John Miller and general manager Matthew Brown, who is also an advanced sommelier.

Miller grew up in Omaha through high school before moving to Colorado to gain his culinary chops, working in several restaurants in the Denver area. He came back to Omaha and V. Mertz in 2019, starting as a line cook quickly working his way to sous chef. Just a little over two years ago, he took the reign as executive chef and has full autonomy over the menu.

Brown has a personal connection to V. Mertz. “I grew up here in Omaha, so it was a restaurant near and dear to my heart,” he said. “My mother brought me here to teach me how to dine when I was in high school. It’s a place I think is unique to Omaha.”

Our first visit to V. Mertz was on Saturday. We started with cocktails and a couple of small plates. I had the grape Scotch. Jennifer went with the “tell me a tikitale.” Our small plates were focaccia and the cucumber & strawberry salad.

tell me a tikitale cocktail

Tell me a tikitale.

The “tell me a tikitale” is a beautiful mix of Tattersall Coconut Aquavit, Plantation OFTD Rum, orange, lime and cinnamon honey. This citrus-forward cocktail is smooth and incredibly balanced. The notes of coconut and cinnamon honey come through just enough to know they’re there.

The grape Scotch had a surprisingly smooth, velvety herbal profile. The herbal presence was unexpected, but not unwelcome. It was a different flavor profile than I anticipated with the listed ingredients: Gonzalez Dry Vermouth, Lochlea scotch, green grape, green apple, pea pod & lime juices and egg white. I suspect the herbal flavor comes from the pea pod, which made it difficult to detect the Scotch. There was very little sweetness from the grape and apple. If you like a good herbal cocktail, this is the one for you.

The focaccia with balsamic and apricot chutney, raclette mornay (a French cheese sauce) and micro green salad was an excellent choice. The bread had a fabulous outer crunch with a soft, pillowy middle. It was seasoned well and balanced nicely with the chutney, mornay and salad, which you can mix and match on your focaccia to as you see fit.

Cucumber strawberry salad

Cucumber strawberry salad.

The cucumber and strawberry salad – recommended as a starter for one person but easily shareable – is a light, flavorful dish. Endive frisée is topped with strawberry coulis, sunflower chips, ricotta za’atar and sherry vin. The tartness from the strawberries blends well with the ricotta; the cucumber is shaved thin and has a sweet pickling. The sauces tie all the ingredients together.

The roasted duck entrée at V. Mertz

Roasted duck breast.

Jennifer went with the roasted duck breast, which was cooked to a perfect medium rare with a beautiful sear on the outside. The duck is matched with grilled ramps (which are a wild allium related to spring onions and leeks), creamy polenta, roasted carrot, pickled cherry and duck jus. Everything on this plate is well thought out, and all ingredients make culinary sense together. The pickled cherries add just the right amount of sour to the duck’s richness.

Braised pork shoulder.

Braised pork shoulder.

I tried the braised pork shoulder with mole negro, summer squash sofrito, pickled zucchini, and kiwi & poblano jus. The pork was tender, and its natural sweetness countered the rich mole negro. The kiwi & poblano jus was mild, peppery and had a nice hint of sweetness. The jus made sense with the mole and worked well with the pork and vegetables.

We wrapped the evening with dessert and the coffee service. The coffee service is served with two China teacups and a French press with local Archetype coffee. We selected crème brûlée and chocolate mousse cake for dessert.

I’ll take a moment here to point out that we were also celebrating a birthday, which I noted on the Open Table reservation. V. Mertz took note of this and printed “Happy Birthday!” on the menu that awaited us when we were seated – such a nice touch. Right after the coffee service was delivered, the waiter brought two house-made truffles, adorned with a birthday candle. I’d really like to know how to order more of that.

The crème brûlée topping cracked just right under our spoons, and the custard was a perfectly creamy texture. The custard lacked the sweetness we’re used to in a crème brûlée. While it may have been intentional to allow the topping to be what sweetens the dessert, it’s out of the norm for a proper crème brûlée.

Chocolate mousse cake

Chocolate mousse cake.

The chocolate mousse cake, is layered with white and dark chocolate mousse and topped with Frangelico salt next to large dots of lemon curd with a white chocolate breakable shell that houses cocoa nibs. Both mousses were rich and velvety. The lemon curd allowed some welcome citrus to cut through the richness of the mousse. For fans of sweet and salty combinations, the Frangelico salt will win you over.

On our second visit, this time on Wednesday, we ordered two cocktails and the bread service as a starter. Our entrees were the pierogi and the seared diver scallops.

For the cocktails, I went with the old fashioned while Jennifer ordered the coallective seoul. The old fashioned was perfectly balanced with bitters, sugar and Dickel 8 Year Bourbon. The coallective seoul was made with Tito’s vodka, Yali pear infused soju, lemon, strawberry and activated charcoal. It was slightly boozy with a berry prominence. It made for a refreshing cocktail.

The V. Mertz bread service

The V. Mertz bread service.

The bread service isn’t something to ignore. It consists of four tall pork-fat roasted coconut rolls that pull apart from one another. The exterior offers a light crunch. The inside is warm and tender, allowing the butter to melt into the bread right away. There are slight hints of coconut, giving it a nice complexity. It might be a little addictive because I almost put in a second order.

The pierogi with herbed crème fraiche, chèvre & potato filling, ram, leek apricot and golden beet was a balance of delectable flavors. The pierogi were formed in an intriguing shape, which made for a mouth-watering presentation. The dough had just the right density and had the appropriate amount of potato filling. The vegetables were tender, and the sauce had wonderful elements of sweet and savory.

the seared diver scallops

Seared diver scallops.

The seared diver scallops were seared and cooked to complete perfection. A butter knife cut right through, revealing a tender, glistening center. Alongside the scallops were grilled artichoke, clabrian chili gastrique, kalamata olives and sauteed greens. The grilled artichokes were fork-tender and made for a great vegetable combination with the greens and kalamata olives. The calabrian chili gastrique was lightly smoky with a touch of heat and a memorable balance of citrus with hints of garlic.

The V. Mertz mango pavlova

Mango pavlova.

The mango pavlova was our favorite desert. Mango sorbet, pavlova, kiwi, cucumber, chamoy, pastry cream and chili salt are plated in stunning, artistic fashion. The chamoy added a slight bit of heat to the dessert which worked surprisingly well against the mango, kiwi and pavlova. This dessert is art on a plate and a delight to savor.

“While we have a traditional French-trained kitchen in the way that they operate,” Brown stated. “We’ll use influences from all kinds of cuisines from Asian cuisines to rooted American cuisines and French cuisines as well.”

It might be good to point out that the menu is ever changing, often seasonally.

“We try to highlight what I think is most important about Omaha, which is Omaha hospitality,” Brown said. “But behind that also have really fantastic food and wine. In order to do that, being adaptable is really important.”

Wide angle of outside Omaha's V. Mertz

V. Mertz Old Market Passageway dining area.

The main menu isn’t the only option at V. Mertz.

“Our tasting menu is also the thing that chef takes a lot of pride in, in that it is completely different from the regular menu,” said Brown. “Typically, that’s five courses really built to highlight specific cooking techniques or ingredients and then pair it to wines as well.”

With five sommeliers on staff, including Brown, it’s safe to say you’re in good hands.

V. Mertz offers an unforgettable experience and is a great destination to take out-of-town guests to give them a taste of Omaha hospitality.

V. Mertz

1022 Howard St
Omaha, NE 68102

(402) 345-8980

https://vmertz.com

Sponsored by:

Grow Omaha Eats is sponsored by All Makes and Allsteel. For more than a century, All Makes has remained family-owned and committed to supplying businesses with workplace solutions, specifically furniture and technology. To learn more, visit one of our showrooms in Omaha, Lincoln, Des Moines, Columbus, Kearney, or North Platte.

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