Thanks for coming back to part two of this vegan Omaha review. The little owl is so very happy! :) Now to continue the journey…
The next day was our big outing to the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. The HD Zoo is comparable to the San Diego zoo in terms of sheer size and awesomeness. Granted, I’ve only visited the Denver Zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, San Diego Zoo, and HD Zoo, but trust me when I say that the HD Zoo is one of the best in the US, if not the world. For one thing they have the world’s largest indoor desert inside the world’s largest geodesic dome, the largest zoo-based aquarium, America’s largest indoor rainforest, the world’s largest indoor swamp, and the world’s second largest free-flight aviary. And if that doesn’t sound like enough there’s also the huge cat complex, gorilla valley, Expedition Madagascar, the Butterfly and Insect Pavilion, and all the other outlying exhibits. Whew! We were there for over 6 ½ hours and only left because we were too hungry to stay longer. Among other things we saw:
adorable lion cubs
a baby pigmy hippo (partially pictured; mama is very protective)
lots of baby prairie dogs at Prairie Dog Hill
gorgeous butterflies free-flying around us in the Pavilion
and rhinos who appeared to be recovering from a kegger the night before
Plus the admission to the HD Zoo is only $15 compared to the $44 (!) you’ll pay for entry to the SD Zoo. Don’t get me wrong, I think that the admission to SD is pretty much worth it considering 1) they have Giant Pandas and 2) they’re in San Diego. But you would be remiss to ignore the Henry Doorly Zoo in your travels. And like all zoos they are very active in conservation of species which is the most important thing when it comes to any zoo.
Thoroughly famished we headed to Downtown Omaha in search of Block 16. Formerly called New York Chicken and Gyros, I was super excited to try this place because their website boasted house-made seitan and separate fryers for veggie items. I ordered the vegan gyro which featured thinly sliced chewy, chicken-y seitan, loads of crisp veggies, and creamy hummus in place of the traditional yougurt-based tzatziki, all stuffed into a soft pita. The spicy crinkle fries rounded out the meal.
Sadly their website has changed since I last looked at it prior to the trip and it no longer states that separate fryers are used for meat and veg items. That doesn’t mean they don’t still adhere to that practice. I’m someone who accepts that cross-contamination will happen when eating out but I hope they haven’t stopped doing it. They are currently redesigning the site so hopefully that issue will be clarified. I did take a pic of their in-store menu and you can see the many options of adding seitan to various sandwiches and even salads!
Surprisingly, Omaha features not one but two bakeries that have competed on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. We had no intention of getting cupcakes but we had a lot of time to kill before heading to Werner Park to catch the Omaha Stromchasers (the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals )and Jones Bros. Cupcakes was a short drive away. Their online menu didn’t have any vegan cupcakes listed so I was so very happy to see a vegan Chocolate Hazelnut cupcake sitting among the other choices. That made my decision easy! It’s easy to see why this bakery won CW as they have a perfect cake-to-frosting ratio. The cake was dense and chocolaty and the frosting has just the right amount of sweetness to be indulgent but not tooth-achingly sugary. I don’t believe for one second that if you handed that cupcake to someone without telling them so that they would be able to tell it was vegan.
The baseball game was a lot of fun. I’ve only been to major-league games so going to a game on a smaller-scale was kind of weird. I liked not having as many people swarming around and the fans in Omaha are very passionate. To make things more interesting there are a lot of fan promotions that the team does between innings like trying to throw softballs into the sunroof of a car as it drives around the field and homerun contests. I was happy to just sit in the warm air and drink beer and you can’t beat the price—we sat just six rows behind home plate for only $11 a ticket!
We also made a stop at the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Safari on the way from Omaha to Lincoln. The park features bison, deer, wolves, elk, pelicans, bears, and an eagle aviary.
The aviary was especially cool as it houses bald eagles that have been rescued from the wild but unfortunately can’t be re-released. It’s a rare chance to see them close up and two of them posed handsomely for pictures for us.
Most of the park was drive-through but there was about a 2-mile walking trail that looped around a lake that we hiked. I laughed at the signpost about the hike; there was a warning that halfway though there was ’moderate’ elevation gain for approximately .3 miles and was rated’ somewhat difficult’. I had on a pair of platform sandals and was only winded for about 10 seconds after the ‘treacherous’ climb. I guess that’s how you know you’re from Colorado; what is considered difficult elevation to mid-westerners is laughed at by those of us who know what elevation really is! We also snapped a pic of this frog, appropriately located at Frog Lake, trying to hide. We can totally see you Carl! (If you don’t get that reference I’m sorry. Just Google Geico antelope commercial and you’ll see what I mean.)
The rest of the trip was uneventful, as far as vegan food goes. We did plan on trying a place in Lincoln on our way to the concert called Maggie’s Vegetarian Wraps but they closed at 3pm—we were 2 hours too late. It was a bit disappointing because the menu looked fantastic. Maybe the next time around!
All in all the trip was a success in trying unique vegan eats. I came away with a new respect for mid-western restaurants because I never expected to have so many choices and the two places we visited are by no means the only options in Omaha. Of course, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything vegan in chain restaurants or at major attractions. I know there were few vegan options outside of the usual fries and peanuts at the zoo or the baseball game. We stayed at the Ameristar Hotel in Council Bluffs, IA for the first two nights and of all the restaurants there I had to settle for just vegetarian food. Being a flex-vegan it was easier for me to make do but strict vegans will want to do a lot of research and explore all their options ahead of time. Still you can never assume that eating vegan is impossible in any city and there’s a pretty good chance you will discover some great new food if you keep your mind open!