Editor’s note: During July, Ground Zero hits the road to visit restaurants in nearby towns.


RURAL WAVERLY -- Hard to believe the new Prairie Plate Restaurant was once a fishing shack.

And then a residence.

That’s a credit to new owners Jerry and Renee Cornett, who turned this one-time shack/residence next to a man-made lake into a dining destination.

The Cornetts, both former U.S. Navy helicopter pilots, opened Prairie Plate April 2 at 10405 Branched Oak Road. It’s just a couple of miles east of U.S. 77 as you head  north to Ceresco. Renee is making use of her culinary skills learned at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha.

In addition to the restaurant, the 40-acre Lakehouse Farm includes fields of nearly 70 organic items, such as tomatoes, potatoes, spinach, eggplant, cucumbers, beets and more used in many of Renee’s dishes.

The Cornetts’ concept is farm to table. So what they don’t grow, they bring in from other Nebraska producers. Eighteen of them are listed on the restaurant’s website.

The restaurant is open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday, and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. for a price-fixed, family-style meal.

“We’re figuring things out,” said Renee, who was surprised by a busy Saturday night -- the day after a holiday.

They’re learning fast.

Food

The menu is small, with only three to four entrees, and it changes weekly. It’s best to check out the restaurant’s website to see what Renee’s creating.

Last week, Prairie Plate featured a delicious chicken cutlet in white wine ($23), a juicy grilled kofte with a homemade dill yogurt ($22) and a vegetarian entree (see below).

The cutlet was lightly breaded (thankfully), and the sauce mild and unassuming. One of my co-workers complained her kofte was dry during her visit, but that wasn’t the case with our order. It was juicy and moderately seasoned (again, thankfully).

We began our meal sharing a sweet pea pasta in brown butter. The pasta was handcrafted. We finished with moist chocolate cake served with a vanilla bean gelato.

The restaurant isn’t for everybody. Since food is handcrafted with fresh, organic ingredients, the price point is higher than a chain restaurant, which churns out big portions of processed foods at half the price. Prairie Plate’s sweet pea pasta, for example, featured three small pasta strips for $8. One serving of chocolate cake with gelato was $8.

Patrons who order a “first course” (appetizer and/or salad) with a “second course” (entree) can expect to spend around $30 for a meal, excluding beverage, tax and tip. Grade: B+ (Some more choices would push this to an “A.”)

Atmosphere

Another selling point -- besides the farm-to-table concept -- is the building itself. Large windows in the dining room look out over the man-made lake. It’s common to see all kinds of wildlife. My wife saw a turtle lounging by the lake, and Renee told me some owls have made a home in a nearby tree.

The dining rooms, which seat nearly 60, are cozy and intimate, featuring solid oak tables and chairs. On Saturday, the Cornetts dressed each table with tiger lilies in a vase. The olive-colored walls are blank for now. Renee said they plan to adorn them with artwork/quilts that “fit in” with the restaurant.

Renee also said they want to create a path around the lake for pre- or post-dinner walks. Grade: A

Service

Jerry hadn’t planned to help his wife Saturday night until they booked a large group earlier in the day. Good thing he did, because he ended up working our table after our initial server found herself busy with the group.

Prairie Plate is a small operation, with Renee in the kitchen and one server on the floor. Jerry helps out when needed. That may change as the restaurant becomes busier.

Fortunately, Renee warned us about the group when I called Saturday afternoon for a reservation, so my wife and I arrived at about the same time and got our order in first. Because we did, food came out in a timely manner, from our shared first course to dessert. Jerry checked on us from time to time to make sure everything was OK.

The Cornetts highly recommend making reservations, so patrons can enjoy the dining experience and not be frustrated by waits for tables or slow service. Grade: A

Vegetarian and gluten-free friendly

Of the three or four entrees, at least one is vegetarian or vegan. Last week, for instance, the menu featured a greens and quinoa pie with roasted baby carrots ($19). This week is hand-cut fettuccine with a “locavore” pesto ($19).

The first courses ($6 to $8) primarily are vegetarian. A carryover from last week is the roasted baby beets, wilted greens and chevre ($8).

Renee said she can accommodate gluten-free or other dietary concerns with advance notice. Don’t hesitate to give her a call. Grade: B+

Reach the writer at 402-473-7213 or jkorbelik@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSjeffkorbelik.