When Vega opened in November, it was immediately embraced as a superb new music venue. But the club on the second floor of the Railyard with the great sound system and high stage had something of a secret.
Not that it was intended as such. But it took awhile before it became known that Vega served food -- all day long.
“At first, everyone was, like, ‘I didn’t know you guys had food,” said co-owner Eli Mardock. “A little extra signage helped, and we’re finally starting to do a little marketing on it. At first it was the shows. Our focus has been music. But we’re offering a locally sourced, quality product. I think it’s unique. It’s a business run by creative types. We’re going to have a creative menu.”
That creativity is reflected in the names of the offerings -- either as gourmet hot dogs, which have been available since Vega opened, or hamburgers, which were added in March.
Most have musical references, from Born in the USA and Lady Madonna to Rock the Casbah, Big in Japan and South By Southwest BBQ. All come with toppings that range from coney-style chili and coleslaw to falafel, hummus, saag and toasted nori.
Lincoln is reflected in the food itself.
“All the beef we’re using for burgers and hot dogs is organic, grass-fed, humane certified and local,” Mardock said. “It comes from Davey Road Ranch outside Raymond. Our focus is on using super-high-quality local ingredients.”
To that end, the bread used for the dogs and burgers comes from Le Quartier Bakery & Cafe, many of the herbs are grown by Vega staff and other produce is obtained from local vendors when possible.
Vega’s food business has picked up gradually, particularly after burgers were added to the menu. Most of that business has come at lunch or before and after events at the Pinnacle Bank Arena, which is just across the street.
“The dinner crowd has been a little rough because the bands have to sound check,” Mardock said. “Bass drum kicks kind of interrupt dinner.”
To alleviate that interference, Vega is now encouraging bands to sound check from 2 to 5 p.m. or after 7 p.m. But that’s not the only time patrons eat while music’s coming from the stage. The kitchen is open until 10 p.m. weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends.
“Lots of people have started coming in an hour or so before a show to eat, then stay for the show -- and more and more people are getting food during the shows,” Mardock said. “Sometimes there’s no place for them to sit down to eat. But they don’t seem to mind.”
Since Vega opened, I’ve eaten each of the menu offerings as either a hot dog or burger. Both are $8 with sides available for $2.
My new favorite burger is the Thai-Dye, which is topped with pad thai noodles, stir-fried egg, green onion, red chilies, crushed peanuts, sriracha aioli, coconut cream and fresh cilantro. The chilies give the authentically Thai-flavored toppings a kick that sets off nicely against the burger, which was cooked about medium. The only drawback -- the bun started to disintegrate about the time I finished eating.
I’m also partial to the South By Southwest BBQ -- and not just because of my annual trip to Austin. The burger comes topped with coleslaw, which is very creamy, Texas-style BBQ sauce, bacon and fresh cilantro.
The South By Southwest BBQ is one of the most-ordered burgers. But the most popular hamburger option is The Vega, a build-your-own with a selection of toppings, sauces, vegetables and cheeses. Most people, Mardock said, simply order a cheeseburger.
As for the dogs, Vega has recently begun serving the Davey Road Ranch hot dogs, which are delicious, rich and not at all like what you buy at the grocery store. The classic hot dogs are fun -- The Falco comes in a toasted baguette with three choices of sauce (I like the spicy dijon). But my favorite is the Rock the Casbah.
The Belgian fries, hand-cut russet potatoes twice fried in peanut oil and tossed in sea salt, fresh rosemary and thyme and served in a paper cone inside a wire basket, are very good.
But the killer side is the truffle mac & cheese, which is also available in a larger portion for $4. The combination of aged sharp cheddar, shaved Parmesan, white truffle oil, thyme and just a touch of applewood-smoked bacon is creamy, delicious and was coma-inducing on top of a burger on my Monday visit.
Vega, of course, has a full bar with about 80 different beers, a couple of dozen whiskeys along with vodka, rum, wine, gin, tequila, scotch and liqueurs. Monday it was offering caipirinhas, the national cocktail of Brazil, in honor of the World Cup. Grade: A
Vega is a music venue first. So it’s a restaurant with a stage, with ‘V’ lights shining on its back wall during the day, speakers hanging on each side of the stage and an elevated soundboard near the back of the floor.
During the day -- and on nights when there are no shows -- wooden tables and black chairs line the main floor in rows with high-top tables on both sides of the venue and outdoor dining available on the patio that overlooks the Railyard.
There are big-screen televisions flanking the stage and behind the bar, and you can see “The Cube,” the giant outdoor screen above the Railyard, through Vega’s windows. That made for ideal viewing of the U.S.-Ghana World Cup match on Monday. Grade: B+
I’ve been coming to Vega since it opened and have had good, relatively quick service at each visit. Food is ordered at the bar and delivered to the tables.
I stopped in prior to the Pink concert and ordered a Rock the Casbah, and it was ready in about 15 minutes -- not bad for a place packed to the rafters. On my visits to sample food for this piece, Vega wasn’t crowded -- one was at 4 p.m. -- and the food was out in about 10 minutes. Grade: A
Vegetarian and gluten-free friendly
A restaurant that offers hamburgers and hot dogs isn’t, by definition, vegetarian nirvana. But Vega does have several vegetarian options starting with a veggie burger and veggie dog and including very tasty veggie chips -- they even make a beet taste good -- Belgian fries, asparagus fries and nachos with veggie toppings (all $4) and three salads, one with tofu ($6). Two of the salads come with applewood-smoked bacon that can be omitted on request. The menu doesn’t list any gluten-free foods. Grade: A-