Small-plate dining has returned to downtown Lincoln with the recent opening of Boitano’s Lounge in the new Kindler Hotel at 11th and P streets.
The lounge, open since August and the brainchild of Olympic skater-turned-TV food personality Brian Boitano, features a small menu of shareable entrees that complements a larger menu of craft cocktails.
Boitano’s fills a niche. Downtown had been without small-plate dining since Sebastian’s Table closed in 2015. Sebastian’s reopened earlier this year in east Lincoln.
Kindler executive chef Emily Hansen, whose Lincoln resume includes stints at the Cornhusker and Graduate hotels, said small-plate dining is necessitated by the lounge’s size -- an extension of the lobby, the lounge is not a big room -- and by the even smaller kitchen.
“We can have three of us working in there, but that’s pushing it,” said Hansen, a Southeast Community College culinary graduate, whose staff is all SCC students (nice!).
Boitano’s, in essence, is a lounge with high-end snacks, ranging from sliders to flatbreads to a charcuterie platter. It also features desserts and has a small breakfast menu.
Not surprisingly, it’s become a favorite for patrons of the Lied Center for Performing Arts, which is just a block away. Hansen said Boitano’s sees a crush of folks who want a cocktail and something light before Lied performances.
Hansen worked with Boitano, who came to Lincoln to help launch the lounge, in creating the menu. Boitano’s just introduced its winter menu, which has 10 items. It carried over a few entrees from the summer, such as the pork sliders ($12) and beef short rib flatbread ($14). The most noticeable differences are an increase in flatbread selections to the dinner menu and fewer and less expensive breakfast options.
The beef short rib flatbread, featuring a Le Quartier crust, proved to be a big seller, Hansen said. I’ve enjoyed one twice already. The crust, with its airy crumb, is a big reason. The ingredients are a plus, too, with gouda, red pepper relish and pickled red onions joining the red-wine braised beef.
The newest flatbreads, also on Le Quartier crusts, are two vegetarian offerings -- a crispy pancetta basil pesto ($14) and a burrata tomato ($12).
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Sandwich choices include pork sliders ($12), beef rib sliders ($13) and Italian chicken on a Le Quartier ciabatta roll. I’ve enjoyed the pork sliders twice, with the pineapple cole slaw being the highlight. I told Hansen I would love to see the full-of-flavor cole slaw as a menu option. It was very tasty. I would replace the grocery store-looking and -tasting Hawaiian rolls with another Le Quartier bread for the sliders.
I also would like to see the macaroni and cheese come back, or some type of pasta dish. I was a fan of mac n’ cheese from the summer menu, especially after I added the braised beef to it. Hansen said the plan is to change up the menu seasonally.
The drink menu is extensive, with a mix of in-house creations with Boitano’s takes on classics. Drinks cost as much as the food items, with most around $12. Beer and wine also are available. Grade: B
The lounge features servers clad in black, with outfits accented with what appeared to be either leather suspenders or a gun holster. We weren’t sure which, but it was a very hip look. The cloth napkins, by the way, also are black.
On our recent visits, servers were polite and quick with recommendations for food and drinks. The kitchen was quick in getting the food out. Entrees arrived less than 10 minutes after ordering.
My wife didn’t finish her flatbread on our first visit and went home with the leftovers in a giant paper sack. Grade: B+
After enjoying a cocktail before dinner, my friends asked if we were heading to the dining room. I told them “we’re in it.” Boitano’s Lounge is what its name implies -- a lounge that just happens to have food, too.
With its faux fireplaces and waterfalls, Boitano’s is quite the visual spectacle, making it kind of a cool place to hang out. There are two large couch sectionals, including a more intimate one in the far corner. There are five two-person tables opposite the main room sectional, with two gorgeous chandeliers hanging above. That’s pretty much it for table seating outside of the stools at the bar. The bar is at the back of the room, with a large TV usually tuned to a sporting event.
Because Boitano’s is small, when it’s full, it can get a tad noisy. Also, when both sliding front doors are open, the cold air rushes in and strikes patrons in the main lounge area. Grade: B+
Though the menu is small, there is a good selection of vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. Half of the menu includes vegetarian options, including the Brussel sprouts ($8) and two of the three flatbreads. The flatbreads can be made with a gluten-free, cauliflower crust, and gluten-free buns are available for sliders and sandwiches. Designer yogurt ($7) and fresh fruit ($2) are among the breakfast options. Grade: B
Jeff Korbelik is the winery manager at James Arthur Vineyards, former Journal Star features editor and author of “Lost Restaurants of Lincoln, Nebraska.” He’s been restaurant reviews for Ground Zero since 1998.