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Editor’s Note: Ground Zero traditionally visits restaurants outside of Lincoln during July. 

FREMONT -- Back in my sports writing/editing days in the late 1980s and early '90s in Grand Island, I occasionally would join my parents for a meal at the Saddle Club, a private restaurant and lounge on Kuester Lake. They lived at nearby Davis Lake and were members of the club.

I bring this up only because my recent experience stirred memories of those dining excursions with my folks. Last week, my wife and I hit the road and dined at the Woodcliff Restaurant.

The restaurant is located within Woodcliff Lakes, a private community 2 miles south of Fremont on County Road W, just off of U.S. 77. It sits on the community’s two lakes, overlooking the marina.

But unlike the Saddle Club in G.I., the Woodcliff Restaurant is open year-round to the public. And, with a menu executed by owner/executive chef Brooke Goracke, who started the restaurant in June 2010, and chef Sam Trahan, Woodcliff is well worth the 50-minute drive. Heck, I’ll drive back just for the onion rings.

Food

Goracke, who studied at Art Institutes International Minnesota and worked at Omaha’s M’s Pub and V. Mertz, created a bar and grill menu featuring steak (strip, rib-eye, sirloin), seafood (salmon, catfish tacos), burgers and sandwiches.

Woodcliff sources much of its fare locally, including from Fremont Meat Market, Absolutely Fresh Seafood and Grand View Farms.

On our visit, we started with onion rings ($6.50) that reminded me of those served at Lee’s Chicken in Lincoln, only seasoned differently. They were thin, stringy and sweet and served with a sour cream sauce. We also requested the sriracha-dijon mayo (50 cents extra), which is served with the mushroom fries. It was a nice, tangy alternative.

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For entrees, my wife enjoyed the blackened catfish tacos ($12) served in puffy (fried) taco shells with a very tasty cilantro sour cream salsa. I had the “Big Bad Wolf,” a juicy pulled pork and andouille sausage sandwich ($13) on a sourdough bun with housemade pickles and a brown ale barbecue sauce. The sandwich came with seasoned, hand-cut fries -- a nice touch.

We finished sharing a scoop of homemade white chocolate/crushed Oreo ice cream ($2), one of several homemade desserts. Grade: A-

Atmosphere

The draw here is the patio, which overlooks the marina. It’s large and covered, dotted with black metal tables and chairs. String lights hang from the ceiling. At one end of the patio is a gumball machine filled with pellets, allowing young ones to feed the fish in the water. We saw large catfish and small sunfish take part in a frenzy initiated by some children at a table near us, which was kind of cool. Inside, Woodcliff looks like a lodge. It, too, is big and spacious, featuring dining and bar areas. Grade: B+

Service

We called for reservations, not knowing how busy Woodcliff would be on a Thursday burger night. Reservations are always a good idea if traveling from out of town, especially on the weekends. The early part of our visit went well, with drinks, appetizers and entrees arriving shortly after ordering. But as the restaurant became busier, the service slowed. It took awhile for our server to return to take our dessert order and even longer (about 10 minutes) to receive one scoop of the homemade ice cream. Grade: B

Specialty diets

The dinner menu includes two vegetarian entrees: pesto pasta ($12) and barramundi (coconut jasmine rice with papaya salsa and toasted coconut, $18). There are also house ($4) and wedge ($5) salads and appetizers such as the aforementioned onion rings and portobello mushroom fries ($7). Grade: B-

Jeff Korbelik is the tasting room manager at James Arthur Vineyards, former Journal Star features editor and author of “Lost Restaurants of Lincoln, Nebraska.”

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