Favorite Meals of 2021

I have a fondness for food that only seems to grow stronger every year. Over the past year, I finally managed to start counting calories, so everything I eat tends to become a little more special as a result. This year’s top ten list, as always, includes foods that I enjoyed both for the foods themselves and the occasions that went with them. And it was quite difficult to pick just ten. Here they are. Bon appétit!

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#10. Tom & Toni’s Fourth of July Dinner

We had a tremendously busy Fourth of July, with fireworks and a parade and even a trip to church (since it was a Sunday). Somehow in the midst of all this, we forgot to make plans for dinner. That’s when Donna called to say that her neighbors Toni and Tom had prepared a giant feast for Independence Day and none of their guests showed up to eat it. We were more than happy to oblige to help relieve them of their burden of ribs, hot dogs, and pulled pork — all with plenty of time to shoot off fireworks afterward. It was a blessing with perfect timing!

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#9. Little Caesars at the Splash Pad

Deleted: This is a meal we’ve enjoyed as a family on multiple occasions. Throughout the summer, often right after work, I’d meet Vivian and the kids at a nearby “splash pad” and grab a box of Little Caesars’ Hot & Ready pepperoni pizza to eat while we were there. The pizza was cheap, but the memories from every time we did this as a family were priceless. And honestly, the pizza wasn’t that bad. Hannah even ate two slices of it!

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#8. Christmas Eve Lunch from the Philippines

Uncle Nathan has a new lady friend form the Philippines, and when she came to visit us for Christmas Eve, she happened to bring along food for the entire family! She brought pancit, spring rolls, and chicharrones, along with flan and macaroons for dessert. It was certainly a step above the cold sandwiches we’d brought along to make ourselves, and a very welcome introduction to the family!

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#7. Gretna Fish Fry

Our annual tradition of Lenten fish fries was able to continue unbroken this year, despite the lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. While every church in Omaha had their fish fries shut down (or turned into ridiculous “drive thru only” events), the VFW in Gretna had its own, and it was just as traditional as any other. It was an all-you-can-eat affair with hand-breaded fillets, and no mask mandate in place. It was very much back to normal for us and our friends as we ate together, and that made the food even better.

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#6. Runza sandwich at Memorial Stadium

I have a fondness for the Runza sandwich, the little fast-food item from Nebraska that my dad describes as “a sock filled with ground beef and cabbage.” It was somewhere around -20°F on a Tuesday back in February when I decided to drop by Runza and take advantage of Temperature Tuesday, where you could get a sandwich for free if the temperature dropped below zero (when buying fries and a drink).

Of course, the best place to have one is in Memorial Stadium watching the Nebraska Cornhuskers. They’re only $5, and it makes for the most Nebraskan photo you can imagine (that doesn’t include corn or Chimney Rock).

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#5. Blackout Breakfast-for-Dinner

A windstorm tore through Omaha one midsummer’s night in mid-July this year, downing tree branches all over town and cutting the power to most of the city. It gave us a real appreciation for electricity, even though we were only without power for a day or so. In the process of emptying our fridge and salvaging the food we had on hand, we made some breakfast for dinner on our gas grill using cast iron skillets, a truly unique feast made possible only through necessity.

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#4. Tastee Inn & Out

Tastee Inn & Out was an old-school drive-in restaurant in Lincoln that started in 1948 (an actual historic landmark). It sold loose meat sandwiches and onion chips and had a menu that remained unchanged for half a century. I was quite sad when it closed in 2014, because it seemed like a one-of-a-kind place. I didn’t think I’d see another one.

And then while driving through Sioux City in October (on our trip to Sioux Falls) we saw another one. Yes! There was apparently a second Tastee Inn & Out that was nearly identical to the first. The loose meat sandwiches and onion chips (and dip) were just as I remembered, so on our way home from our trip to Sioux Falls, we stopped by and got ourselves some lunch. We ate it down at a park by the Missouri River, and it was like going back in time. Quite a treat to find this place I thought was gone forever was still around.

Half-pound Chicago-style hot dog from the Flying Weenie in Cedar Rapids
#3. Half-Pound Hot Dog from the Flying Weenie

The Flying Weenie has had a place in my family’s heart for decades. We would see it every single time we visited Valley View Baptist Church on a Sunday, driving past its location on 8th Avenue on our way to Sunday services. Now I have to visit anytime I’m in town. Back in August, I dropped by before Shannon’s wedding (my cousin once removed), getting a giant half-pound Chicago style hot dog.

I’m not sure how many calories that was, but it was worth it.

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#2. Jack’s Grilled Lobster Tail

Dinner at Grammy and Pop-Pop’s house is always a treat, and more than on of the meals we’ve had there could have made this top ten list (including the Thanksgiving Dinner in May and a Porch Party dinner menu made by Aaron). None of them will quite beat out the dinner Jack made for us on his birthday, however. It was a seafood feast, with cheddar bay biscuits and scallops, but the centerpiece were the lobster tails, grilled on the barbecue and drenched in butter — a sight to behold (and better than any restaurant).

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#1. Father’s Day Surf and Turf

There were many hard choices for the #1 slot this year, but nothing can beat Father’s Day Dinner. Rib-eye seared and fried by my wife Vivian along with shrimp and a loaded baked potato. Delicious doesn’t even come close. Number one, without a doubt!

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Honorable Mention: Ice Cream at Werner Park

Not included in my list (because it wasn’t a meal per se), but it’s absolutely worth mentioning. We took the kids down to Werner Park to watch a baseball game in early September. It was a particularly warm day, and with the sun beating down, the peanuts and cracker jacks just weren’t as appealing as some soft-serve vanilla ice cream. Somehow, this basic treat was all the more delicious when eaten from the stands on a hot, hot, day, and it was so good that I actually went back for seconds just to get the photos you see above. It was that good.

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