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Cunningham’s Feed Grill, Bar and Bakery rivals big-city gourmet dining
by Pam Soreide, Betty Sayers, Phil Soreide
Sometimes, flipping though one of those glossy City magazines you find in hotel rooms, you come upon an ad for some rustic-themed restaurant that gushes about their antique pinewood floor or international beer selection or how Chef Antoine (or Philippe or Maurice) garnishes dishes with heirloom tomatoes and fresh herbs to create the “gourmet experience of a lifetime.”
Cunningham’s Feed in Arapahoe, if it could be magically transported lock, stock and barrel to, say, San Francisco or Boston or San Antonio, could be one of those places. Only while they only make a good show of being authentic, Cunningham’s Feed is the real deal.
Take the building for example. Cunningham’s Feed Company had been in Arapahoe for 50 years, but as a feed store, not a restaurant. When the original business finally closed and stood empty, deferred maintenance began to take its toll.
Still, Kevin Urbom and his wife Mitzi saw the potential.
Adventures in building.
“We thought it was a cool building,” Kevin said, and negotiated to buy it. In the first winter a snowstorm nearly collapsed the roof, which was only supported by the exterior walls. And so began an eight-year restoration – more of a salvation, actually — of the old store.
“Our first task was to save the floor,” Kevin said. “We tore it up board by board, planed every board three times and stored it in a dry shed until we were ready to put it back. We replaced the joists one by one. Eventually, we rebuilt the entire building from floor up to the roof.”
When the infrastructure was complete, the original floor was re-laid and finished to that buttery color that only antique pine can muster. Kevin told us a number of stories about his adventures in building, including rescuing the walk-in cooler from a bar being torn down in some back-road Nebraska town.
Cunningham’s Feed is warm and woody, with all natural railcar siding refinished to a high glow on the booths and bar housing taps for the beer on draft. Sturdy wooden tables and chairs with clean lines, some high, some low, and big front windows letting in generous natural light create a simple, relaxing atmosphere.
A Renaissance man.
You might think, given the easy way Kevin talks about construction, that he was a carpenter or contractor by trade. But his loquacious nature and knowledge about things like Framboise lambic beer (lambic beers are only brewed in Belgium from wild yeast) and sourdough (he’s comparing two different starters now) and heirloom tomatoes (he gave us some and told us how to harvest the seeds) make you think there’s a lot going on between his ears.
He’s a lawyer by day, he says, but “I like to work with my hands. It helps to get good and tired, stop thinking, and build something.” When we asked how they had developed the menu, he said, “We like good food, and the food we serve is the food we enjoy ourselves.”
Mitzi Urbom grew up working in her parent’s Arapahoe bakery. Kevin and Mitzi believe a community bakery nourishes not only its patrons but the spirit of the community, so Mitzi has preserved the family recipes for maple bars, doughnuts, pies, dinner rolls, hamburger buns, and many other delicacies. The bakery opens only on Friday mornings, but baked goods from Mitzi’s family recipes are served daily at Cunningham’s.
We finally get to the food.
We spent a good long time chatting with Kevin and drinking our beer (they have seven varieties on tap), but now it was time to buckle down and look at the menu. We ordered onion rings for starters — if you’ve been following our adventures, you know we are always on the prowl for the perfect onion ring. These were nice, freshly-made with a light beer batter that didn’t overwhelm the onion.
Among the four of us, we ordered a grilled sirloin kabob, grilled rib eye steak, grilled halibut and fried butterfly shrimp.
The salads were a delight. The Urboms grow 17 varieties of heirloom tomatoes to serve with the green leafy lettuces in the salad; fresh cucumbers come from nearby Beaver City. We selected the blue cheese (our weakness) and a vinaigrette dressing that had a flavor of pesto, or at least fresh basil in it. The heirloom tomatoes on our salads were pink brandywine, black cherry, and Alaska heirloom, and it made us wonder why other restaurants in Nebraska serve stiff, tasteless tomatoes when tasty heirlooms grow so abundantly in Nebraska soil and sun.
When our meals arrived, and we took our first tastes, we were enchanted. The kabobs were gently marinated and flavorful. The Certified Angus steak was cooked perfectly. The halibut was a thick grilled steak served with melted butter in one of those stands with a votive candle to keep the butter warm. The shrimp was crisp but tender. Everyone had a vegetable dish of thinly sliced yellow squash, again from the Urbom’s garden, sautéed in butter and herbs. The meals were accompanied by a ever-full basket of Mitzi’s homemade rolls and butter.
As we scoop up the final drops from our plates, Mitzi, Kevin and our sever come to our table with the dessert display, Several different flavors of cheesecake, all decadent, a key lime pie, a cheesecake filling sampler with three different sauces, and the “Feedbag”. Not on the menu yet, the Feedbag is still a local favorite. A half dozen or more small donut holes, still warm from the fryer, come in a bag with a cinnamon flavored powdered sugar topping. You shake the bag and drop them out on a plate with a bowl each of warm chocolate sauce and a wonderful caramel rum topping. Oh yes, we’ll have one of those. And some of those cheesecake bites, too, please.
Worth a trip to Arapahoe.
If you’ve traveled, you’ve probably encountered restaurants not unlike Cunningham’s Feed in one city or another. The difference here is that parking is free and abundant, traffic is minimal, the drive is through the countryside, not a crowded freeway, and you probably won’t have to wait for a table. It’s also pretty affordable – our meal for four came to just over $80.The other that thing that makes Cunningham’s unique is that here, your hosts are the same people who bake the bread, grow the squash, and pick the tomatoes – not to mention build the building.
If you’re missing big-city style gourmet dining, take a trip to Arapahoe. Trust us. It’s worth the drive.
Who to Contact
Cunningham’s Feed Grill, Bar and Bakery
603 Nebraska Ave.
Arapahoe, NE 68922
Kevin and Mitzi Urbom
Open: Tuesday-Thursday 5:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 5:00-11:00 p.m.
Friday only, the bakery is open from 7:00-11:00 a.m.