O'Mara's Restaurant in Berkley is working to fill a gap in its business plan by adding breakfast service and has invited the community to help make sure it gets the new menu just right by holding a series of public tastings.
Participants during the second of five tastings Wednesday morning filled the room with a chorus of "mmmmms" interspersed with periods of quiet, content chewing as they savored sumptuous dishes, including crepes stuffed with smoked salmon, crab and peppers in a lobster sauce and pesto-tomato eggs Benedict made with herbs fresh from the garden out back.
Menu keeps it local
A highlight of the new menu is O'Mara's' meats. Its salmon and bacon are smoked in-house and its bacon, sausage and corned beef hash are nitrate- and preservative-free, according to tasting emcee and host of Dining in the D on WTVS/PBS channel 56, chef Tom Keshishian.
The sausage patties were juicy and slightly spicy and the bacon was flavorful and well-cooked, although diners who prefer their strips extra crispy may want to ask the chef to cook theirs a bit longer.
The corned beef hash was a pleasant surprise, delighting even those who usually find the often-oversalted dish unappealing. Breakfast chef Ken Wilhoft gives O'Mara's' hash a unique twist by adding cherry tomatoes, which give a pop of light, sweet flavor and balance out the dish's traditional saltiness.
"I don't like corned beef hash, but I love ours," owner Kevin O'Mara told the tasters.
Never fear, vegetarians: There will be plenty of options for you, too.
The wild mushroom and spinach crepe with eggs and tomato celebration, for example, was a big hit.
"(It) sounds like something I'd make," taster Anne Novitsky of Berkley exclaimed.
"Or, order on vacation," her husband, Joe Novitsky, joked.
Perhaps the secret ingredient – sherry – had something to do with the dish's popularity. But the crepes themselves also were delightful, thick enough to be filling but not so thick they overpowered the fillings or became cakey.
Keshishian said that the menu also has a number of potential choices for those who eat gluten-free – such as sweet potato hash browns, frittatas and meats – but that diners with special needs should talk with the chef.
The menu does not suit traditionalists who prefer fried eggs and toast with jelly for breakfast.
However, it does offer sweets, potatoes, pierogis and latkes made in-house and served with a zippy green onion sour cream. The menu also features juices, smoothies, coffee drinks, alcoholic beverages including Bloody Marys and mimosas, and teas from Kristea's Tea Room & Mercantile in Berkley.
"(The menu is) housemade, handmade, locally sourced (when possible), keeping it in the community and giving back to everybody who's supported O'Mara's all these years," Keshishian said. "We're all local here – we gotta help each other, keep the money in Michigan and in local restaurants."
Prices are expected to range from $7 to $12 per dish, said O'Mara, who has set a target launch date for breakfast service of Sept. 12. Breakfast will be served from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. seven days per week.
Community is O'Mara's' business
"After nearly 18 years of dodging this bullet of getting up early, we decided to take a shot at breakfast," O'Mara laughed.
But, on a more serious note, O'Mara said he had reasons both psychological and business-related to launch breakfast service.
"We're sort of a hub of the community and we were not serving them in the morning," he said. "We wanted to be on everybody's mind when it's time to eat and it's hard to do that if (we're) not open."
The new service also is an extension of the restaurant's successful Sunday brunch and a part of its five-year strategic business plan, O'Mara said.
"With the economy the way it is, it seemed smart to open another revenue stream," he said, noting that the restaurant's back room will be available to book for business meetings during breakfast.
O'Mara said he and his team – which includes head chef Harry Sawyer and his brother, general manager Lew Sawyer, along with bartender Jerry Solesby – have worked hard over the years to perfect the details, whether it's the bar-and-dining room divider made of hand-hewn wood, stained glass and stone, or the colorful flowers outside in the patio area.
"That didn't just happen; we don't do a lot of advertising or have a lot of stores," he said. "We have to make sure everything is just right because those are things we can control.
"We can't compete on the advertising budget, but we can compete on the plate," O'Mara said.
There will be three more breakfast tastings from 8-9:30 a.m. Aug. 17, Aug. 24 and Sept. 10. E-mail O'Mara's Restaurant at email@example.com if you would like to participate. Participants will be chosen at random.