5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., seven days/week
Fine food and flavor off the beaten track in Nebraska
Does a town have a future when it shrinks to only a pin drop on a map? The story of the Speakeasy Restaurant in Sacramento contradicts the popular folklore that a pin drop town lacks a future.
Sacramento, Nebraska, a booming town in the 1920’s and 1930’s, has mostly disappeared except for the legendary Speakeasy, an acclaimed steak house that guarantees Sacramento is not only a pin on the map but also a popular destination not to be missed.
The historic building first served as a mercantile store and later was transformed into a dance hall and bar. The Puls family purchased it in 1980 and established a steak house with a big town menu and an ambience reminiscent of the 1930’s, including Frank Sinatra’s music wafting over the bar, white linen tablecloths and napkins, and the pleasant hum of conversations occurring among friends at the nearby tables.
The gracious service and unrivaled steak, plus a sophisticated bar, in-house appetizers, a crumbly, creamy blue cheese salad dressing on fresh greens and other savory menu choices draw foodie fans from a 100-mile radius.
These guys know steak
Chef Ryan Puls, third generation of a family known for their knowledge and expertise in cutting and aging meat, speaks proudly of the family lineage. Chef Ryan’s grandfather owned a grocery store and locker plant, and his dad Terry Puls managed meat departments in grocery stores across central and eastern Nebraska until the family purchased the Speakeasy in Sacramento.
“We bought it and after the first week on Mother’s Day, we served a buffet for 800 people,” said Terry Puls. “Our reputation for cooking and serving fine food grew from there as did our reputation for being a place where community gathers to celebrate and to mourn, to remember and to enjoy life.”
The Speakeasy is known for prime and top -choice meat, a quality product that seldom is available in grocery stores or meat markets . “Customers rave about the flavor and quality of our steaks,” Chef Ryan said. “We as chefs can’t take all the credit because we buy top choice steaks bred and fed in Nebraska. This quality is not sold in grocery stores and seldom in meat markets.”
The chef returned home
Chef Ryan was working as a sous chef in fine restaurants in Seattle, Washington, when his parents said they wanted to semi-retire — they intended to get out of the restaurant business. He recalled the years of his family’s hard work and the hundreds of customers that today return many times to enjoy an evening at the Speakeasy. That was enough to bring him home. He returned to Nebraska and the Speakeasy in 2012.
“The main reasons I came back was to preserve the reputation of the Speakeasy,” Chef Ryan said. “The Speakeasy is our family business, and I wanted to keep it in the family.”
The steakhouse is evolving under Chef Ryan’s leadership. “I extended our restaurant hours to 7 days per week,” he said, “and although steaks – the Sacramento Strip, ribeye, sirloin, filet mignon, rule the menu, we expanded the Speakeasy menu to include my renditions of a baked sea bass, grilled salmon, an osso bucco, chicken thighs cooked long and slow in a sous vide process, and a special every night to change things up and spark interest. “
For example, one night in mid November featured:
* 9oz USDA Prime Sirloin with Fig Port Demi Glace, Bleu Cheese, Broccolini and Mashed Potatoes
* Wild Caught Alaskan Salmon with Thai Red Curry Sauce, Broccolini and Wild Rice
Grilled steak hits the best seller list time and again because Nebraska is known as the Beef State, and many Nebraskans are beef connoisseurs. Nebraska beef is recognized across the globe for exceptional meat flavor, marbling, and tenderness. “Our products have to be good to send them out to our very particular customers,” Chef Ryan says.
Although the classic Speakeasy fried onion rings claim top billing on the appetizer menu, house-cured pork shanks smoked for four to five hours in applewood smoke and then braised and served with pickled onions can’t be missed and are becoming a favorite on Chef Ryan’s menu. He smokes the pork shanks then braises them long and slowly until the flavors of the smoke, sauces and pork meld in a smoky, sweet, and spicy taste. .
A clue to the flavor
Speakeasy steaks have accumulated nearly 40 years of rave reviews, and master grillers have been heard asking, “How does the Puls family do it?” Chef Ryan offers a clue to the flavor mystery.
“We grill on a flattop grill that was hammered from a three-inch thick slab of steel in contrast to a charcoal or gas grill,” Chef Ryan said. “My dad has grilled on the flat top since 1980 when it was installed, and we learned the hot spots. Each steak is seared, and then we move it to other areas of the grill to cook to the degree of doneness we want and to maximize flavor. The flattop has acquired 36 years of seasoning, and the flattop itself contributes flavor in the grilling process.”
Fish including salmon steaks, shrimp and sea bass are grilled on their own flattop. A popular summer item were whole shrimp with head-on grilled and accompanied by a summer succotash of edamame, sweet corn, zucchini, diced Yukon gold potatoes, red onion, white miso, red curry and tomato.
I imagine myself dropping by The Speakeasy after a movie or concert to sip a glass of fine wine and dip into the dessert menu. I may choose a butterscotch pudding with caramel sauce and sea salt, a tiramisu, a slice of banana cream pie, or maybe a sorbet. Each dessert has earned a reputation for over-the-top deliciousness.
The Chef’s observations
The Speakeasy sits in the middle of nowhere, and yet families come together for an evening of food enjoyed by all and stories they share. I like the sense of community I see at the Speakeasy. People move from one to table to another and mingle. Families combine.
Speakeasy customers drive from as far as North Platte, Hastings, Grand Island and northern Kansas. Chef Ryan said a family from Norton, Kansas, comes every week for dinner.
“Because we can seat over 200 people at the Speakeasy, people celebrate memorable times in their lives with us,” Chef Ryan said. “We regularly book parties and now are preparing for the holiday season and many more parties.”
Though the Speakeasy has a well-established and respected reputation, Chef Ryan is always looking for new ways to add excitement and interest to the menu.
“I plan on developing the menu to include charcuterie,” he said. “I want to explore the art and skill of making sausages and smoking meat. And I would like to make a meat case so that our customers could see our steaks before they are grilled and select their choices from the original product.
With Chef Ryan at the helm, the Speakeasy will continue to be a vital part of south central Nebraska, attracting foodies from near and far. They’ll come for the classics as well as innovations that will bring them back for years to come.