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Sandstone Grill in Burwell is sisters’ sweet success
by Betty Sayers, Pam Soreide and Phil Soreide
photos by Deb Ridlen
We have a particular soft spot for sisters — after all, Nebraska Rural Living was founded by two sisters — but that wasn’t the reason we headed to Burwell one recent Friday afternoon. We’d heard from more than one person that the Sandstone Grill in Burwell was “our kind of place”; one that approaches its menu with care, thought and creativity.
We didn’t learn about the sisters until later.
A mean thing to do to travelers
We were joined in this excursion by friends visiting in Nebraska, even though they were just passing through on the last leg of an umpty-ump thousand mile road trip through the Northeast to see the leaves turning. Not without some hesitation, they agreed to pile back into the car on the promise of a dinner to remember.
Rolling north through the sand hills, we heard all about their trip, told stories of our own, and commented on the beauty of the undulating landscape and the prairie grasses. We had plenty of time; Burwell as almost two hours from our starting point.
By the time we arrived, dusk was falling and the lights of the Sandstone Grill welcomed us. As we got out of the car, somewhat stiffly, someone muttered, “Well, all I can say is, this better be good!”
We feel better already
The mellow restored wood floor, booths, and bar; pale gold walls; and the original embossed tin ceiling adds warmth and charm to the dining room. We are greeted with a smile full of welcome and shown to a table by the window. As we were told about the menu and specials, we all relaxed. We were impressed with the array of delectable choices, and the grilled yellowfin tuna finished with a creamy jalapeno sauce got a taker even before we even had a chance to look at anything else.
But first things first. We were pleased to note the Sandstone Grill provides a full bar and an ample wine selection, so we ordered a glass of wine, dirty martinis and other mixed drinks and studied the appetizers. We finally settled on the bruschetta and a ‘shroom platter of sliced portabellas topped with pesto cream sauce.
When the drinks and appetizers came and they were out-of-the-ordinary good, and when someone remarked that the dining service was warmly personal yet up to big city quality standards, we all began to feel better about the drive. When Lisa, our server, overheard us inquiring about the history of the building, she brought us an album with photos of its history and the restoration process to look over.
Ordering the main course is always a process for the Rural Foodies. On the one hand, we like to taste as many of the items on the menu as possible, but on the other, it seems that quite often two or more of us hanker for the same dish. Of course, what kind of review would it have been if everyone had yellowfin with a creamy jalapeno sauce?
After some discussion and negotiation, we ordered the tuna, a 14 oz. prime rib, the blackened jumbo shrimp skewers, the grilled wild Keta salmon, and a Nebraska rib eye steak.
The Sandstone Grill is unique in the emphasis placed on their salads…any of the six main dish salads could be ordered as the starter. The choices included the “Cowboy Wedgie” which was a generous wedge of iceberg lettuce with ranch dressing, cheddar cheese and real bacon bits; a mixed green salad topped with parmesan cheese, red onion and tomatoes; an “Asian Spin” salad of spinach tossed with cilantro, red onion, mandarin oranges with a homemade ginger-sesame dressing; a traditional Caesar salad; and the Sweet Bleu, a green salad with dried cranberries, nuts and a homemade sweet-spicy vinaigrette. Side dishes included potatoes (baked, French fried or mashed) and rice pilaf.
As we waited for our dinner, we saw outsized hamburger platters being delivered by the servers more than once, and we realized it must be a favorite meal of the regular customers. Already we are talking about a “next time” trip at the Sandstone Grill for the hamburger special.
We learn the story
While we’re waiting, Tenise, who turns out to be the partner and dining room manager, tells us the story of the Sandstone Grill. It seems that she and her sister, Tammy, were living in separate big cities but longing for a way to get back to their Nebraska roots. When they were back in Nebraska for their grandfather’s funeral, an aunt told them about a vacant restaurant in downtown Burwell. They looked at it, fell in love, and started to write a business plan to make it happen. After considerable restoration of the space, they opened their new restaurant on the square in Burwell in 2005.
The opportunity they saw was an unfilled niche for healthy gourmet choices – Tammy’s background is in nutrition – so they created a menu of deli sandwiches, gourmet salads, homemade soups, specialty burgers, pasta, steak, seafood and homemade desserts. Clearly, it was the right restaurant at the right time, because she said their business grows as their reputation spreads.
Our food arrives
Ah, the moment we’ve been waiting for. Our plates arrive, beautifully composed and hot. The shrimp was full of flavor, the yellowfin and salmon were grilled to perfection with wonderful sauces and exceptional flavor and texture. We heard hums of happiness from those eating the prime rib — accompanied by a homemade creamy horseradish sauce — and the rib eye. The vegetables were a tasty mélange of squash, broccoli, red pepper, and yellow and orange carrots.
When we learned about the pastry chef on the premises, and feeling responsible to our readers, we ordered a slice of Samoa pie and the Sandstone Grill signature bread pudding to share for dessert.
The bread pudding was made with day-old cinnamon rolls and arrived swimming in caramel sauce and cream. The Samoa pie was very like those layered bars you get from the Girl Scouts that are made with graham cracker crumbs, coconut, chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk…only way more delicious. We all tasted and raved, but ultimately we had to ask for another box to go. We advise you to plan ahead…the dessert selection is hard to resist.
Worth the trip
Almost four hours of driving is a pretty big commitment for a meal that’s not Thanksgiving, and were it not for our dedication to you, dear readers, we might have waited on this particular restaurant until we had some other business in the area.But if we had, we would have missed the camaraderie of our friends in the car, an uplifting story of two sisters who made good and are making an impact in a small town, five excellent meals, and that bread pudding that was almost…almost…worth the trip all on its own.
Who to Contact
410 Grant Avenue – South side of the square
Hours: Monday – Thursday, 10:30 am-9:00pm; Friday – Saturday, 10:30am-10pm