It’s 7 p.m. on a Thursday night, and the dining room at the new Mouth of the South is packed.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when the restaurant, which closed its location in the historic Florence neighborhood in north Omaha after a fire in 2017, announced its move to 72nd Street and Ames Avenue.
Aside from one small issue, which I’ll get into later, I found the food on the new, larger menu to be almost exactly what I remembered — if the crowd was any indication, I’m not the only one.
I’ll admit, I miss the charm of the old location and neighborhood, but the larger kitchen, owner Ryan Ernst told me later, is the reason for the bigger menu. So I’ll accept it. Plus, come spring, there’s a patio.
Ernst said the costs at the Florence location post-fire got way out of hand. He said he spent time looking at other areas of town before deciding on the new location, which opened in September.
“It was a perfect fit,” he said of the spot, which was formerly Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles. “We have been busting our butts to try and keep the restaurant as consistent as it was before. It’s been a lot of work to try and evolve.”
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All my old favorites were back on the menu. I still loved the crab cakes, which I first tried in 2014. They’re stuffed with big hunks of tender seafood and have plenty of spice. They’re served on a bed of lightly dressed, bright greens, which are the perfect foil to rich crab.
I still love the smoky gumbo, with its rich, dark broth full of big rounds of spicy, house-made sausage. I ordered the gumbo as a side, and it came more the size of a bowl; it’s worth noting that across the board, portions at Mouth of the South are more than generous.
And I still really liked the po’ boy sandwich, though this time I went for the roast beef version, where tender, slow-cooked and thinly sliced beef comes wrapped in a rich gravy and served with pickles, mayo, lettuce and tomato on large, crisp-tender loaves of French bread.
There are also burgers on the menu, and we sampled the Cajun version, which came topped with a large piece of andouille, smoky tasso ham — which is made in-house — Gruyère and a zippy rémoulade. The burger, which we ordered medium-rare, arrived closer to medium. A side of creamy Gouda mac and cheese is worth indulging.
Inside, the restaurant has changed little since the former tenant moved out. The space is large and dark, with plenty of wood peppered with neon signs. Booths line the walls, and when it’s busy, the space felt vibrant, and more like the old location.
I never got to try the étouffée in Florence, which Ernst said he only made during Mardi Gras. Now, it’s on the menu full time. Scoops of cheesy grits sat in a sea of seafood-heavy stew; the dish is an absolute flavor bomb, with layers of cheese, spice and hunks of nicely seasoned crawfish. And jambalaya, another giant portion, is full of smoky, house-made andouille sausage along with big hunks of grilled chicken, bell peppers, onions and rice.
Entrees are the focus of the new menu, Ernst said. There’s a new meatloaf served with gravy, mashed potatoes and green beans, and shrimp and grits. There’s also a new redfish crusted with andouille and panko.
The one stinker we encountered is on the appetizer menu. The crab dip that we got was more of a cheese dip (a good cheese dip), but seemed to be missing any of the baked lump crab meat listed on the menu. A slice of half-melted cheese on the top of the dip had hardened by the time it arrived, and we ended up pushing it aside entirely to get to the dip below.
Ernst said we weren’t the only diners to have a lack of crab in the dip, and it’s something the kitchen is working on. He said the amount of crab has been bumped up in the dip, and he’s advised cooks not to overmix the dish.
Early on, the restaurant experienced some staffing issues, Ernst said, though we didn’t find any. On our two visits, we encountered friendly, knowledgeable staff who paid us plenty of attention even when the dining room was full. The restaurant lost most of its original staff after the fire, he said.
“We are working to rebuild that family atmosphere,” he said.
Part of what makes Mouth of the South great is its rarity — there’s only one or two spots in the city where diners can find this sort of mix of updates on Southern classics. The rest of what makes it great is that the food is made with care, and always has been. I’m happy to report the restaurant’s heart, even in a larger, less original location, remains.