Almost as difficult to get to as its namesake, Marrakech Gourmet is a tidy restaurant tucked away in the corner of the Brandeis Food Court at 16th and Douglas. The cafeteria for downtown Omaha’s daytime employees (chiefly those at the First National Tower) has choices for a quick lunch: Subway, Mexican, pizza, gyros and now the only place to get Moroccan cuisine in Omaha. Co-owner and chef Moussa Drissi adjusts Moroccan ingredients, herbs and spices to fit inside grilled paninis to service busy business lunchers. The cost is $7-$8 or $8.50 for a sandwich, chips and drink. He sells two kinds of soup: saffron tomato and vegetable and red lentil and ginger puree ($3.95) and recently expanded to include a breakfast menu. Drissi is a little limited by his clientele in the food court who want things on the go, but has done a great job satisfying the demand for flavorful food fast. The enterprising young chef got a kick-start into the culinary world working with Chef Art Smith, a celebrity chef based in Chicago whose claim to fame is being Oprah’s personal chef. While working for Smith, Drissi catered events for celebrities and politicians and fell in love with food. He moved to Omaha this year to open a Moroccan restaurant for casual dining (where he could make more authentic Moroccan dishes) and the current Marrakech Gourmet, which he is interested in developing into a franchise, all because Omaha was previously completely devoid of Moroccan cuisine. While Drissi remains on the lookout for a venue for his casual dining eatery, Marrakech, which opened last June 14, is running and blossoming. “I do everything from scratch,” says Drissi. “I don’t even have a can opener. My philosophy is to make food tasty and healthy.” His list of sandwiches reflects that quest for flavorful food. Paninis are stuffed with roasted vegetables and meat. The herb-grilled chicken panini comes with melted mozzarella, a pesto and tapenade sauce and oven-roasted tomatoes, making it one of the most flavorful items on the menu. The chicken was moist and packed with flavor. The grilled vegetable club is packed with roasted eggplant and bell peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, tart and creamy goat cheese and crisp spinach. The gooey roasted vegetables were made fresh with the perfect sour cheese. Pan-seared shrimp was a treat with melted aged gouda and bell peppers. This is not your typical food-court fare. The tomato soup on a recent visit was a little under-seasoned for my taste, though it seemed to go out the door quickly. Moroccan food is new to Omaha. Ethiopian and Sudanese eateries that have opened in recent years in the city are the closest we’ve come to the flavorful, slow-cooked culinary style of this northeast African nation. Moroccan cuisine generally relies heavily on spices (such as saffron, cumin and ginger) and herbs (such as mint; think Moroccan mint tea) for its flavor. “Moroccan food is unique,” says Drissi. ( “It’s been influenced by so many regions (and tribes) in Morocco. We get Spanish cuisine, Middle Eastern. We also have East African cuisine. Morocco has been a colony by the French, so they brought French cuisine.” Drissi, who was born in a small town between Rabat and Casablanca, has a lot to work with as far as flavors and ingredients go. Morocco and its cuisine and culture lie somewhere between European Mediterranean and Middle Eastern, using vegetables typical to southern French and Spanish cuisine, while combining the spices which Middle Eastern food is known for. Drissi hits the mark by adjusting Moroccan food for folks on the go while still offering all the flavor they could want. It warrants a visit from hungry outsiders free for lunch. Marrakech Gourmet, in the Brandeis Food Court at 16th and Douglas, is open Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Call 359.7909 for information.

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