Having visited these two spots over the last month or so, I thought I'd report back for you Iowans & Nebraskans.
First, The Cafe in Ames, which is located in a new planned "village-y" section in the northwest corner of town: overall, I enjoy the village concept, the town-within-a-town feeling, the little places like The Cafe surrounded by shops, coffee, etc. However, for those who are familiar with the owners' other establishment (Aunt Maude's), be warned that The Cafe is something *very* different! Casual dining (think, people in jeans & plenty of beer), a comfort-food oriented menu (think, meat loaf & burgers & pizzas, some traditional & some not, & even onion rings), & a very downscale wine list.
There were some curveballs thrown in -- an antipasto-type plate, hummus, things like that with a Mediteranean or Asian bent -- but overall, traditional (if fresh) local fare. They are evidently one of the Ames establishments which uses regional & locally-grown ingredients wherever possible, & I always applaud that effort.
Overall, The Cafe would be a nice non-franchise choice if you were in the mood for an Applebee's type dinner. None of their dishes overwhelmed me, however. And I just cannot be a fan of those Riedel-style "O" ring wineglasses!
Now, for Mark's in Omaha: Mark's is a neat little bistro located in the Dundee area of town, in the upper-floor of what looked to be an art gallery, with seating along the glass front wall overlooking the street. Mark's is one of those spots which manages to walk the line between upscale yet not stuffy -- it definitely had a "neighborhood" feel to it but with just a bit of extra polish. The wine list was excellent (plenty of good Spanish & Italian, which is always a hit with me) & very well-priced. Oh, & the crusty appetizer bread was fabulous!
One word of warning, which I'd heard prior to trying Mark's & found to be accurate: the menu is very limited. In fact, I was down to only a few choices before our server announced the specials. Fortunately, my companion & I ordered those two specials & were *very* impressed. The accompaniments were well-matched (if repeated in several dishes), & my fish was done precisely right. I would also add that their prices are about $5 less than what you'd pay for similar food at similar Omaha spots -- for instance, our bills (two specials including one seafood, a cheese plate, a bottle of wine, & two coffees) was only $70.
The menu -- which may be day-long, I'm not sure -- also offered some sandwiches & salads, if you're in search of something lighter.
Overall, we enjoyed Mark's, if as much for the sense of camaraderie (the patrons, the servers, & a woman who looked to be the proprietress were all calling reports to each other about the playoff game in progress) as for the well-prepared cuisine. We felt instantly "at home," & well-fed. And we didn't even try either of their signature-dishes -- gourmet macaroni & cheese, & some dessert-item I can't recall.
One final note: if you are searching for a good deli-grocer in Omaha, I'd highly recommend Broadmoor Market at 60th & Maple (?) or so. A good deli, excellent international cheeses, spreads & olives, mustards, fruit, etc. We were searching for the fixings to have our own antipasto-picnic, & Broadmoor really fit the bill.
All for now!