Columbia’s Foodie Scene

Columbia might not be as big as Chicago — or even Kansas City — but when it comes to food, we can compete with the best of them. With Columbia’s expansive restaurant scene, there are sure to be many who consider themselves “foodies,” or experts in all things gastronomical.

In case you don’t consider yourself one of these experts — or even if you do — we’ve done some detective work to uncover the best places to satisfy every craving. From produce to appetizers to desserts, consider this a personal tour of Columbia’s cuisine. Find out the best places to get fresh ingredients in Columbia, and the best places to eat, even if it’s just for one course.

Meet five prominent foodies who are experts in all things Columbia, learn about their favorite local treasures and find out what makes the local food scene so special to them:

Sarah Cyr

Former owner of The Wine Cellar & Bistro and operator of a Wine & Wellness program, Sarah Cyr has always been impressed by the talent of local growers and producers in the area. To her, being a local foodie is no joke. Cyr views it as a “total celebration of local farmers and restaurateurs, and their ability to create high-quality products.” As one of the first few restaurants to actively work with farmers in Columbia, Cyr and The Wine Cellar helped pioneer the introduction of farm-to-plate experiences locally.

More people are demanding healthier, more intellectual options for food she says. “We already see this showing up in the food scene with fermented foods, fermented drinks, less gluten, less dairy, more vegetarian and vegan options and smaller portions,” Cyr says. “We now have a huge, amazing farmers market demonstrating that demand to be true every Saturday.” Cyr is excited to see this trend grow as “we continue to be conscientious consumers.”

Favorite place to source ingredients?
“Obviously the Columbia Farmers Market farmers market is an excellent place to get fruits, vegetables, local meats, bread, etc. But I also love Clovers Natural Market and Natural Grocers, and the organic section at Hy-Vee on West Broadway for my everyday shopping needs.”

What would your “perfect meal” be?
“Wow, tough question, but I support places that support local foods, organic foods and/or authentic cuisine. So for brunch, hands down Café Berlin for their consistent, thoughtful and delicious food and drinks.

“For lunch I prefer something authentic and simple like a taco from MedMex Cafe, Taqueria Don Pancho or Tortilleria El Patrón.

“And for dinner, I love Flyover for their simple yet creative take on sharable plates — the catfish plate and burrata plate are my favorites. For dinner, I am biased. I used to own The Wine Cellar on Cherry, now known as Cherry Street Cellar, and the new owners are doing an incredible job with flavors, providing a big-city dinner experience downtown on Cherry Street. I recommend the quail or the snapper — so amazing.

“And finally, for dessert, since I am not a big dessert fan, you can catch me with kiddos at my favorite local frozen dessert places like Sparky’s downtown or Randy’s Frozen Custard.”

Mike Odette

As chef of Central Bank of Boone County and the previous owner of Sycamore, Mike Odette is immersed from head to toe in the Columbia food scene. Odette views social media as a massive influence in attracting customers to local businesses. “There are so many more aspects to our food culture than there used to be. There’s inspiration at our fingertips in gorgeous photos on thoughtfully curated social media, like Barred Owl’s and the Columbia Farmers Market,” Odette says. “The food truck players still standing are part of the landscape now and offer great and consistent products. Diners are fluent in modern food culture vocabulary. Social media buzz has buoyed great new places like Taqueria Don Pancho and generally makes the restaurant scene more of a meritocracy.”

He also considers CoMo to be progressing in the matter of growing food in-house, explaining that “urban agriculture has got more folks into growing their own food.”

Over the years, Odette witnessed trends “pop up”— the most recent quite literally being pop-ups, or restaurants established in temporary locations. “I love seeing pop-ups and hope that trend continues,” he says. “I’d like to see restaurants do more to retain their good staffers and hope they get more loyalty and passion from their main players in return. We’re lucky to have so many great restaurants and food stores, a robust farmers market and so many chefs and cooks whose names aren’t in the magazines but are quietly awesome.”

He also considers CoMo to be progressing in the matter of growing food in-house, explaining that “urban agriculture has got more folks into growing their own food.”

Over the years, Odette witnessed trends “pop up”— the most recent quite literally being pop-ups, or restaurants established in temporary locations. “I love seeing pop-ups and hope that trend continues,” he says. “I’d like to see restaurants do more to retain their good staffers and hope they get more loyalty and passion from their main players in return. We’re lucky to have so many great restaurants and food stores, a robust farmers market and so many chefs and cooks whose names aren’t in the magazines but are quietly awesome.”

What is your favorite place to get fresh vegetables, fruits, meats and specialty ingredients?
“[There are] so many great specialty stores in Columbia! I’ve been going to A&Y Global Market, formerly known as Campus Eastern Foods, for 30 years for all things Mediterranean and Arabic.
“Tortilleria El Patrón on Vandiver is still somewhat of a best-kept secret that I love.

“Nobody’s bread comes close to Uprise’s — and what a great business they’ve built. Clovers for hard-to-find items.”

Odette also frequents Lee’s downtown for authentic Asian ingredients and frozen dumplings for his family’s “dumpling blowouts.”

What would your “perfect meal” be?
“There are way too many CoMo restaurants that are near and dear to me, but I’d see Walker [Claridge] at Broadway Brewery for an 11 Point [IPA], head over to Barred Owl for gnudi — if I’m lucky to see it on the menu — and work my way back down to Sycamore for mussels and fries, then Uber down to Murry’s for dessert,” Odette says.

Gnudi — light ricotta dumplings that visually relate to gnocchi and are often topped with melted butter — are not always offered at Barred Owl Butcher & Table because of the restaurant’s reliance on seasonal ingredients, sustainable practices and commitment to whole-animal butchery.

“If my kids are with me,” Odette says, “it’s hard to beat the three-course mini supper crawl of Pizza Tree, Booches and Sparky’s!”

Scott Charton

A retired journalist who traveled statewide as the Missouri roving correspondent for The Associated Press, Scott Charton produced many good food stories on the road. One of his “secret pleasures” in Columbia is visiting Grand Cru Restaurant. “[The] kitchen does terrific steaks and chops, and those who like to indulge can relax before, after or during the meal with an exquisite cigar from the well-stocked humidor and a vintage port or rare whiskey in the cigar lounge,” Charton explains. He believes Columbia is “blessed with great food options,” ranging from locations for dining out to spots for finding fresh ingredients to cook at home.

Favorite place to source ingredients?
“The new Columbia Farmers Market pavilion is a great stop for the local fresh seasonal bounty. I love the home-grown tomatoes, cucumbers and onions for savory hot-weather slads. Goatsbeard [Farm] dairy provides outstanding cheeses, and Patchwork [Family Farms] has the best pork. A new jewel in the fresh offerings is the Gulf seafood market at Cajun Crab House on the Business Loop — you cannot get better red snapper, pompano and red shrimp without traveling south to get sand between your toes.”

What would your “perfect meal” be?
“[For weekend breakfast], none is better than Perche Creek Cafe at Midway, where the biscuits are hot and fluffy and the sausage gravy is sublime. If your taste runs fancier, their eggs Benedict is covered with a fresh Hollandaise sauce fit for royalty. And the conversation is always fun and friendly, lubricated with fresh coffee.”

“My favorite [Asian restaurant] is Peking on Green Meadows, and I keep ordering the amazing Orange Shrimp — a perfect treat alongside fried rice, and the kitchen will kick up the heat if that’s your style.

“The pork steaks from Lutz’s BBQ are a plateful, alongside excellent coleslaw and beans. For the best tender, juicy brisket, stop at CoMo Smoke and Fire on Route B — and don’t miss the BBQ Mac and Cheese.”

“If you’re hungry and on the move, check the daily location of the Ozark Mountain Biscuit Company food truck — these guys are so creative, and their big cathead biscuits are the basis of many fine meals. They’ll stuff the biscuits with fried chicken, pimento cheese or out-of-this-world fruit preserves.”

“[For dessert], you cannot go wrong with Peggy Jean’s Pies, which just reopened in its new, larger location a couple of doors from Hy-Vee on Nifong. Peggy Jean’s newcomers must try the Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie — heaven by the slice. If you want total comfort-pie fulfillment, call a day ahead and special-order the Egg Custard Pie, a delicate, flavorful punctuation to any meal, grand or humble.”

Brook Harlan

Culinary chef instructor for Columbia Area Career Center, Brook Harlan grew up in Columbia until the late ’90s, when he moved to New York. He returned a short while later in 2002, taking after his parents in appreciating what Columbia’s restaurants have to offer, as well as how that has evolved. “We are so lucky to have a community that supports such a fantastic group of farmers,” Harlan says. “Not only [farmers] that sell at the market, but also the ones that are purveyors to great local restaurants. I think being a foodie in Columbia is pretty easy.”

Favorite place to source ingredients?
“I love going to the Columbia Farmers Market on Saturdays. We have had an amazing farmers market since I moved back here in 2002, and I am sure before that as well. It has grown even greater in the last several years and especially now with its new facility. Most of the time I go with only a few things in mind that I need and just try to keep an open mind for tons of fantastic seasonal vegetables that are always available. I’m looking forward to the fall, winter and spring markets now that there is a covered location.”

What would your “perfect meal” be?
“I have two young kids, so it’s hard to get out much, but I love going to Barred Owl Butcher & Table, Sycamore, Flyover and The Quarry. Maybe start the night off at the Quarry with a po’boy and some hot fries. Travel down to Sycamore for some pork belly sliders, then to Barred Owl for some fantastic drinks from Andrew Ruth behind the bar — talk to Chef Ben [Parks] and Chef Josh [Smith] about something new that is on the menu that I need to try.

“Then south of town to Chef Adam [Wells-Morgan] for some small plates at Flyover. It’s just a dream. I don’t think I could fit all that food into one night, but it would be fun.”

Sara Fougere

A local caterer for 15 years and a food junkie, Sara Fougere finds her fix in local restaurants, at markets and within her own household. Fougere likes to encourage others to be adventurous when ordering off a menu or trying one of Columbia’s “fabulous local places,” as well as to take advantage of local produce when it’s in season. Fall calls for butternut squash, pumpkin squash, apples, late greens and rosemary, all of which can be locally sourced and incorporated into meals at home or in menu items around town. Fougere likes to use these seasonal, fresh ingredients in her catering menu items and looks forward to seeing their appearances on several local menus.

Fougere appreciates the loyalty to local places among the Columbia community. “When a new place opens, people get excited about it, they’ll talk about it, but they always support the good local places too,” she says. “I think people really support other local people [in Columbia].”

She also recognizes a growing trend in health-focused diets and demands, both in the catering world and on restaurant menus. Gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan requests have been the most popular trends Fougere has witnessed in her business within the past year, and she notes increased local interest in fermented products such as kombucha, a fermented tea drink.

Favorite place to source ingredients?
“Sam’s Club has great fresh meat that you can pick out, cut and size,” Fougere says. “For staple ingredients, Sysco sales reps are super accommodating, there is easy order and delivery. Our seasonal produce from local farmers is a great way to support other local businesses.

“I have some regular farmers that I get produce from as well. They usually bring the produce to me, or I will run out to them. I’m a huge believer in trying to support other local businesses. We all support each other, and we all do things through each other. It’s so important for our community and for our customers in the long run.”Fougere also works often with Pierpont Farms because she says they have great service and delivery and fresh products.

What would your “perfect meal” be?
“For an appetizer, Brock’s Green Pepper Rings [from Murry’s] is unique, unusual — a savory and sweet combo! I do love to go there,” Fougere says.

Brock’s Green Pepper Rings are a concoction unique to Murry’s, a dish invented by a former chef on his own time. Made up of green peppers that are sliced into thin rings, fried and topped with powdered sugar, the dish lands somewhere mysteriously between a salad and a dessert. The appetizer eventually found its permanent place on the menu as a newly discovered Columbia comfort food.

“On Monday nights, [Murry’s is] crazy. People wait for like an hour, but we come in after church and place our order, then take the kids home and walk the dog and come back in 20 minutes and it’s ready. It’s the most consistent food.

“Olive Cafe’s hummus is better than any I’ve had. I make most of my own treats at home, but I can’t make it the way they do, so I buy it.

“Hoss’s Market & Rotisserie’s cobb salad with ranch: It has house-made ranch, and their rotisserie chicken — it’s just wonderful, and it’s huge. I’m a big salad eater, and I love to have a big salad. It’s got everything you could want in it.

“I love a filet at Chris McD’s or whatever their steak special is. It’s always a great cut and cooked perfectly. Great sides and sauces accompany it. I really only drink wine, but Chris McD’s always has a fun martini.

“Murry’s has one of my favorite wines, Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc. It’s made in Dry Creek Valley in California. We were just there last year, and it was just beautiful. I drank their wine at [Murry’s] for years.

“For dessert, Andy’s Ozark Turtle Sundae is easy to grab when you need a treat. Murry’s rotational desserts are always great surprises — you never know what they will be.”

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