By Katie Jackson
“Who’s in Columbia?” my co-worker Aubrey asked. It was a valid question. I’d just told her where Evan and I were spending the weekend. Many people travel to visit the two customary “f’s”—friends and family. But for my husband and I, there’s a third “f” worth traveling for. The reason we were driving to the heart of the Show-Me State? Food.
First tastes, lasting impressions
“Is this a park or a brewery?” Evan asked, more in amusement than confusion. “It’s both,” I answered. Logboat Brewing Company was our first stop in Columbia. A grassy sea of green surrounded the industrial building housing the brewing facilities and taproom. The outside picnic tables were full of patrons nursing their frothy pints. It was sweater weather so blankets and lawn chairs accommodated the rest of the crowd playing corn hole and bocce ball or standing in line at the food truck. It wasn’t a festival. It was just another day at Logboat Park—aptly named for its centerpiece, a wooden carved canoe.Inside, the wood craftsmanship struck us as much as the earthy aroma of hops. Reclaimed Missouri heart pine made up the exposed beams, table tops and wraparound bar where the bartender gave us a condensed version of the brewery’s history. Behind her, a glass wall provided a peek into the beer-making process. The ginger wheat brews she poured into our glasses had logged many hours in those stainless-steel cylinders.
“You can find our brews in many local restaurants like Flyover,” the bartender said when we settled our tab and prepared to find food. She mentioned that Flyover—a tongue-in-cheek reference to what many people mistake states like Missouri for—boasted a wood-fired stone oven. We already had dinner plans, but I decided it might be a good après-supper stop after learning the kitchen was open until midnight. Evan and I were no strangers to progressive dinners.An hour and a mile later, we were seated at the bar belonging to Barred Owl Butcher & Table. At least five shelves high and reachable by a sliding ladder on a track, it was pretty much a library of libations. But we weren’t at Barred Owl for its craft cocktails. Like Logboat, the establishment had a glass partition providing a behind-the-scenes look at its menu. In this case, it was carcasses artfully hanging from hooks.
“Butcher Board, extra bresaola.”
Our waiter set down a thick wooden cutting board piled high with paper-thin slices of salchicon, salami Calabrese, ham hock terrine and Evan’s favorite—bresaola. “It’s an epicurean adult Lunchable,” I noted, reaching for a piece of baguette and cheese to pair with the sustainably-sourced meat. The waiter explained how the spread came from local purveyors. Ironically, our next dish—a mix of Gaeta, Cerignola and Castelvetrano olives—came from obscure regions in Italy. “I can’t tell if this place highlights food from local farms or foreign countries,” I said.
“It does both,” Evan remarked, popping an olive into his smiling mouth.
All’s well that eats well
“Romano, Romano, wherefore art thou Romano?” I inquired dramatically the next day at lunch. Covered in flour and smelling of garlic, we were in downtown Columbia’s most popular pizza joint: Shakespeare’s. But, instead of sitting in the dining room, devouring signature pizzas like the Darwin—a healthy pie named for Columbia’s athletic former mayor—we were creating our own concoctions in the restaurant’s kitchen. Evan had booked us a “Shakespearience”— a cooking class complete with a tour of Shakespeare’s “Secret Room” where they mix 4,000 pounds of dough per week. In fact, the package was so thorough that after eating our eight-inch pies, we got to do the dishes.Several hours of shopping later, it was time to refuel. Columbia’s downtown area—The District—has an equal shop-to-restaurant ratio, so there was certainly no shortage of dinner options. Ultimately, we succumbed to my taco craving, finding ourselves a coveted corner table at 44 Canteen. It seemed fitting we’d end the day enjoying another finger food heaped with toppings. Pickled red onion spirals, shaved cabbage, jalapeño coins and a generous dusting of Cotija adorned my chicken tacos. Local cucumber kimchi, ssamjang mayo, pickled mustard seeds and cilantro sprigs topped Evan’s caramelized Berkshire porkbelly on steamed buns—44 Canteen’s taco de jour.
“How is it?” I asked.
“A dish fit for the gods,” he replied, doing his best impersonation of Brutus. I suppose if I could start the day referencing Romeo and Juliet, he had every right to end it reciting Julius Caesar.
Sunday is brunch, Bangkok and beer
“It’s BYOI,” our waiter at Broadway Brewery said the next morning. The bluegrass band began playing an hour ago but it was growing by the minute. Locals kept walking in carrying guitars, fiddles and banjos—ready to jam for the Sunday brunch crowd. I grabbed the celery stalk out of my Bloody Mary and played it like a harmonica. Evan laughed and used the opportunity to poach another fork-full of Missouri trout and eggs off my plate. The food at Broadway Brewery is all farm to table and many of the beers come from the in-house brewery. The entire menu needed a “Made in Columbia” sticker.The day’s next meal was a little less Columbia-esque. The neon sign looked like something you’d see on the streets of Bangkok. The food—battered frog legs and steamed pork dumplings—brought me back to our honeymoon. When Evan suggested we get a late lunch/early dinner at Bangkok Gardens, I didn’t anticipate complete authenticity. I was never so happy to be so wrong. The flavors were absolutely intoxicating. I hovered around the comforting basil end of the spectrum and Evan perched on the end resembling swallowing a blowtorch. Our waiter even commented that the chef was impressed (after the second time Evan sent his curry back to add more heat).
Fittingly, the day ended with a cold beer. Located right off I-70, Bur Oak Brewing Co. was a convenient last hurrah before leaving Columbia. Normally only open on Fridays and Saturdays, we lucked out that it was open for a community event.“Our Big Tree IPA is modeled after the Columbia Bur Oak tree,” explained Craig, the brewery owner. “Its ABV is 7.6% because the tree’s diameter is 7.6 feet and its IBU is 90 because the tree is 90 feet tall.” As he guided us through the 15,000-square-foot production facility, I was also impressed with the size of the fermenters. Chalkboard signs next to each revealed which beer was inside. The tour’s biggest mystery was the source of the occasional meowing. When the black furball finally brushed past my leg and revealed himself, Craig introduced us to Clyde—the brewery’s rescue cat and the inspiration behind Clyde’s Caramel Cream Ale.
Critical questions, obvious answers
“So, how was Columbia?” my co-worker Aubrey asked on Monday. “Well,” I started, “we certainly didn’t go hungry.” Just as I was about to elaborate she interrupted with an even more important question
“Did you leave hungry?”
I laughed. No one leaves Columbia hungry.