Catalpa, Arrow Rock

Tucked into a delightful replica of Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham’s house, Catalpa, and its chef-owner Liz Huff, remain a force to be reckoned with. She’s even been selected as the guest chef for a historic preservation dinner that Governor Parson will attend in April.

We entered through the flower-filled brick patio where Bingham, the cat, lay stretched out like he owned the place. He barely gave us notice. In the family for years, nooks and crannies of the house-turned-restaurant displayed family photos and memorabilia. It personified Chef Liz and her warm, vivacious spirit.

“I like to welcome our guests, just like they’re coming to my house for dinner,” says Liz, who grew up in Marshall and trained at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont.

In the scratch kitchen, Liz whips up her grandma’s double yeast rolls, bakes homemade crackers and dreams up ice cream, sorbet and custard flavors in her six-quart old-fashioned churn. Dressings use non-GMO, organic sunflower oil, including her peach-lemon-tarragon vinaigrette that she bottles and sells on-site and at Dierbergs. Mindful of dairy and gluten-free sensitivities, most sauces incorporate vegetable stock.

My husband and I launched into the seasonal menu with flakey spanakopita, the most popular starter since day one. Shrimp, cooked in Chimayo red chilies from New Mexico with slices of fresh garlic, sizzled on an iron skillet. For entrees, the half duckling basted in homemade ginger teriyaki sauce came plated on basmati lime and scallion rice—ginger juice reduced for hours created the sauce. A wild salmon steak and seared beef tenderloin tips also appear on the menu.

Not-to-be-missed, double chocolate mocha cake accompanied her cappuccino ice cream and fresh raspberry coulis. Creamy Mexican vanilla ice cream in the classic Affogato was topped with shaved Belgian chocolate and chopped roasted hazelnuts with a shot of espresso tableside. Liz uses natural ingredients in her ice creams, custards and sorbets.

Rolling out June through September, a $25 fine dining lunch and dinner menu will include a non-alcoholic drink and dessert. Off-season events range from themed dinners, such as an eight-course Italian feast; cooking classes on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons and multiple-course, beer-pairing dinners. Dinner parties for eight or more can be arranged in Arrow Rock or off-site in a host home as far away as Kansas City, St. Louis or beyond.

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Sebree's, Greentop

Inside an unassuming metal building on Highway 63, Brian and Cindy Boultinghouse have gained a following with their locally-inspired menu and updated farmhouse decor. Most of the menu is sourced within a 50-mile radius in this northeastern Missouri farming community. The restaurant is named after Brian’s ancestors, who settled her after the Civil War.

“Much of the produce, including the beef and tomatoes, comes from my grandparents’ farm that’s five miles away and now operated by family,” says Brian. “It’s where I spent summers and fell in love with the area.”

While at the University of Missouri, Brian began his culinary career as a prep cook. Cindy grew up in St. Louis and also worked in restaurants while at MU, where she and Brian met. Today, the couple lives just a few blocks from Sebree’s.

Almost everything—salad dressings, sauces, soups and desserts—is made from scratch. In addition to the regular menu, daily specials feature seasonal fare. Every entree includes soup or salad and a homemade cornmeal roll. Brian specializes in domestic-caught, sustainable seafood.

The Friday night that I dined, the soup selection included cream of mushroom, so savory and flavorful that I ordered some to take home. Another stand-out, the bruschetta came topped with several varieties of diced, freshly-picked tomatoes. And thinly, hand-sliced sweet potato chips were served with a side of yummy, honey-cream dipping sauce.

Tasty, wild Icelandic cod Florentine was topped with sautéed spinach, hollandaise and house-cured, smoked bacon. Sides included lemon and chive new potatoes and fried okra, both harvested that day. I also sampled the excellent Primmer Farms marinated and grilled pork chop. In addition to local beef and chicken, heirloom Hereford pork is acquired from the farm of a former Kirksville High School ag teacher. In-house butchering uses the whole animal. With the goal of minimal waste, the restaurant’s table scraps help feed those same pigs.

Among desserts listed nightly on the chalkboard, Cindy whips up amazing bread pudding and a Ghirardelli dark chocolate brownie. Brian’s mom bakes pies using just-picked fruit, such as raspberries and pears, encased in a crust recipe handed down through the family.

On Sundays, brunch is serviced from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Holiday buffet brunches celebrate Easter, Mother’s Day and Thanksgiving. And reservations fill quickly during nearby Truman State University’s graduation.

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KoZak's Laketown Grill, Smithville

Tucked into a strip center in Smithville, 30 minutes north of downtown Kansas City, KoZak’s from-scratch American kitchen has garnered a large and loyal following. So loyal that fans wait for lunch and dinner specials to post daily on Instagram and Facebook. Chiefs and Royals players count as fans, too, because KoZak’s caters their inflight and pre-departure meals, as well as those of visiting professional teams.

“Many of our daily specials have close to 2,000 views, and, if we don’t post, people call us,” says Jacquie Hove who owns KoZak’s with her husband and executive chef, Brian.
Inspiration for the restaurant and its name came from the couple’s sons, Kobe and Zach. Brian, a long-time Marriott chef, left the corporate world in 2012 to improve their family’s quality of life. Neither he nor Jacquie have looked back.

The Hoves remain community-minded. Produce is sourced from area farms. The evening my husband and I dined, a farmer stopped in with baskets of plump, green tomatoes. Paradise Locker Meats supplies beef and pork; leftover steak and salmon trimmings are donated to a Smithville animal sanctuary. Several wines originate from nearby Ladoga Ridge Winery. Among the craft cocktails and 23 beers on tap, Yankee Smith Ale was created exclusively for KoZak’s by Levi Garrison and Sons in Hamilton.

Appetizers include the signature Asian BBQ pulled pork nachos drizzled with wasabi cream and siracha, developed for a 2013 competition. Mouthwatering fried green tomatoes come pooled with tabasco pimento sauce. One regular told me she always orders them.
“People want comfort food with a creative flair,” says Brian, who explains that many of his dishes were influenced from menus he developed for Marriott.

Entrees include a mini cast-iron skillet of tender cornbread, dolloped with house honey butter. Mediterranean salmon salad tossed with house lemon basil vinaigrette remains extremely popular, as do steaks, Cajun pasta and burgers. Hearty Kansas City steak soup has chunks of meat and veggies. The well-rounded kid’s menu offers smaller portions of salmon and steak.

Loyalty extends to pastry chef “Sam” whose four or five daily desserts include a signature gooey butter cake, chocolate cake with peanut butter icing and apple crumble pie.
In addition, KoZak’s will cater, and banquets for up to 90 people can be arranged.

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The Trophy Room, Camdenton

Culinary creativity has injected new life into the Trophy Room’s menu at Old Kinderhook Resort, Golf Club and Spa. At the helm is Executive Chef Andy Raynor, a Kansas City native who studied in the chef apprenticeship program at Johnson County Community College. As a member of the American Culinary Federation, the program ranks as one of the top nationwide. After graduation in 2012, Chef Raynor worked for several prestigious Kansas City country clubs before the resort called.

Diners take in stunning views of the golf course nestled into the valley that was originally a cattle ranch. An expansive outdoor patio boasts enormous fire pits and plenty of seating, making this spot worthy of lingering. Live music plays Friday and Saturday nights.

In sync with the seasons, the menu changes throughout the year. Chef Raynor’s refined Midwest-style keeps to the basics as he deftly builds his flavor profile to create classic sauces and dishes. Since coming on board almost two years ago, he has maintained customer favorites but has definitively put his stamp on the menu.

“I consider us a steakhouse,” says Raynor.“We butcher certified angus beef in house, and our steaks are fork tender.”

The menu’s bestseller lived up to its reputation. Twin Filets “Kinderhook Style” were crowned with jumbo lump red crab and Béarnaise sauce. Another popular entrée, the Berkshire bone-in pork chop came out grilled to perfection. Steak toppings ranged from caramelized onions and wild mushrooms to garlic and herb butter, buttermilk blue cheese and Béarnaise. The ultimate comfort food, a side of jalapeno-cheddar grits delivered a solid kick. Raynor developed his chicken spiedini as an apprentice, and it remains one of his signature dishes. The accompanying wild mushroom risotto will have mushroom-lovers swooning.

Starters included a soup of the day. Roasted tomato bisque garnished with house made croutons tasted like just-picked tomatoes. And the excellent caprese salad featured mozzarella, garden-fresh basil and local tomatoes, all drizzled with EVOO balsamic reduction. Local farmers supply the restaurant with produce and honey.

House desserts ranged from the well-executed crème brulé with berries to a nightly featured dessert, such as fried apples with vanilla bean ice cream. The extensive wine list starred high-end labels and beers on tap, which invited more conversation around the fire pit after dinner.

The Barred Owl Butcher & Table, Columbia

Inspired by Missouri’s bounty and changing seasons, the Barred Owl is equally butcher shop and restaurant.

On a Friday night, every table was filled in the warehouse-style space embellished with stained concrete flooring, Edison lights and an open kitchen. A centerpiece bar ramped up the bustling vibe. Through a side door, the cozy butcher shop, with its long display case, felt like stepping into an Old World purveyor.

Owners Ben Parks and Joshua Smith define their cuisine as Southern-Midwestern American. Southern influences originate from Joshua, who owned a restaurant in New Orleans. Ben describes his Midwestern charcuterie as leaning toward Spanish and Italian influences.

“Joshua and I both believe in farm-to-table sourcing and base our menu, as much as possible, on what’s coming in season with our farmers, who are primarily 50 miles or less from Columbia and exclusively in Missouri.” says Ben, who grew up in Columbia and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. “Our menu is a constant evolution, and even successful dishes are on for only a month before rotating off.”

Meats, cut from the whole animal, are matched with fresh produce and not overpowered by heavy sauces or seasonings. Missouri’s Goatsbeard Farm, Hemme Brothers Creamery and Green Dirt Farm supply cheeses. From-scratch breads and desserts are deliciously straight-forward. And their innovative cocktail program, according to Ben, offers the largest selection of spirits in Columbia and features hand-made bitters, mixers and freshly squeezed juices.

At dinner, my husband and I started with sweet potato hummus slathered on house-made flatbread, garnished with fried black-eyed peas. Warm milk and honey rolls incorporated a Dark Matter porter beer from local Logboat Brewing Company. The butcher board showcased the variety of charcuterie.

“First-timers are encouraged to try our board because we rotate five different items on it each night from our pâtés, 20 different salamis and up to ten different sausages using pork, lamb, goat, rabbit and duck,” says Ben.

The praise-worthy lamb lasagna layered béchamel and parmigiano-reggiano cheese. Fork-tender “butcher’s style” oxtail ragu was served on bowtie pasta smothered in a rich tomato-based gravy. For those who love sweets, desserts change regularly so there’s always something new to try.