Dine on Missouri's traditional dishes

The food of the Missouri Ozarks reads like a love letter to this mountainous landscape. Here, we look at this relationship and its origins.

Discover Missouri's culinary scene along Route 66.

Photograph by Missouri Division of Tourism
By Zoey Goto
Published 5 Apr 2023, 15:00 BST

The southern region of Missouri is a land blanketed with flourishing woodland, its rivers bursting with fish. But if you think this area’s diet just boils down to the traditional staples of skillet-cooked corn bread and fruity cobblers, then think again. A hip urban eatery is honouring the area’s Native American history, its Route 66 highway serves up a slice of pure old-school Americana, while a blossoming wine growing region is attracting visitors to its tranquil lake-fronted vineyards. 

Tucked between a patchwork of smouldering barbecue joints and blues bars, the Bulrush restaurant in St Louis is well worth seeking out. From his slick, low-lit dining room in the Grand Center Arts District, chef Rob Connoley is putting his own progressive spin on the indigenous foodways of Missouri. Pioneering the concept of ‘reparative restauranting’, the James Beard Award finalist has taken a deep dive into the culinary history of the Ozarks, the mountainous region in the south of the state, resurfacing with a menu that acknowledges and honours the often-overlooked communities that have called this wild landscape home — from the Native American tribes and enslaved residents to the early Euro-Appalachian immigrants. 

Bulrush’s masterclass in regional gastronomy is a particularly delicious one, with a tasting menu that leans into subsistence farming, preserving and foraging. A standout dish is the Kanuchi nut soup, originally eaten by the Cherokee people of the Ozarks, finished with pickled radish and an earthy acorn shell smoke. Guest chefs from harmed communities are invited into the kitchen to tell their heritage story on a plate. Ultra-seasonal ingredients are celebrated, while the team also assists in the local revival of 18th-century seeds. 

Stop off along Missouri's Route 66 and tuck into plates of traditional fare along the way.

Stop off along Missouri's Route 66 and tuck into plates of traditional fare along the way.

Photograph by Springfield CVB

Engines running, next it’s time to jump into the motor to cruise along America’s iconic ‘Mother Road’, Route 66, which weaves more than 300 miles through Missouri’s highways and byways. Lovers of classic Americana will discover roadside attractions flashing with vintage neon signs advertising mom-and-pop frozen custard shops. 

Make a pitstop in Lebanon at Dowd’s Catfish and BBQ. Passing the shiny row of Harley-Davidsons parked out the front, inside, this laidback local institution serves up freshly caught southern-fried catfish and fiery smoked hot links. Walk it off with a stroll through Route 66 Museum where you will see recreations of a 1950s petrol station and classic diner along with an expansive collection of Route 66 memorabilia. 

Travelling through the Ozark Mountains rewards with cascading waterfalls, forested highlands and a wonderland of rocky caverns, perfect for outdoor enthusiasts. Head to the Lake of the Ozarks region to discover Missouri’s surprising wine country. Although the state’s vino industry may have flown under the radar for many, its legacy stretches back to the mid-19th-century when German immigrants from the area along the Rhine first planted vines in these fertile soils. 

Soak it up by following the Lake of the Ozarks’ wine trail, which links up five intimate, small-scale vineyards, all within an easy 20-mile stretch. The Shawnee Bluff Winery makes a relaxing base, with onsite tasting rooms and a bistro, plus overnight cottages with views of the shimmering lake known locally as the ‘magic dragon’ due to its winding topography. At the nearby award-winning Dale Hollow Winery, you’ll find seasonal food trucks and live music from resident musicians.

Top three food experiences in Missouri

1. Dine under the stars in an apple orchard 

Keep things seasonal by dining at the Harvest Restaurant this autumn, in the very spot where your meal was grown. From his third-generation farm in Rogersville, chef Craig von Foerster serves a hyper-local four-course dinner, set on a picturesque farm where jersey cows graze freely and trees bow with ripe apples. 

2. Take a cooking class on an urban farm 

To witness Missouri’s field-to-fork ethos in all its leafy glory, head to the scenic Finley Farms & The Ozark Mill Restaurant near Springfield. At this thriving urban farm, the acclaimed Ozark Mill restaurant serves fresh takes on regional foodways, including bison meatballs. Book a hands-on workshop to learn pasta making or create a herbal first aid kit. 

3. Catch a ‘throwed roll’ at Lambert’s Café

Lambert’s Café is an Americana delight where meals are served with theatrical flair and the catch of the day takes on a whole new meaning. During the lunch and evening service, ‘throwed rolls’ are launched across the dining room; missiles of warm crusty bread thrown by the waiting staff and caught by cheering customers. 

Plan your trip

To discover more, visit travelsouthusa.com and visitmo.com

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