The Great Grocery Store Arms Race

March 18, 2016
The profit margins for grocery stores are notoriously low – reportedly 1% – so competition is fierce and stores rely on volume to keep the doors open and the lights on. Anyone who’s bought groceries in the past five years in Columbia has seen that competition in action. Sometimes it’s in subtle ways like small shifts in how a store is laid out; sometimes it’s a wholesale renovation of a store or the arrival of a new competitor. The result is inarguably good for the consumer but it can also be a little disorienting. Which store has those awesome mushrooms? Which one stocks the best variety of local meats? Can I drink beer at this Gerbes or only the one on West Broadway? Important, important stuff.
So here’s a rundown of my takes on the various offerings around town, a list of strengths each of the places have and a few products you might want to avail yourself of. I’m only including the plus-sized grocery stores I personally go to, so having never stepped foot in Sam’s Club, I’m not including them. Only once a customer of Natural Grocers, they’re out as well. World Harvest, Root Cellar and the like are also tremendous but not part of this discussion. So here we go…let me know what I missed.
  • Relatively new remodel with centralized location of a robust liquor section is unusual, but it works.
  • Strong deli department by virtue of some good turkey breast and excellent spiral-cut ham.
  • Produce is a strong point, particularly in the realm of herbs and mushrooms.
  • The meat counter has long been regarded as about as close to a butcher shop as Columbia has.
  • Schnucks was the first (?) to enable drinking and shopping, which is of course a great idea.
  • Started off with some local meat availability but seem to have mostly or completely done away with that.
  • Still, the array of fresh seafood and meats – particularly beef – are excellent.
  • Brats, sausage and bacon are excellent even if the sandwich meats are invariably bone-dry.
  • The cafe area is nice. Grab a slice of the (above average) pizza and a pint. Good times.
  • Running Wednesday to Wednesday, “Lucky Breaks” are their way of drawing you in with discounted fruit and veggies. If you’re on a budget this is a great way to get more produce into your diet.
Gerbes (West Broadway)
  • Brand-new remodel looks nice, but still leaves narrow aisles and a confusing bottleneck over by the cheese counter.
  • About that cheese counter. It’s run by Murray’s, the decades-old and infinitely awesome cheese shop in NYC. I’m still working out how this happened but in the meantime, cheese-lovers have a new local mecca. Incredible.
  • Bolillos for $0.25! These are basically Mexican baguettes; soft, pillowy and really, pretty flavorless. Perfect for stuffing with whatever meats and cheeses you have on hand…or banh mi sandwiches.
HyVee (West Broadway)
  • Columbia’s first HyVee came along before the craft beer explosion, which may explain how the booze got shunted way over in a small corner of the store. The other two HyVees, coming much later, possess far superior selections, particularly when it comes to beer.
  • Best selection of local meats in town, period.
  • While many stores around town carry Uprise’s excellent breads, this HyVee seems to have the best selection.
  • I know every inch of this store…that counts for a lot in deciding where to stop for toothpaste, turkey salami and Prairie Moon cheese.
HyVee (Grindstone)
  • Excellent booze section, enormous frozen foods section, amazing trumpet mushrooms.
HyVee (Conley)
  • Good liquor department. Don’t know if I’ve been in the rest of the store.

A Cook’s Christmas Wish-List

December 11, 2015

This isn’t exactly a copy-paste of my Christmas wish-list, but it’s pretty darn close. Would love to hear other suggestions or feedback if you’ve tried one of these products or have one of the books.


Michael Ruhlman remains one of our better food writers and thinkers, but he’s also on the persnickety side of things. Go watch “Stupid Kitchen Tools” for a good sample-rant. But he’s always put a lot of thought into his opinions, so when he launched a line of kitchen tools I was pretty sure they wouldn’t, you know, be stupid. A few I’m interested in.

Offset spoon set – No more tasting spoons sliding into the bowl. Brilliant.

Perforated egg spoon – I have one of these that works well enough but the handle is way too long in my opinion and the bowl itself too shallow. Ruhlman’s got the right idea here.

The Kitchen Tool Bundle includes those, a set of (non-stupid) wooden paddles. See also: bamboo pot scrubbers, offset soup spoons and more at his full products website.


All-Clad 8” pan – I have and love my 12″ All-Clad pan – which is just a complete, all-around workhorse – but something smaller for omelets, lunch leftovers, etc. would be great. This’d be my pick.
Demeyere 3.5 qt. saucier pan –  This is a pricey dude, and they don’t seem to have the more bare-bones version I bought 10+ years ago for sale anymore, but I use this weekly and if you can afford it, I think you will too. Indispensable for risottos, sauces and much more.
Other kitchen stocking stuffers – Tongs. Always more tongs. Rubber spatulas, a magnetic knife holder, a sharpening steel, a harman/kardon Bluetooth speaker (if you have a big stocking), Murray’s Cheese gift cards



Nigel Slater, for fire-side reading


Drawing upon tribal culinary traditions from five regions—Northern Woodlands, Great Plains, North Pacific Coast, Mesoamerica, and South America—the cafe’s offerings feature staples that were once unknown in the rest of the world in dishes such as:

– Squash Blossom Soup
– Cedar-Planked, Fire-Roasted Salmon
– Pulled Buffalo Sandwich with Chayote Slaw
– Corn and Tomato Stew
– Cranberry Crumble

Talking Turkey

November 20, 2015

A bullet-point list of tips, ideas and ephemera regarding America’s favorite food holiday.

The Basics:

  • Buy a good bird
  • Brine, brine, brine
    • I don’t care if you just dissolve some sugar and salt in water and let your turkey sit in there for a few hours or follow a recipe – like Alton Brown’s or someone else’s – it will be better. Take a second. You’ll thank yourself later.
Break Out of the Mold:
  • Spatchcock – Break down the turkey first. You get a more evenly-cooked bird way, way faster.
  • Smoke – The wife and I had a (mostly) friendly turkey face-off a couple of years ago and my smoked turkey destroyed a perfectly-executed oven-roasted bird (and was easier to boot).
  • Spice things up a bit – Just because the Pilgrims and their native counterparts didn’t have paprika, cumin and cayenne at their disposal doesn’t mean you don’t. Spice that bird up a little this year.

Don’t Forget the Sides:

Yes, you will need some green bean casserole next Thursday. But no need to stop at the Campbell’s Soup can.

No-Cook Thanksgivings:
  • Columbia Area Career Center’s Culinary Arts program
    • Open Friday, Monday and Tuesday
    • At this point it’s first come, first served
    • Special item: $5 turkey pot pies “pretty awesome…likely best seller”
    • Menu:
      • Single Knot  Dinner Rolls
      • Pecan, Pumpkin, and Apple Pie (9″ pie, 6 to 8 slices)
      • Whole Roasted Brined Turkey (serves 10 to 15)
      • Turducken
      • Take and Bake Gougères
      • Chicken Stock
      • Brown Turkey Gravy (Frozen) (2 cups, 4 to 6 portions)
      • Cream of Mushroom Soup for Green Bean Casserole
      • Stuffing (Andouille, Oyster, Cornbread, Rice and Vegetable)
      • Cornbread (Monday at least)
    • Regular items for sale too
      • Gumbo, soups, sausages and other cured meats
  • Glenn’s Cafe
    • Glenn’s opens at 2 pm Thanksgiving day.
    • Traditional Thanksgiving meal cost is $25. Kids under 12 cost is $12. Includes all the standard fixins.
    • Make your reservation now for Thanksgiving Dinner at Glenn’s Cafe! (573) 447-7100 or Email
  • Hoss’ Market
  • Wine Cellar and Bistro – Deadline has passed but it might be worth a try.
  • Grocery stores – Chances are your favorite grocery store will sell you some Thanksgiving ease. Check with them for options, prices, etc.

Use Those Leftovers:

  • Make stock. Like you weren’t going to do that.
  • Turkey Tamales
  • From an earlier post:
    • Make a sandwich with strength: Turkey breast, mayo, avocado, bacon, shaved red onion and sliced tomato on homemade or Uprise sourdough bread. Oh damn, maybe some smoked gouda? Best sandwich in the world.
    • Turkey noodle soup. Chop and cook some carrot, onion, garlic and turnips (or whatever else you have) in olive oil until soft. Add turkey stock and simmer. Make homemade egg noodles like a boss, or at least like my grandma. Here’s her recipe: Mix 4 egg yolks, 1 whole egg, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 2 tsp soft butter and 1 cup flour. Knead, roll out, slice into noodles. Add noodles and remaining turkey to the pot when ready to eat. Cook for 2-3 minutes, taste for seasoning and serve.

Roots ‘n Blues ‘n BBQ

September 25, 2015

Roots n Blues 2014

Who’s ready for the weekend? Yeah me too. While True/False weekend remains my favorite CoMo event of the year, the wonderful time we had at Roots ‘n Blues last year has this weekend creeping a little closer. This year we did a better job of prepping for the musical acts, deep-diving into Brandi Carlile, Lucinda Williams, Drew Holcomb and more. Dwight Yoakum needed no introduction to this musically schizophrenic household. I’ve studied up this time, so if you need me, I’ll be the grown-ass man screaming every word to “The Eye” like a 12 year old at a Taylor Swift concert.

Anyway, we’re also gonna have to eat. And if you’re going all weekend like us you’ll have to eat at least five times – probably more like seven. (Pro tip: Eat lunch at 11 or 2 and dinner at 4 or 9 – or all of the above) Thankfully, the Roots ‘n Blues website lays out the list of vendors that will be slinging biscuits, burgers and beignets (!) this year. Ozark Mountain Biscuit Truck will be back this year. They tweeted earlier this week that they plan to make 3,000 biscuits for the weekend (and I wonder if that’ll be enough). We loved Seoul Taco last year but hey, they’re in town now so we can deal with their absence. A number of new food vendors will be in the mix this year. I did a little digging and here’s what I came up with.


  • Tivanov Catering – Couldn’t find much on these guys but this, excerpted below, certainly sounds good. Looking forward to: Lamb and Feta Burger.

Certainly the only joint serving pasture-raised, Missouri lamb gyros in town, this small, family-run business offers a fresher, more sustainable take on Mediterranean festival fare. Their tzatziki is homemade with Windcrest Dairy yogurt, their in-season produce comes from farmers’ markets, and they buy most of their meat in bulk for the year to reduce waste. If you’re lucky, you’ll chance upon a summer festival at which they’re serving their fresh, from-scratch lemonade, sweetened with raw sugar and organic strawberries. You’ll find these folks at festivals around St. Louis – or, you could have them cater your own special event!

  • Lyla’s – I don’t know who or what this is, but an outfit turning out wraps and lighter food will be a welcome oasis in the land of corn dogs and funnel cakes. Supposedly “Lyla” is a caterer here in town but I couldn’t scrounge up any info. Looking forward to: Spicy Pork with Cilantro and Lime Wrap.
  • 2 J’s Beignets – Um, pork belly beignet? Nothing else needs to be said. Unfortunately they seem to be having vehicular trouble so WILL THEY MAKE IT? Intrigue!


  • Sugarfire Smokehouse – These folks are racking up awards and accolades in St. Louis but this will be their first time to Columbia. Their O’Fallon shop is handling the festival this weekend and manager Matt Martin is bringing the A-team, including Sugarfire’s classically-trained Master Chef/Partner Mike Johnson, with him. Martin describes the style of ‘cue as a mix of Texas, Memphis and Kansas City, adding that “we always have 7-8 homemade sauces on hand.” He says their brisket gets the most buzz, pork is the biggest seller and the turkey is his personal favorite. One notable item: Sugarfire sources all of their meats locally or regionally (the turkey comes from Michigan), they sell only pure cane sugar sodas and their own garden supplies the restaurant with tomatoes and other veggies. Pumped about this, you guys.


And finally, one entry in the What-the-What? category: COMO Smoke ‘n Fire is apparently offering a BBQ Nacho Funnel Cake.

Smoked pulled pork layered on top of a fresh, hot funnel cake, topped with tomatoes, jalapenos, cheese, sour cream & lightly dusted with powdered sugar

To each his own, but man…I’m channeling Chris Tucker on this one.

4 Quick Notes

September 23, 2015
Wolf's Head

Pano shot of Wolf’s Head Tavern. Click to enlarge.

Lots happening in the CoMo food world these days. So to help you keep up, here are four quick notes:

  • The Columbia Area Career Center’s culinary arts students will be slinging some serious barbecue today – Thursday, September 24 – from 10:30am-1:30pm. Check out the menu and best times to avoid the crowds here. Pro-tip: Order extra in bulk. Bbq freezes well.
  • 44 Canteen is open. The sister restaurant to one of Columbia’s best – 44 Stone Public House – opened semi-quietly a couple of weeks ago and began lunch service this week. The menu focuses on snacks and small plates. Think sliders, burgers, tacos and other good stuff to pass around and share. Our first visit yielded almost universally excellent grub, an unsurprisingly ambitious beer list and a rockin’ cocktail for Mrs. SMEs. The open kitchen and tasteful renovation will be familiar and fresh at the same time. I’m excited to get back soon (maybe pre- or post-Roots ‘n Blues?).
  • The Wolf’s Head Tavern is also open. The space is a stunning renovation of the sad, drop-ceilinged interior Chim’s operated in. Trey, Aaron and Co. labored long and hard to create something warm and inviting. He was going for “a place people go to drink two or three times a week” and I think they have a really nice space here. The menu changes daily and is posted on a chalkboard on the east wall. More smaller entrees and sides. I’ve yet to sample the wares – liquid or otherwise – but look forward to it.
  • Miami Bites brings a little Cuban flair to Columbia. It’s the latest entry in an ever-expanding roster of food trucks in town, focusing on a small menu Cuban sandwiches and sides. More on them in the Tribune. Yay!

In Search of Greater Garlic

August 24, 2015

If I had to guess I’d say it was Michael Ruhlman who once said – and I am paraphrasing here – that no matter where you live in the world, preparing dinner starts with chopping an onion. I believe he was making the point that if you’re going to do something before nearly every meal you cook in your life, you might as well learn to do it properly, efficiently. Knife skills, you know?

Regardless of who said it, what was actually said and what the person – Ruhlman or not – meant by the remark, something very similar could be said for garlic. Indian, Thai, Mexican, Italian, whatever; you’re going to chop some garlic. Last night I pureed four cloves with Aleppo pepper, salt and sugar and rubbed it on a giant pork shoulder. The above photo was the next day’s result (click the photo to see the drool-inducing hi-res version. Really, I’ll wait).

So, we go through a fair amount of it in our house. And if you cook at all at home, you know you do too. But the fact is that much of our garlic is grown half a world away in China. Truth be told, it gets the job done and it’s definitely cheap. But you can never be sure what went into producing that bulb and chances are, it’s on the downhill side of fresh anyway. There is a solution – especially if you’re disinclined to grow it yourself.

Eric and Joanna Reuter grow a dozen varieties of garlic. They don’t operate a CSA anymore so the best way to get the goods is to stop into World Harvest, which recently began carrying a bin of their garlic options. Five will be available at any given time. And so the other day I picked up a couple of heads of each variety, which they have helpfully labeled and provided descriptions for. A quick scan of the posted QR code will take you to more information.

For the aforementioned pork shoulder I used a head of their “Tochliavri” variety. The cloves were markedly different that the other stuff I have in the pantry. Firm and obviously fresh, they released a pleasant garlic aroma into the air – and garlic juice on the cutting board – when bashed with the side of my knife. Peeling was a snap and into the food processor they went, giving way to deliciously garlic-scented pork shoulder the next day. And while it turned out great, other applications like roasting whole heads, stirring into salsas or working into garlic butter would highlight fresh, homegrown garlic’s superiority to an even greater degree. So check out the Reuters’ handy usage guide and pick a few up at World Harvest the next time you’re in the area. I guarantee you’ll be able to tell the difference.

The pork shoulder recipe came from Bon Appetit (and was as tasty as it looks).

Beer, Beer and Restaurant Rumblings

August 21, 2015

This morning on KFRU we talked a lot about beer. Craft Beer Cellar’s “Beer of the Month” program, some recent beers I’ve enjoyed – Calling IPA from Boulevard and Passionfruit Prussia from 4 Hands, specifically – and then Jonathan from CBC stopped in to surprise Simon with a box of selected beers. Renee and I played elves in setting that up. Then Jonathan sat down and we discussed some of the beers he’d brought in, Craft Beer Cellar’s offerings and the beer scene in general. It was great, but left us with less than five minutes to devote to some pretty significant news and updates regarding local restaurants. So here’s the rundown:

Wolf’s Head Tavern
Location: 201 N. 10th Street – former location of the downtown location of Chim’s Thai Kitchen.
Pedigree: Bleu, Red & Moe and Trey Bistro
Style: Irish small-plates gastropub. Bar-focused and approachable. True cod fish and chips.
Quotable: “We want to be the place people go to drink two or three times a week.” – Trey Quinlan
Opening: “2 weeks”

I stopped by the work-in-progress that is Wolf’s Head Tavern yesterday to see how progress was going. This, you may remember, is Trey Quinlan’s remodel of the Chim’s downtown spot into a Irish-themed pub built around a big bar and small plates. Trey, his brother Bowen and a third partner (Aaron?) were sitting on either side of the enormous bar taking what looked to be a well-earned break. If you were familiar with the previous decor, you’ll know they haven’t been taking many breaks over the last two months. Gone is the drop ceiling. Gone is most of the wood paneling on the walls. Gone, yes, is the fish tank. RIP fish tank. What’s left – and what is emerging – is an open, more airy space with exposed I-beams, brick and ductwork. It’ll have two big televisions behind the bar. It’s going to look pretty cool.

Trey says they’re on track for opening in two weeks or so, assuming permits and remaining interior work get done.

44 Canteen
Location: 21 N. 9th Street
Pedigree: 44 Stone Public House
Style: Craft beer bar serving sliders and other small plates.
Opening: “Early September”

While the Trattoria Strada Nova/Red & Moe/Trey Bistro space has indeed seen more than its share of turnover over the years, 44 Canteen is poised to make it work. Here’s why. First, the – um – disagreeable longtime owner of the building is out. The building is now owned by Osama Yanis of Coffee Zone and he is not a crazy person/jerk. He definitely has an outsized personality but he’s been a downtown business-owner for decades, has been a genuinely good guy in my interactions with him and I think he’s going to be a supportive landlord. That’s big for any restaurant tenant. Second, 44 Canteen will be brought to you by Dave Faron and Mark Sulltrop of 44 Stone Public House, arguably the best restaurant in town. Not only do they know how to turn out good food they know how to stay in business. This is kind of important.

Now, the breaking news…

Ye Olde Lady and Pint
Location: 21 Conley Road
Pedigree: Former El Maguey location. Owner Doug Marsden and his family are soccer fans (Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City, variously).
Style: English food with 10-12 taps. Soccer bar.
Quotable: “We’ll open at 9:00am Saturdays and Sundays and show every English Premier League game we can.”
Opening: “A few weeks”

Up front it should be conceded that a strip mall formerly home to an El Maguey, a used book store and a laundromat is not an obvious location for an English-themed restaurant showing European soccer games on the weekends. Drop this concept downtown somewhere and we’d all be rapturous. Instead, it’s around the corner from the Conley Road Hy-Vee. It’s next to an “Aqueous Vapors” place or whatever. Still, I’m hopeful. Shepherd’s pie and bangers and mash are going to be on the menu. A look through the windows reveals lots of dark wood and old school lights over a long, sweeping bar so it should look the part. Also, parking won’t be an issue. So it has things going for it. It’s also not enormous so it will likely feel somewhat cozy. Owner Doug Marsden says the bar will seat 20, the dining area about 70 and another 30 can sit on the patio outside.

This place probably has the toughest row to hoe of the three. Still, best of luck…I’m excited to stop in for a game and grab a pint.

Updates on all three as I get them.

Resto News

June 25, 2015

I’ll be on KFRU tomorrow at 9:15 am to discuss restaurant comings and goings around Columbia (among other shenanigans). And while the traffic on this alleged blog has been light lately, the news regarding local restaurants has not. It’s basically restaurant dominoes up in here. So let’s just jump in with a full run-down of what I/we know:

  • Chim’s Thai Kitchen (downtown) is closed. It wasn’t as good as her locations in Peachtree and Cooper’s Landing and the overhead was probably higher, but still sad. In related news…
  • Trey Bistro – Trey Quinlan’s lease at the Red & Moe/Trey space has run out (and been sold to Coffee Zone’s Osama Yanis) and Trey and his brother are working full speed ahead to get a new place – an Irish gastropub called Wolf’s Head – open “by August” in the former Chim’s Thai Kitchen location downtown. I’m sorry, but an HGTV reality tv show couldn’t turn that place into a (proper) Irish pub and get it open by August. Seriously, wish In related news…
  • In case you haven’t heard, the guys behind (arguably Columbia’s best restaurant) 44 Stone are opening a more casual venue in the former Trey Bistro location. It’ll be called 44 Canteen and offer smaller plates – tacos, sliders and an ever-changing menu according to Dave Faron – as well as a craft beer and cocktail bar. They hope to open by “late summer.”
  • FlyOver Restaurant, featuring Adam Wells-Morgan and something called “Midwest regional cuisine” is on tap for the fall in “one of two locations.” Guy can cook, so there is definitely hope here.
  • The ill-advised name and menu of Be My Guest Bistro – featuring everything from pho to Philly cheesesteaks – is no more. They have reopened as Ichiban Sushi Bistro, and now focus on sushi but also Vietnamese and Thai food and good grief pick something oh who cares at this point?

Quick Takes

April 2, 2015

It’s been awhile. I hope you haven’t been waiting to eat until you heard from me. Regardless, I’m back with some initial thoughts on new places, some news and a few random notes.

4603 John Garry Dr. Suite 3
(just SW of Rock Bridge High School…across from Las Margaritas)
Columbia, Missouri
(573) 442-6373

This month-old sister restaurant to CC’s City Broiler has an odd name, a brutal location and doesn’t do lunch (my preferred way to try a place out). Still – and I don’t normally say much about a place after just one visit – I think Broil is here to stay. It’s immediately evident that Scott Cleeton and company have spent a small fortune repurposing the former Smokin’ Chicks environs. It’s comfortably dark, with a combination of kitsch (Old Style beer mirrors) and class (lots and lots of wood, antique light fixtures) that will be familiar to any CC’s fan. Somehow it works, and feels like you’ve just stepped into a corner bar/steakhouse in Chicago a few decades ago. I mean this in a good way. It’s small, homey and charming.

It doesn’t hurt that there’s a roaring wood fire going in the open kitchen. The grill is an elaborate affair that can be raised or lowered with a system of pulleys, depending on how hot that fire is at a given time. Service on our first visit was efficient and enthusiastic and while the wine list is affordable, it’s also depressingly conservative. You’ll find most of the bottles at Hy-Vee or Lucky’s. The draft beer menu on the other hand is a good one, featuring Logboat, 4 Hands, Broadway Brewery and Bur Oak options during our visit.

The menu is a little different. Broil is basically a steakhouse but one that’s been shaken up a little to emphasize smaller plates for sharing. Everything is a la carte and the offerings change from day to day. One constant will be Brussels sprouts, but even they will get a different treatment each day. When we stopped in this week the little mini-cabbages were deep fried, tossed with garlic salt and completely addictive. So too the bacon-wrapped chicken livers, which were creamy, crunchy and better than most (44 Stone’s notwithstanding). Broil also does a wedge salad right, topping a crisp half-head of lettuce with a light bleu cheese dressing and slices of grilled pork belly. Heavenly. On the flip side the fries – overlarge and underfried if you ask me – were average and mushrooms desperately needed seasoning to perk up a little, but we were feeling pretty good about things.

Then came the porterhouse steak, as good a value at $22 for 20 oz. as you’re likely to find. Our was grilled over the open fire, cut off the bone and then presented whole. It was wonderful – smokey, salty and perfect for sharing. Unfortunately it was also substantially overcooked by the time it had rested, but we scraped up every last morsel of our (now medium-well) steak. We wondered how great it would’ve been had it been medium rare. We intend to find out soon.

Prices are competitive, if not something you’ll splurge for on a weekly basis. A salad, an appetizer, three sides, a large steak and a bottle of Rioja set us back a shade under $100. A couple could eat well for under $40 if you were trying. So, the value is pretty high.

Mrs. SMEs and I agreed: Broil is going to be a significant player in town. The space is inviting and unique and the food shows real promise. They have a couple of kinks to work out but the cooking is good enough, and prices friendly enough, to warrant a visit right now.

Pepperjax Grill
2900 Trimble Rd
Columbia, MO 65201
Phone:(573) 442-2117

Pepperjax Grill does cheesesteaks. Apparently Pepperjax can get you a cheesesteak on rice or in a tortilla but, well, cheesesteaks are sandwiches and Columbia once again has a right proper one (We still miss you, cheesesteak at Billiards!) now that Pepperjax has opened on east Broadway (think Lowe’s, HyVee, etc. on Conley Road). Mrs. SMEs and I opted to split a (giant) cheesesteak and were glad/sad that we did. It was a helluva good cheesesteak and food enough for two (though our tastebuds disagreed). Fries here are a waste of calories, guys, so get a cheesesteak, add jalapeños and have them douse the finished product with jalapeño juice (“Fireball”). It’s a delish-a-gross guilty pleasure on par with El Rancho’s enchiladas. The fun, historical photos of Columbia and Boone County make for an entertaining wait in line (pro tip: check out the ladies basketball teams from the 1910s).

Other news and notes:

Everyone’s favorite taco truck trailer, Pepe’s has come out of “hibernation mode” and will be slinging tacos at Rose Music Hall this Saturday. They will be taking over the kitchen there and venturing out mobile-style “when we can.” Gunther’s Games is going to close…and reopen with a new craft beer menu. Maybe I’ll actually stop in sometime. It’s been open since January, but Be My Guest Bistro’s location on the Walnut side of a student apartment complex is easy to miss. Two visits have revealed sub-par ramen, decent tom yum soup and a menu with everything from Philly cheesesteaks to sushi. Their website is a complete mess.

And last but not least, the Columbia Area Career Center culinary students took home some hardware at the state SkillsUSA competition. (ital = moving on to nationals)

Jacob Knerr – 1st place Commercial Baking (Home School Senior)

Jerry Jo – 1st place Culinary Arts (HHS Senior)

Jacob Ventrillo – 2nd place Culinary Arts (RBHS Senior)

You can help support Jacob and Jerry’s trip to the national competition at the following fundraising events:

  • Saturday April 18th – 8:00 to Noon at the Columbia Farmer’s Market (next to the ARC) – Omelets, all made with ingredients from the Columbia Farmer’s Market.
  • Sunday April 19th – 9:00 – 1:00 at the North Village Farmers and Artisans Market (behind the Wabash station) – Omelets made from all local ingredients, baked goods and sausage for sale.

True/False 2015

March 5, 2015

As you know – and probably knew waaaaay before everyone else – Hipster Christmas True/False starts today. That’s right, our annual festival of masks, parties, conversations with strangers and lots and lots of movies begins this afternoon and gets underway tonight with the Jubilee party and Best of Enemies at Missouri Theater. This has become one of our favorite weekends of the year. Probably the favorite. And while food and drink is a decidedly second tier priority for these four days, that doesn’t mean we need to be eating like rubes either. Here are some “new” tips and recommendations.  Most from previous years – 2014, 2013, 2011 and yes, 2011 – still stand, however, so check those out as well.

Note: I’m probably missing all kinds of great ideas, so tell us what’s up in the comments below. I’ll continue to update this list with additional ideas as they come to me.

  • Food trucks – The widget just to the right of this here post contains a Twitter feed of all of CoMo’s mobile food operations. You would do wise to follow their updates, for they produce tasty food on the quick.
  • iTap – $3 Schlafly drafts and bottles all weekend. 9th St. Public House is a good bet (and will probably have some space at the bar, too).
  • Craft Beer Cellar – This is going to be a great place all weekend, but I’ll definitely see you for the “Epic Beer Brunch” Saturday. Boss Tacos, Harold’s Doughnuts and Logboat Brewing will be on hand. You should be too. Full schedule here.
  • Pizza Tree will be serving slices of the best pizza in town all weekend (and to-go!).
  • Broadway Brewery – Always a great place for food, beverage and good conversation, BB becomes so much more during the fest. Chat up filmmakers at the bar, grab an 11 Point IPA and order the shrimp and kale gumbo – one of the best dishes I’ve had in months.
  • Gunter Hans, Kampai Alley and Sycamore are all good bets for quality food and drink, avoiding the crowds or enjoying some documentary down-time, or all three. Bleu usually has fest-specific small plates and always has some of the best cocktails in town.
  • Harold’s Doughnuts will be satisfying sweet teeth all weekend while Shortwave Coffee (best location) and Fretboard Coffee (better coffee, IMO) will be responsible for keeping the caffeine flowing.
  • A lot of people pack snacks before leaving each day. That’s not a bad idea when you’re hitting films for about 14 hours on Saturday. But for the most part, eating and drinking amongst the other doc-watchers is a major part of the fun. I prefer that.
  • Finally, follow #tfeats on Twitter for recommendations from your fellow fest-goers. See you out there!


RIP Lonnie Ray’s

February 18, 2015

It is with a heavy heart that I announce that Lonnie Ray’s Cafe seems to be no more. Between cryptic (and unanswered) posts to their Facebook page, an independent source, the fact that their phone is disconnected and confirmation by staff at the C & S Grocery store two doors down, it seems appropriate to “call it” in this case. My one remaining hope is that Mike and Brandon have shuttered the storefront and will still be doing catering. Or that we can lure them to Columbia, which accounted for approximately 95% of their business.

I first visited Lonnie Ray’s in August of 2008 and they never let me down on subsequent visits, most recently in November. Mike’s brisket was – for me – the best of an outstanding bunch and the sides and oddball specials they dreamt up were always fun. He and Brandon are good guys and passionate about what they do – perfectionists. Their ten year run was impressive; hopefully it’s not over. Like really, really over. Relive the experience through my Columbia Home Magazine piece from last year or this Missourian feature from 2013. Here’s a nice YouTube video to watch. And cry. It’s okay to cry.

Additional info as I find it. In the meantime, pour one out for Lonnie Ray’s and grab some good bbq at…oh never mind.

Christmas for Cooks

December 19, 2014

I’ll be on KFRU (in about 30 minutes!) this morning talking about Christmas gifts for cooks. Here are a few ideas I came up with.

  • Tools of the Trade
    • New spices – Let’s face it, yours are pretty old. You’ll be surprised what a difference buying smaller amounts of spices will make.
    • Stick blender – You don’t absolutely need one of these, but I find myself reaching for it regularly. You may be able to do a little research and find a better-reviewed one, but my Cuisinart Quick Prep is still going strong after 10 years.
  • Herbs in pots or fruit trees from Stark Bros.
  • Seed packets
    • Hit the hardware store (or gardening shop) and put together a custom basket of seed packets.
  • Grow light kit
    • Your loved one will be able to get a jump-start on their gardening (or just grow better herbs in the winter) this way.
  • World Harvest gift basket (cheese, olive oils, charcuterie from Volpi – available at most local grocery stores)
  • Hot sauce sampler
  • Cookbooks
  • Gift certs
  • Just cook someone you love dinner!


November Radio

November 14, 2014

I’ll be on KFRU’s Morning Meeting today at 10:15 am or thereabouts, talking about cold-weather soups, Thanksgiving tips and the surprising amount of restaurant/food truck happenings that are on tap for the next few months. Preview, links and details below.

Cold-weather soups

  • Winter Squash Soup – I made a variation on this soup last night and with the addition of some chile flakes near the beginning and some whole milk at the end, it was a hit (including with the kids). I probably only used 3 cups of stock however, so it was thicker. Good, warming stuff.
  • Black-Eyed Pea Soup – It’s a family favorite of ours (and Renee’s now) and shouldn’t be left solely to New Year’s Day.
  • Tuscan Five-Bean Soup – A dead simple wintery soup I haven’t made in far too long.
  • Easy Button Soup – You don’t have to make it yourself. Broadway Brewery, Chinese Wok Express (think pho) and Uprise Bakery do soups very, very well. Hoss’ Market sells tons of soup, though I can’t vouch for it (yet).

Read the rest of this entry »

The Return of Pizza Tree

November 13, 2014
Daniel Brenner/Tribune

Daniel Brenner/Tribune

In case you missed it, Columbia’s best (yes, the best) pizza spot, Pizza Tree, has a new home and is (finally!) open. I stopped by last week and really, really enjoyed slices of Ranch Hands (buttery onion, ground sirloin, pepper bacon, Lawry’s and white cheddar) and Secret Margherita (pecorino, tomatoes, basil, mozzarella). The crust is still crisp-tender with just the right amount of char and the new space is going to be a hit (if way crowded at peak times). You’ll find them on Cherry Street between Harpo’s and Subway (9th and 10th Streets) and if you need more info, Marcia had the goods in yesterday’s Tribune. Welcome back, guys…you’ve been missed.

A recipe for fall (and spring…and maybe summer)

October 20, 2014

Chard Gratin

Swiss chard is not the sexiest of greens. In the right hands it can be good, occasionally very good, but usually doesn’t elicit much more than a grudging “okay” when nominated for dinner. For most people, it’s big spinach. But chard is earthy and pretty and grew crazily well for us this year. And finally, I have the recipe I’ve been needing since, oh, May. It’s from Tender, a fantastic vegetable-focused cookbook by Nigel Slater I received for Christmas and haven’t cooked enough out of (judging by the success of such rocking, simple recipes as this). Simply blanch a pound of chard and then throw it in the oven with some cream, whole grain mustard and grated parm. That’s really it, but it’s good enough to have vaulted to the front of the Swiss chard recipe line. We’ve made it twice since last week. Feel free to cut back on the cream a bit and add a little extra whole grain mustard. Or not; it’s up to you.

Chard Gratin

Serves 4 as a side

1 pound chard, stems and leaves
Butter, for the baking dish
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
A handful of grated parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the chard leaves from the stems. Chop the stems into short lengths, then cook briefly in boiling, lightly salted water until crisply tender. Remove the stems. Drip the leaves in the boiling water briefly, until they relax. Drain, let cool, and wring out the leaves. Spread the stems and leaves in a buttered shallow ovenproof dish. Put the mustard in a bowl and stir in the cream and a grinding of salt and black pepper. Pour the seasoned cream over the stems and leaves, cover with grated Parmesan, and bake, 35 to 40 minutes, until the top has a light crust the color of honey.

A visit to Binder’s Apples and Alpacas farm

October 16, 2014

It’s been a couple of years since we hit Binder’s Apples and Alpacas farm up by Mexico, but yesterday evening we decided to take advantage of the (finally) sunny weather and binge on u-pick apples. It’s only late-season varieties at this point (Ultra Gold, Rome, Enterprise, Granny Smith, Fuji and Yorks) but the trees are loaded with them and at $0.90/lb, they’re a great deal. Directions and more details available at their website. Hours are 10am – 6pm Monday to Friday, 3pm – 6pm Saturday and 1pm – 6pm on Sunday. Keep in mind that not only is this their home but Binder’s is also a working alpaca farm with lots of big guard dogs. Respect their hours of operation and it’s probably a good idea to leave your four-legged friend at home.

Things to do with late-season (green) beans

October 10, 2014

Due to the anticipated frost the other day, our Chert Hollow CSA was overloaded this week with a variety of shelling beans we went ahead and shelled, but also a ton of beans that just missed the cut. Rather than toss them in the compost we took the Reuters’ advice and cooked them up. If you have any of these yourself – or can find some at the market or in your garden – here are a few ideas that have worked for us.

2014-10-09 19.30.51


Not-Quite-Shelling Bean Hummus

I de-stringed and then boiled several handfuls of beans and pods, then threw them (hot) into the food processor with tahini, garlic, olive oil, salt and a little water to blend. A little of this and that and a sprinkle of cayenne over the top of course and we had a hit on our hands. Served under some pan-fried cod and dipped with those addictive Pretzel Crisps, we’ve gone through the whole pint or so since last night. Good stuff.


2014-10-08 20.13.37


Not-Quite-Shelling Bean Stir-Fry

First, de-string these bad boys. Nobody wants dental floss in their stir-fry. Then, heat a wok or other pan over high heat, add toasted sesame and vegetable oils, then throw in a few handfuls of beans and cover. Stir occasionally and add salt, cooking for 5-6 minutes. Test for done-ness. If needing more time add some water and cover, cooking another 2-3 minutes until about done, then throw in some chopped garlic, soy sauce and Sriracha and cook, uncovered, for another minute to thicken the sauce. Serve, spooning sauce over the top and, of course, adding more Sriracha.

Dispatches from a Wannabe Farmer

October 9, 2014
land photo

A brief respite from de-limbing cedars. March 2014.

Mrs. SMEs and I purchased 20 acres out by Columbia Regional Airport in February 2013. It was about 8 acres of open, weedy, neglected pasture, 8 acres of cedar thickets with some oak and hickory mixed in and a 4.5 acre lake. We’ve been busy clearing cedars, planting nut and fruit trees, stocking the lake (which is brand new) and gradually developing a long-term plan for the property. My dad has found a part-time job as unpaid laborer/chainsaw operator. It’s been equal parts exhaustion and exhilaration and a whole lot of learnin’ to go with it. I’ve spent far more time on the tractor than at the computer blogging, just so you know why the updates are few and far between. The day job hasn’t disappeared, either.

Similar view, July 2014.

Similar view, July 2014.

But because I’m doing most of the work and know myself – non-edible plants around the house get neglected while edibles get daily loving care – this land project is about food too. Planted so far are serviceberry, mulberry, elderberry, pecan, chestnut, hickory, blackberry, grapes, sunchokes, paw paw, hickory, maple, wild plum and more. We’ve stocked the lake with minnows, bluegill, channel catfish and just last week, largemouth bass. Sassafras, hickory, wild garlic, persimmon, wild cherry, autumn olive and other edibles were already present and we’ve had fun trying some of them out (badass wild garlic pesto will be available in April and May…just saying).

The long term plan includes extensive chestnut, apple, pear, peach and more and, eventually, a house, goats, chickens, etc. But for now, it’s about observation, education, planning, recreation and lots and lots of work. But it’s the kind of work you walk away from sore and satisfied, which is more than most of us can say about the work that actually pays the bills.

A primitive method still snags sucker fish on Missouri’s Current River

October 6, 2014

There’s a nice piece in the Post-Dispatch today on a form of fishing I first learned about in Anthony Bourdain’s poorly-executed trip to the Ozarks. Now I just need a contact down south…

If it weren’t for the whine of an outboard motor and bright lights mounted on the front of an aluminum John boat, the three men could have been night fishing in a far-gone millennium.

Read the article.

Peggie Jean’s Pies (wordage to match the pie-ness)

September 17, 2014

One thing I learned in speaking with the subjects of Columbia Home’s next food section feature is that the mother-daughter team behind Peggie Jean’s Pies II are forces of nature. My full piece will be out in the next issue of the magazine, but until then you should be reading daughter/lawyer/baker/mom Rebecca’s blog. It’s hysterical and (probably a little too) candid. Great reading. The latest update:

Today is a PJP Buttonwood month-aversary…we ushered in our fifth month of existence this morning with a nod to the milestone and two large mochas from Caribou.  And in our tradition, here are our thoughts about five months in…

  1. Our space is finally starting to feel like it belongs to us.  While writing a check for $1560 a month to The Kroenke Group for rent and triple nets is a harsh reminder that we will only be at home for the next 54 months with an option to renew, the addition of the wooden display unit, the bench, and a few other touches make us love our 1,000 square feet like we built it ourselves.

  2. Speaking of building, we’ve learned that going through the construction process on our own space was overwhelming.  Working in our space while construction is in full swing on the units next door, well, that is enough to make us crazy.  Our new neighbors are required to install a firewall between our spaces.  I don’t know what a firewall looks like or what it is made out of, but I do know that installing one requires hammering, sawing, and drilling incessantly.  If a chunk of our wall fell out and a construction worker rolled onto our floor, we likely wouldn’t even notice.

Read the rest. And I don’t know if I could bake with them (yes I do and the answer is “no”) but they are hiring.


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