Churchill’s Italiano

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: If this is the poster you’re going to welcome me to your restaurant with, something in my meal had better be flambéed, motherfucker. The ice cream should be fried, the Caesar salad mixed at the table and seared tuna had best be all over the place. Because you had a choice when it came to your signage, and you chose to stick with the mulletted, bow tie-wearing guy. That says, “We’re doubling down, kids. Enjoy 1986.” And at that point, you need to own it.

Instead, the menu at the reopened Churchill’s Italiano in the Holiday Inn Executive Center, reads like a fairly straightforward Italian spot (albeit one with lots of lobster). Tuscan bean soup, bruschetta, pasta, steak. So far, so good.

The hostess, who seemed genuinely surprised to find a customer in front of her, was charming, sweet and cute as a button. She was also not yet 21, and unable to recommend a bottle of wine. Nothing against her, but if you’re running a menu with some entrees pushing thirty bucks, your waitstaff-of-one should be conversant in the wines (and legally capable of serving them). On we go…

Out comes an aperitif, on the house. Unfortunately, it tastes like off-brand liqueur…like something at the bottom of a Harpo’s cup late on a Thursday night. Normally, I don’t gripe about anything free, but this was nasty. Cloying, syrupy, high-alcohol, cheap-tasting. A bad way to start a meal at a place boasting “fine dining at its finest.”

Appetizers – paper-thin slices of veal with arugula for me and balsamic and a Caesar salad for the wife – arrived. From what I could tell, the veal was nice. Subtle, light, tender. Unfortunately I had to scrape off the balsamic reduction to taste the meat. Far too strong, and far too much of it to play nicely with veal. Also, there was a fraction of an ounce of meat on the plate ($11?). The arugula was perfect; a peppery harbinger of spring. Hooray, arugula.

Mrs. SMEs’ salad was deftly dressed with a clearly-homemade, lightly fishy Caesar dressing. It was also in dire need of salt, a problem since Churchill’s operates on the assumption that nothing that leaves the kitchen will need seasoning. I’m down with this practice, but you better get it right. Churchill’s doesn’t.

The entrees should’ve been a slam dunk. Penne amatriciana is nothing more than tubular pasta with a slightly spicy, pancetta-based tomato sauce. Filet mignon is a steak that you grill and put on a plate. Easy, right? Not if you overcook boxed penne and send it out swimming in way too much sauce (which, unbelievably, is dull). And not if you turn filet mignon into roast beef and serve alongside some plain Jane mashed potatoes. And not if you blanch escarole to death and throw some tired bell peppers on top. No, at that point it gets really hard.

It’s also hard to enjoy eating in a restaurant with literally not another person in it. It’s boring and cold. Who would order the mussels in this place? How long has the lobster been knocking around the walk-in? And beneath her youthful perkiness, I have a hunch the hostess was just as bored (holding your hand over a candle at the hostess station was a clue. And really, who could blame her?).

It’s possible I am being unfair. The new iteration of Churchill’s as an Italian spot is barely a month old and clearly, the kitchen’s not getting much practice. But for a relaunch, they’re making it hard on themselves. The visuals are dreadful. Go try to find a menu online. Pay top dollar for bland, offend-nobody food in a museum to the Reagan era. As much as I’d love another option on the west side of town, Churchill’s Italiano is a time capsule. And at least for now, it’s one better left in the ground.

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Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

13 thoughts

  1. Excellent review of what must be a really bad establishment. You should take bets on how long it will be until the place shuts down.

  2. Thank you for doing this, so I didn’t have to.

    When I first learned (Tribune ?) that Churchill’s was going Italian, I was intrigued, but not hopeful. As news leaked out about what they would be offering, I decided against checking it out until it got a credible review from someone I trust. Your report confirmed all our worst suspicions about how it might be bad. That’s a shame for Churchill’s, and Columbia diners. It used to be a place to go for those old classics like Chateaubriand, Steak Diane, Cesar salad, Bananas Foster, etc. Not your everyday meal, but reliable if you chose to go there.

    Filet mignon and mashed potatoes? Dead escarole? Bland pasta sauce? Not going there anytime soon.

    Thanks again.

  3. In all my 26 years of living in Columbia, I have never darkened the doors of Churchill’s. To remedy this situation, I was planning to finally go there for our tenth anniversary next month. Now after reading your review of the new iteration of Churchill’s (Italiano, indeed), sounds like we won’t be going there at all, ever. Too bad we missed them in their “glory days” (?), but if you’re going to jump on the burgeoning “Italian restaurant scene” in Columbia, you better do it right, or at least credibly. Thanks for the review, Scott, and for helping us stay away from making a big mistake.

  4. My parents took us to the original Churchill’s when they were visiting one year for Christmas. Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday that year and Churchill’s was pretty much the only restaurant in town open for Christmas Eve dinner. They actually did mix the caesar salad at the table and they did a bananas foster at the table as well. It was like stepping into a time capsule. I don’t remember the food being bad. I don’t remember it being great, though, either. Any port in a storm.

  5. My husband went a few weeks ago with a group. His review was mixed. He said that the octopus salad appetizer and sea bass entree were excellent. On the other hand, the heap of mashed potatoes were there. It sounds to me (haven’t been there myself) like the chef is trying to bring some real Italian food to Columbia, but the prices are too high and the decor is dated and stuffy. Too bad.

  6. We were thinking of going tonight, but after reading the menu and this blog (for which, thanks), I think we will hit Craig Cyr’s place.

  7. They catered an event at Jesse Hall last night and the food was spectacular–veal tortelloni in shiitake mushroom cream sauce, shrimp cocktail with an unbelievable lobster sherry sauce and caviar, and a canoli like I have not tasted since leaving the east coast–I understand the tiramisu was exceptional, also, though I am not a fan, so my opinion is unreliable…

  8. i must admit that after reading this, I was quite skeptical to enter such a horribly reviewed restaurant, but heard from some friends that their experience was nothing like the aforementioned comments.
    I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the mullet man, but was disappointed that the pictures had since been removed. (we’ll let that one slide) while there was no host this evening, two nice-looking young ladies greeted my husband and myself promptly upon entering (granted, there were only two other tables).
    my waitress was able to recommend a fantastic bottle of wine for us to share. out came the escargot, (also a recommendation from our waitress) which was amazing. afterwards, we shared a tomato and mozzarella salad, which I can’t remember the name of, but the taste of which still lingers in my dreams. after more wine, our entrees came out hot and delicious. I had a bite of my husbands veal shank on risotto. it was so tender that I can’t imagine needing a knife and the risotto was so flavorful that I had to take 3 more forkfuls. i ordered the veal ravioli. it was so good that i couldn’t part with a single bite and only let my husband try the lefticer sauce on some of our bread. the food was incredible. the service was, as I read and confirmed, not quite 4 stars, but certainly attentive and my waitress made outstanding recomenda

  9. all in all an excellent meal. will definitely be back for the next special occasion. advice? aside from the food we had, don’t be afraid of this empty restaurant. it may be columbia best kept secret

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