I’ll be on KFRU tomorrow morning at 10:15 am talking more about the (generally miserable) food to be had on I-70. If you’ve read last week’s column, some of it will be familiar. But I’ve received six or seven good tips from readers and will pass those along tomorrow. My earlier take:
Hungry for some good eats on I-70
Right up front, I should let you know this is more of a cry for help than a column. I have very little advice to give on the topic at hand, primarily because the topic at hand is my decades-long, near-total failure to locate good food while driving on Interstate 70. With family in Kansas City and interests in St. Louis, we rack up serious miles on Missouri’s primary thoroughfare. But the choices tend to be shame-inducing fast food or locally owned mediocrity. And, actually, I’ll take a “volcano burrito” from Taco Bell over microwaved ribs — looking at you, Bates City BBQ. Yes, we could either eat before leaving or eat once we arrive, but sometimes, especially with kids, you just need to break up those miles between the cities. Here’s what I’ve found, for better or for worse.
Let’s get the most tragic shortcoming out of the way first: barbecue. Here we have 200-plus miles of interstate linking two established ‘cue destinations, and we’re given almost no good options.
Take one of the drive’s most visible restaurants, signage-wise: Biffle’s Smoke House Barbeque in Concordia (Exit 58). This place looks the part — shabby, time-worn exterior, country-kitsch inside — and is a local favorite. I desperately want to like the place, but the food never seems to get beyond ho-hum. The salad and baked potato bars don’t help matters, nor do the bored Concordia High School students manning the register.
Double J BBQ Ranch — at Exit 175 in New Florence — is another case in point. Looks like a shack and has a big woodpile in plain view and a logo featuring a bullet hole. They had me with the visuals. But on my visit, the pulled pork was stringy and clearly had been held in a steam tray too long. It seemed water-logged, of all things. I haven’t been back — or heard reasons to give them another shot — but I’m hoping to be proved wrong.
Panhead Billy’s Smokehouse BBQ just north of the Kingdom City exit turned out some solid ribs — and dynamite people-watching — but is no longer in business. There’s a diner attached to the Colonial Inn in High Hill (Exit 179) that served a decent breakfast — but the staff tends to watch television in the dining room, and I left smelling like an ashtray. El Camino Real in Odessa (Exit 37) turns out a passable steak taco, but little else is worth stopping for.
There are a few diamonds in the rough. I speak first of Bates City Cafe. This diner, with its straight-out-of-the-’50s décor and run out of an old gas station at Exit 31, would be easy to dismiss by the cynics among us. But the food — mostly hearty diner fare — transcends the cutesy interior. I’ve had a steak there I’d put up against most places in Columbia. And at about an hour and a half west of Columbia, it’s an ideal stopping point on the way to Kansas City.
Closer to home, 87 Diner deserves a little more love from Columbia folks. It’s located on the south side of I-70 at the intersection of Highway 87 (Exit 106), and believe me when I tell you the chicken fried steak is the best I’ve ever encountered. Crunchy, tender and covered with truly world-class sausage gravy. The “87 Diner Mess” is a split biscuit topped with hash browns, two eggs and a heart-testing amount of that gravy. The rib-eye breakfast would be worth the drive, as well.
I’ve struck out more often than not when it comes to eating on those long miles between the metro Kansas City and St. Louis areas, but hope springs eternal. Here’s hoping I’ve overlooked something great. Help a guy out.