Sycamore Restaurant

Can anyone argue that Sycamore Restaurant is not now the best restaurant in Columbia? Not the flashiest, the most stylish and certainly not the most conversation-friendly. Just the best – day in and day out – in town. Chef Mike Odette hasn’t been a nominee for any James Beard Award for a few years, but I think they’ve only gotten better.

Our visit the other day was a case in point. We were there with the kids – ages 8 and 5 – and requested our customary dining-with-kiddos booth toward the back of the restaurant, where we made our way through no fewer than eight dishes (we like the salads and small plates at Sycamore at least as much as the mains). Brandade we sold to the kids as hush puppies went over well, as did the fried orange tomatoes in an electric pesto vinaigrette that invited swooshes of bread long after the tomatoes were dispensed with. Onto a pork terrine featuring creamy duck liver and crunchy pistachios. It’s nothing you haven’t had there before, but it’s still damned good. Then it was gnocchi with confit tomatoes and fried oysters with remoulade – both excellent in concept and execution.

Dinner proper featured a trio of dishes that demanded round after round of plate-passing. Braised short ribs may have not dropped off the menu in years, but it’s a local favorite and, I’ll admit, I’ve never ordered it. I finally took the plunge and they were tender, beefy and paired with a well-executed, herby sauce and some very tasty mashed potatoes. Comfort food defined. The little one wanted noodles, so we ordered the seared scallops with shiitake udon noodles and mandolined zucchini. It was the show-stopper: silky noodles, perfectly-cooked ‘shrooms and Sycamore’s trademark, unimpeachably-seared scallops. If the “Special Salad” of hearts of romaine, a soft-poached egg and olive oil croutons was a little drab (more salt and more chives in the dressing, chewy bacon, etc.), it provided a welcome crunch and bit of green to the affair and was probably more a victim of high expectations than anything else.

I still wish the menu changed a little more, seemed a little less familiar to those of us who count ourselves as regulars. But Mike and co-owner/front of the house manager Sanford Speake* are running a business (while I’m just writing about it for free). Besides, familiar has it’s place and Sycamore delivers time after time, year after year.

Sycamore Restaurant
800 E. Broadway
Columbia, MO 65201

UPDATE: A subsequent visit revealed a dish both entirely new and wildly successful: a new charcuterie plate. I’ve had others there, sure, so maybe it’s not totally virgin ground they’re breaking with this item, but it is quite simply one of the best things I’ve ever tasted in Columbia. Duck mortadella, hunter’s sausage, summer sausage, spreadable andouille and so on. Stupendous, and the handiwork of the relatively new-to-Columbia Josh Smith, an expat-chef from New Orleans who is also doing many of the restaurant’s pastas. Go order it immediately.

* I count both Sanford and Mike – among others at Sycamore – as friends. I don’t think that colors my opinion unduly, but hey, who knows? Full disclosure and all.


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. Nice write-up. I agree Sycamore’s got the best food in town and I like their happy hour specials a lot. I too wish their menu changed up a little more frequently. Every once in a while they have chicken-fried duck wings…I love em. I’ll have to give the charcuterie a try.

  2. Agree with all of the above, esp. the note that the small plates on their own are worthy. As semi-vegetarians off the farm, we get an excellent meal just working through the small plate menu. Mike quietly and kindly taught us a lot about working with restaurants, and I suspect has done so for many other farmers. If we had a higher alcohol tolerance we’d be able to appreciate Sanford’s work more, but I’ve loved every drink I’ve tried there. A classy place all around.

  3. Oh lord, that is intriguingly great news about an expatriated NOLA chef in Columbia. Josh Smith, you say? I’m going to google him and see if he is a protege of Donald Link, the charcuterie expert and chef/owner of Cochon, Cochon Butcher, and Herbsaint in New Orleans. Guess he could’ve been with John Besh, too. I’m curious now…gots to find out! 🙂 PS: thanks for the tip.

  4. Glad to see your kids aren’t the typical nuggets and fries kids. So boring! How big are the scallops and any idea if they are fresh or frozen?

  5. Found out Joshua Smith was the chef/partner with Adolfo Garcia at the Italian restaurant, A Mano, on Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans in the Warehouse District. Their slogan is “Inspired in Italy, Made in New Orleans”. We have not yet dined there during our several trips to NOLA, but I have heard only positive reviews of the place. Looks like Smith has also cheffed in Boston and Las Vegas. Fantastic that he is now in Columbia, MO, but with those credentials, wonder how long he will stay? I would say Sycamore is quite fortunate to have him in their kitchen.

  6. I think Josh’s S.O. has ties here…or is here for school or something. Anyway, I don’t think he’s running off anytime soon. Lucky us!

  7. My only problem with Sycamore is the noise level, which makes conversation difficult during busy times. For quieter conversation I prefer Wine Cellar and Bistro, which ranks right along with Sycamore in my book for many of the same reasons: creativity, local ingredients, etc.

    But you brought up a good question, Scott: How often and how much should a place change its menu? Especially in Columbia where the number of regulars will be lower than in a big city.

  8. Scott, good to know about Josh Smith’s ties here. Definitely our gain here in the small burg of Columbia. Will have to get us hence to Sycamore and taste his Crescent City influences. Yay! 🙂

  9. Sycamore is my go to place when wanting to impress out of town guests or business people. I also eat lunch there, more than dinner. Need to get there more often, that is for sure!

  10. It is sad that Sycamore is the best Columbia has to offer. I have been there numerous times and have been disappointed by them a fair number of times, from overdone scallops to poorly seasoned rabbit. The wine list is boring and the lack of variety therein is distressing.
    Sycamore is okay, but Columbia could do much better.

  11. I like the place, but they need to change the menu sometimes… It gets boring to always see exactly the same 4 main dishes… (incorrectly called “entrees” by the american public).

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