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Appetizers -- Columbia, Missouri

In keeping with my "small plates as dinner" theme, here are a few words on my recent experience in Columbia, Missouri:

(I apologize for the lack of detail, but the trip was over a month ago, so my memory is a bit vague.)

We tried three dinner places & had appetizers-only at all three:

Chris McD's
Village Wine & Cheese

Sophia's is doubtless the most traditionally-upscale of the three, & probably resembles most-closely our former favorite spot in town (now closed, so sad!), Dali's. It's a young crowd, young staff, modern decor & menu, not-cheap prices, impressive (& mid-priced) wine list. Sophia's strikes me as the closest to a hip big-city restaurant experience offered in Columbia.

Chris McD's was the hidden gem of the three -- based on its unassuming location in a VERY unassuming suburban strip mall, as well as its unassuming interior, I probably wouldn't have stayed if my dining companion hadn't already been there & promised me good things. He was right, Chris McD's was indeed a pleasant little surprise. True to their "wine bar" name, there is a features wine list each night (all under a certain price), & the menu was wide-ranging & interesting. I recall we had excellent crab cakes, a fabulous French batard (fancy name for a loaf of bread), & good crème brulee.

Village Wine & Cheese is a neat little downtown spot, more like a European sidewalk cafe, also offering a retail wine selection which you can buy & then drink in the restaurant for a small corkage fee. My dining companion has gotten to know the lovely European woman who owns VW&C whom you'll typically see running around the restaurant, chatting with customers, checking on her waitstaff, etc. -- although she has made the unfortunate decision to turn her cheese market into a bar/lounge area! (Not sure downtown Columbia needs another bar/lounge spot, but alas...) The menu is limited but all excellent -- & includes what my friend refers to as "the cheese plate that ate Columbia." It is ENORMOUS, & GOOD.

Oh, & before I forget, probably our best "find" was a downtown coffeehouse whose name I cannot remember -- something basic, like, Coffee Works or 4th Street Coffee Shop? Anyway, it offers traditional coffee but also Mediterranean/Greek/Turkish varieties, & breakfast food along the same lines. I would've loved to try their Mediterranean omelet. And although I am a Starbucks girl by heart (franchise be d*mned), the coffee I ordered was unbelievable, so rich as to almost be sweet without sugar. We did return for gyros at lunch, which were also excellent, & I suspect their side dishes (including hummus & spinach pie) would be as well. They did a brisk lunch business & so are obviously not as "unknown" as they were to us, but I'd love to return for either meal.

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  1. Was it Coffee Zone by any chance?

    And what is Chris McD's location?

    1. k_d, are you pretty familiar with Columbia? Chris McD's is in the Forum Shopping Center that Schnucks is located in. It is at the other end from Schnucks. If you need better directions than that, let me know where you are coming from and I will try and help you locate it. I'm not sure what the other coffee place is. We had one close this past summer on 9th St. so I hope it was not that one.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Velma

        Yes... and I will have to look it up next time I'm up there (and doing more than shopping at Sam's & Hong Kong Market - LOL).

        Wasn't Osama's on 9th near the JSchool, and farther up, Dakota (?) Coffee?

      2. Yeah, I think it might've been Coffee Zone -- my trip was in August, so hopefully it would not have closed since then. It was right across the street from this breakfast place whose name I *also* can't remember which is operated by the same people who run an Italian restaurant downtown.

        Hope that helps... yikes...

        1. I would add three other restaurants to your "must" list in Columbia: Sycamore and Teller's (both downtown on Broadway on opposite ends of the same block), and Cherry Hill Brasserie on the SW side of Columbia in the Village of Cherry Hill business development (corner of Scott Blvd and Chapel Hill).

          Village Wine and Cheese is owned by Kathy Fluesmeier and she's from Louisiana. Not European exactly, but as close as you can get in the USA. HA!

          RE Dali's: Have you tried Gaucho's Brazilian Churrascaria Steakhouse that went in the same location? Same Spanish owners as Dali's, I understand, but Brazilian father-in-law is now the manager. Great food and atmosphere!

          Also, if you liked Sophia's, Addison's downtown on Cherry Street is owned by the same two guys.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Christine

            Interesting to hear you mention Sycamore -- online, I thought it looked interesting, but a friend of ours (a native Columbian whose culinary tastes are still out for debate) mentioned she had heard "bad things" about it. I didn't want to avoid them forever based on her anti-recommendation, so that's good to hear.

            (And no, I didn't mean to imply "native" when I said European, just "first generation" -- she & my dinner companion spent much of dinner comparing notes on what part of Europe all of their relatives are from! Primarily Italy, if I remember right.)

            We did try the Brazilian steakhouse but are not big red meat eaters, & therefore something was likely lost in the translation.

            Have never heard of Teller's, what do they most-closely resemble?


          2. Sycamore is a jewel of a restaurant. Try it and post back. It's especially good (and a good deal) at lunch.
            Teller's is down the block and not in the same class as Sycamore either with the food or service. Teller's has the feel of an upscale college bar that serves food as an after thought. The waitstaff calls you "you guys" and then forgets what you ordered. "Sorry, you guys". For the best appetizers in town, go to Murrys. Any disagreement out there?

            1 Reply
            1. re: steveb

              Steveb, I can't believe you're the first in this thread to mention Murry's. Come on, this is small plate heaven! Wings (not hot wings, just the best tasting wings you'll come across), sauteed shrooms, fantastic fried oysters, green pepper rings, and the end all be all blue chips cheese bread. The only thing they don't have is something a place in Alexandria, VA has, which is frickles (fried pickle chips).

              And Sycamore is owned by someone who made Trat a great place when it was a great place.

            2. It was the Kaffeehaus on South Ninth that closed, not the Coffee Zone which I think must be the cafe that SmallCap ate in. The Coffee Zone is across the street from Cucina Sorella which serves breakfast and is a sister restaurant to Trattoria Strada Nova. Whew... this all makes sense!!

              1. Couldn't agree more about Sycamore. Everything we had there was wonderful. One of the best filets I've ever had, and hubby's scallops were outstanding. Plus, the salads, appetizers, and desserts were out of this world (we did it up right the night we ate there). And our server that night was excellent and well-informed. I understand some folks from Murry's are responsible for opening Sycamore a couple years ago? However, I would put the Cherry Hill Brasserie on the same level as well.

                Yeah, I know what you mean about Teller's and the "you guys" thing. One of my pet peeves. It is a good watering hole, but still the food is varied and decent, and a good alternative for dining downtown. The art they feature is cool, too.

                1. What a great restaurant town - Sycamore, Sophia's, Teller's, Chris McD's, Murry's, Addison's... One overlooked gem is Classy's on Broadway near 10th. The location is perhaps even more unassuming than Chris McDs, but the food is as good as any restaurant in Columbia.

                  Trattoria seems to have disappeared from the A-list of Columbia restaurants. The last couple of meals I had there - several months ago - were disappointing. Is there a story behind its decline?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: TexasSlim

                    How about the owner sitting at the back bar, getting drunk every night, insulting the clients he doesn't like, fawning over the ones he does, and generally ignoring the kitchen and the food. This place is way past it's prime.

                    1. re: TexasSlim

                      Sycamore is definitely the class of the town. I've eaten there twice since we moved to Columbia in August (from Chicago). Both times, the food and service have been outstanding, but when our server remembered us on our second trip, I was truly floored. And it wasn't just an "I think I recognize you..." kind of thing. As I scanned the wine list, she noted, "We've added the Witness Tree Pinot Noir from Oregon since you were here last." I certainly did not expect this level of detailed recall of my wine order, but it was a delightful surprise. (Witness Tree is a nice bottle, and for $39, not that much of a markup over retail (around 27 I think), but we opted for the Pinot from Burgundy (Domaine Amiot?), which was also quite good.)

                      On my first trip I had the goatsbeard farm cheese sampler, which was stinky and delicious, with the patchwork farms pork loin to follow. Heavenly. Last time, I had the arugula salad (with asparagus bits and shaved celery), followed by the tri-tip and a sweet potato pecan cheesecake that was out of this world.

                      So if asked for one recommendation in Columbia, and price is no object (our last meal worked out to $40/person with tip, which is about as high as it gets around here), Sycamore gets the nod.

                      Keep eating,
                      J. Ro

                    2. I've lived in Columbia for 34 years. My favorite spots for fine dining (read:the food is good) are

                      1-Trattoria Strada Nova (trat bashing has been a favorite sport in this town, and the place has had its ups and downs, but it's up lately)--great food and bustling, hip atmosphere
                      2-Osaka--wonderful full menu Japanese and sushi spot that is the friendliest restaurant in town. The white tuna is to die for.
                      3-Shakespeare's--A college town pizza joint that's fine dining? Get a sausage and onion za extra well-done and enjoy one of the fine draft beers they have and you'll see why many ex-Columbians have these pies Fed-Exed to Elmira or elsewhere.
                      4--Sycamore--excellent food, but wait until January 9, when smoking ban goes into effect.
                      5--Murry's (home of good jazz), Cherry Street Wine Cellar (refined quiet atmosphere), Chris McD's (good for seafood) are all worthy of your patronage.

                      For more informal:
                      6--El Rancho is a little Mexican spot on Broadway that has GREAT food that's very authentic--the ONLY decent Mexican in town IMHO. It's cheap and open late, but no atmosphere except the interesting murals. They make it to order. Shrimp or fish tacos (soft corn) and fajitas are terrific. Beans and rice are super.

                      7--Bandana's Barbecue--it's on the North side of I-70, has the best barbecue this town has ever seen. Always fresh and juicy--never cooled and reheated, the meats have amazing penetration of hickory smoke flavor. Try the baby back ribs, pork, and turkey.

                      8--International Cafe--good felafel, hummus, souvlaki, and soups. Has a leafy patio for warm weather.

                      9--Main Squeeze--on 9th, has nice vegetarian meals and great juices/smoothies.

                      1. Quote : "7--Bandana's Barbecue--it's on the North side of I-70, has the best barbecue this town has ever seen. Always fresh and juicy--never cooled and reheated, the meats have amazing penetration of hickory smoke flavor. Try the baby back ribs, pork, and turkey."

                        Have we so quickly forgotten MIZZOU Bar-b-que...For a good burger, nobody beats Booche's

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: ronnyballgame

                          Can't say anything about either of those two BBQ places - but there used to be Rootin' Tootin' BBQ out of a trailer near Douglas park. That was BBQ.

                          1. re: Dennis S

                            Rootin Tootin is still around. She works out of a convenience store that is on North 63 across from the 63 Diner. I think the C store is called Mari's. I don't think she is there every night. Maybe Wednesday through Saturday or something like that.

                            1. re: Hooda_Guest

                              I would recommend Sycamore, Sophia's and, and Trattoria as well. Dali's was honestly the worst place I've ever eaten.....I ordered Ceviche and it was horrifying....The seafood in a ceviche is supposed to be cooked by lime juice and there was no detectable citrus flavor at all. I haven't heard many good things about Gaucho's either.....also on the "AVOID" list is Bambinos.

                              Murry's is casual and often has live music....My friends and I like to call it the best deal in town. It is consistently delicious. The Tuna Pesto sandwich is excellent!

                              1. re: jssc59

                                Scratch Trattoria Strada Nova for awhile. It has proverbially jumped the shark the last couple times we dined there. We're giving it a wide berth for awhile. To add to the list of Sycamore and Murry's, to round out our top five in Columbia are the perennial Chris McD's, the always satisfying Village Wine and Cheese downtown, and the often-forgotten, but always innovative Cherry Street Wine Cellar and Bistro. And FWIW, we like Gaucho's a lot. They have revamped their menu and I think you'd be able to find something tasty on it and at a very reasonable price. I had the pesto tuna (not a sandwich) last time we were there, and it was grilled to medium rare just as ordered and it was delicious!

                                1. re: Christine

                                  I give up. What is "jumped the shark"?

                          2. re: ronnyballgame

                            Bandana's! I experienced a bad case of discontent when we last visited the area. Granted, the particular site was just outside of St Louis but that would make me abstain. In fact it is probably the one spot mentioned on this posting I will avoid on our next visit in August. BTW are any of these places "overrun" when the university students return or do they stand up to what I must conclude will be more business.

                            1. re: feelinpeckish

                              Tried Bandana's once but oddly enough, they have no ham on the menu. I thought that was strange for this part of the country. As far as places being overrun, you will find most restaurants overrun on the weekend during the peak hours no matter what time of the year. If you try and get breakfast at any place in town from around 8:00-10:00 Saturday or Sunday, you will wait, period. Same with dinner on the weekends. During the time frame from 6:00-8:00 in the evening on the weekends, lines will be out the door. It is never too bad during the week I don't think. Maybe others have observed differently?

                          3. Just an update, apparently Trattoria has closed permanently, as the owner of the space does not want to allow anyone to run a restaurant since the old owners left the business. Unfortunate, but there are apparently a couple of new restaurants that will be opening soon, an Italian restaurant on 9th Street to be housed in the old Billiard's location, and a French-American restaurant on 8th Street opened by the same caterers as are in the Tiger Hotel, I think? Hopefully they will be good additions.

                            I completely agree with others who recommend Sycamore for appetizers (and for everything else). One of the owners, Mike Odette, was the chef at Trattoria for several years (back when it was great), and another owner, Sanford Speake, was the manager of Murry's for several years. It is by far the best restaurant downtown, but Teller's is also great for a moderately-priced more casual meal and has awesome appetizers (try the baked brie with honey and walnuts or the sweet potato chips), and the bartenders are great. Village Wine & Cheese is also great but very pricey, but that cheese plate is heaven. Addison's, on Cherry Street, also has good appetizers and a late-night happy hour with food service that lasts until midnight. The few bartenders I have encountered there seem quite unfriendly, unfortunately, but maybe that is just my experience (the owners are very nice, they also own Sophia's and the bartenders seem way friendlier at that location).

                            As for coffee, Coffee Zone (on 9th Street right next to The Blue Note) is great and has yummy Greek food and breakfast items, Lakota, further down on 9th Street closer to campus, is also good (though very quiet inside, and I have the slight impresion that the staff are internally mocking me for what I order). Cherry Street Artisan is also great and has good coffee and a nice atmosphere.

                            Has anyone been to Kaldi's, the newer place on 9th?

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: persephone

                              I have been to Kaldi's and I like it quite a bit. They're a bit pricey, though. I'm guessing they imported the St. Louis price list along with their coffee.

                              I feel weird going into Lakota now, because everyone seems to be hunched over their own laptop and I feel like I've entered a library and need to whisper my order.

                              I used to get coffee from Uprise nearly every morning, but they got rid of local roaster Z-Best and replaced it with an FTO brand that I don't like. I'm all for fair trade organic whathaveyou, but if the coffee isn't good, I'm not going to drink it.

                              I was wondering about the place going into the old Billiard's location. I figured it was either a nightclub or a restaurant and hoped it was a restaurant, especially since I'm underwhelmed with Columbia's Italian options.