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Branson - god help me, Branson

Making a sojourn to Branson here in a couple of weeks to appease the in-laws. This will be my first ever trip (how I've avoided this 29 years as a native Kansas Citian, is beyond me). Here are the requisites - as clearly dictated by my better half's folks: we need to know the cities best breakfast buffet & one "nice" place for dinner. The type of fare they want is a mystery - although probing questions were asked. If it were up to me, I'd like to go to a place with food that will blow my mind (i know, this may be an impossibility knowing that this is the same town that sports old what's his name "What a Country?!"). Any help you all can give would be appreciated!

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  1. Yackov Schmirnoff?

    Something like that. :D

    1. No idea about breakfast. Try the Candlestick for dinner. I agree, it's ultimately a culinary wasteland, but I've had quite a good steak at Candlestick, and the view is nice. I prefer the bar area, though.

      2 Replies
      1. re: jhojati

        I'm right there with jhojati regarding Candlestick Inn (http://www.candlestickinn.com/) I went to a conference in Branson a few weeks ago and was very pleasantly surprised by this restaurant. Excellent service, good food, good wine (I also had good company, which, of course, makes any experience better. Hope your inlaws qualify.)

        It's Yakov Smirnoff, by the way.

        Candlestick Inn Restaurant
        127 Taney St, Branson, MO 65616

        1. re: alan

          with 2 recs from chowhounders, I'll definately give it a shot. Anxious to hear if anyone knows of a good breakfast buffet...

      2. You know, Cantina Laredo serves brunch, although it isn't a buffet. The food I had there was outstanding.

        3 Replies
        1. re: jhojati

          I saw this place online...branson landing, right? Menu looks pretty good...

          1. re: GDPhalp

            Yes, right near the fountains/fire. You can actually see it from Candlestick Inn. The guacamole is very good (made tableside), as were the tacos and hot sauces. Definitely a nice surprise for the area.

            Candlestick Inn Restaurant
            127 Taney St, Branson, MO 65616

          2. re: jhojati

            I ate at Cantina Laredo with a few coworkers when I was in Branson for a conference a few years ago. I was unimpressed. Food was very blah except for their warm salsa, which I thought was awful. Most of my coworkers thought it was great, though, so YMMV.

            The restaurants on the Landing are all, or mostly, chains, IIRC. It's not an unpleasant atmosphere, but it's not a culinary destination. The Landing has a Bar Louie, which I've eaten at and liked more than Cantina Laredo.

          3. Get a designated driver, a big bottle of rum, a 2 liter of Coke(Diet?),and a bag of ice. Go anywhere they want and enjoy yourself.

            8 Replies
            1. re: powillie

              willie: in theory I'm with you, but that strategy depends on so many things out of the poster's control. I do like that we can make fun of ourselves (ok not Branson here, but may as well be)

              1. re: hill food

                Sounds to me, from the general conjecture, that I'm in big trouble when it comes to a good breakfast buffet - I have an eerie feeling that we will end up going to the one closest to the condo we're staying at & they'll have cold, congeeled scrambeled eggs, french toast stix & a old country music singer selling tapes...

                1. re: GDPhalp

                  Chateau on the Lake has a Sunday brunch - again, not sure if it is all you can eat/buffet style. I've stayed there and the food is average to above average. You might want to suggest that. It may be pricey, however.

                  1. re: jhojati

                    FWIW, on the same recent trip when I went to Candlestick, I stayed at the Chateau and had dinner there on Friday. Absolutely first-rate. I rarely enjoy hotel dining rooms, but this was a very pleasant surprise. So, I'd imagine they do a decent breakfast.

                2. re: hill food

                  This is not to make fun of anyone, this is a coping skill.

                  1. re: hill food

                    I am not making fun of anyone, this is a coping skill.

                    1. re: powillie

                      willie: believe me, I'm with you on this, I'll wake up for your type brunch anyday.

                3. I have never had a bad breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Just close your eyes and be lead through that atrocious gift shop (close them on the way out too.) and you can order a breakfast that is amazingly consistent throughout all their stores.

                  Cracker Barrel
                  120 Progress Point Ct, O Fallon, MO 63368

                  1. Yessiree, god help you. I went once with my mother in law on some cooked up 'family reunion' almost 10 years ago. I was stunned beyond my expectations. While I appreciated the fun she was having watching "shows" that I must admit, some were spectacular, the culinary experience in this place is considerably less than you would expect. And while I refuse to go to Vegas ( I abhor gambling and zombie folks that I saw in Monaco while growing up), I shudder that millions of people in this country consider these environs 'decent' entertainment. GOOD LUCK!

                    1. Just south of Branson right off the freeway is the College of the Ozarks, aka Hard Work U. The lodge at the entrance to campus is rustic and quite nice, and the food is excellent. Definitely save room for the desserts. Service by the mostly student staff is friendly and fun. Highly recommended for a local, nonchain experience.

                      1. Branson round-up:
                        In route from Kansas City to Branson stopped at Osceola cheese. Bought some terrific morel mushroom & leek jack & black pepper cheddar cheese. Both have great flavor - one subtle & one aggressive. Also bought some turkey sticks & sweet & spicy habanero pickles. These proved to be invaluble snacks during my stay.
                        Thursday lunch was a requisite stop at Lamberts Cafe in Ozark, MO. I had the chicken fried steak (topped with mashed potatoes & gravy) which came with green beans & cucumbers & onions. In addition to the meal, came the pass arounds (rolls, fried okra, fried potatoes & onions, macaroni & tomatos & black-eyed peas). The 16 oz chicken fried steak was perfectly cooked & seasoned, crispy & delicious. The mashed potatoes & gravy complimented the tender meat perfectly. The cucumbers more than served their purpose of cutting the richness of the meal - the vinegar & sugar in the salad was a much needed refuge from the very heavy meal. The green beans, though, were less than stellar. They suffered from a serious lack of seasoning (salt most notably). Usually country style green beans get plenty of salinity from a pork product, but there was none present. The pass arounds were a mixed bag - but overall served their purpose. The rolls were terrific. Warm, dense & buttery. Another big hit were the fried potatoes & onions. Cooked perfectly with crispy edged potatoes & soft sweet onions - these may very well have been the highlight of the meal. The fried okra was hot and crispy, but were also in desperate need of salt. Once added, these were painfully addictive. The black-eyed peas were also good. Slightly bitter & salty, they were a nice contrast to the rest of the meal. The last pass around, the macaroni & tomatos were pretty terrible. The macaroni was way overcooked & the stewed tomatos were too sweet to enjoy. Having finished our meal - we rolled ourselves out of the restaurant & into the car for the remaining miles to Branson.
                        Dinner thursday consisted of a quick stop to Danna's Barbeque & Burger Shop. There, I ordered the bbq beef nachos. These were just OK. My first experience with BBQ nachos was at Jim Neely's Interstate BBQ in Memphis. This awesome creation may have jaded me from every enjoying this dish elsewhere again. The nachos at Dannas consisted of tortilla chips covered with baked beans, beef, cheddar cheese, jalapenos & sour cream. The chips were standard fare, the beef was good, though NOT plentiful & the beans were unremarkable. The whole dish was covered in melted cheddar which in my opinion is not a great choice because it congeals so quickly. Within 5 minutes, the cheese had cooled & the dish was much more difficult to eat & was far less tasty. The homemade hot & mild bbq sauces that were made in house were very good. They reminded me very much of some sauces I have encountered in Memphis. The sauce was thin, but thick with flavor. I love memphis style sauce (although this region isn't known for it) because they provide a good balance of several styles of sauce. They are primarily tomato based, rich with spices, but they have a great counterpoint of both vinegar & sugar. This allows you to taste the rich, the tangy, the sweet & the heat all working together in harmony.
                        Fridays breakfast consisted of some bagels & fresh fruit purchased from the local "Jubilee" grocery store the night before. Needed to give the stomach a short hiatus after such a rich food day. Off we headed to Silver Dollar City in the pouring ozark rain. This place, although hokey & hillbilly-fied had some decent food finds. Some of the things I enjoyed were fresh pork rinds, hot roasted cinnamon glazed nuts & succotash (lima beans, corn, squash, zucchini & chicken all prepared in a 50 gallon skillet). All of these went down smoothly with several bottles of sarsparilla. Also pretty tasty were salt water taffy, maple pecan fudge & chocolate covered peanut brittle from the candy shop in the park. For lunch that day we settled on the fried chicken buffet from Molly's at the Mill in the park. We had considered bbq, as there was a bluegrass & bbq festival going on, but after the experience the evening before, we went another direction. In retrospect, we may have made a mistake...The buffet as a whole was pretty terrible. The fried chicken itself was the highlight. It was very well seasoned with a tender yet crispy skin. The pieces were small, but if given the choice between quality & quantity it's pretty obvious what I'd choose. The rest of the buffet was disgusting. Pot roast was nothing more than meat scraps with carrots - terribly overcooked & wallowing in their own juices, dirty tasting, limp fried catfish. Sad as it might be, these two mains were better than most of the sides. The mashed potatoes were gluey, corn tasted frost-bitten & the baked apples were mushy. To top off this wondeful meal was the worst berry cobbler I've ever eaten. Like lumpy, ultra sweet jelly topped with cardboard, this dessert was certainly the kicker. I'm sure WHATEVER they were serving for the bbq festival would have been a significant upgrade from this meal. Despite the meal, the weather cleared up & we had a pretty decent time as a family at the park.
                        Dinner friday evening found us at a chain called Montana Mike's. They dont have these in Kansas City, but apparently they are pretty prevalent. I had a grilled chicken salad that was as good as I could have expected. They had an excellent ranch dressing & the chicken on the salad was well seasoned & tender. I didn't expect anything mind blowing from lettuce & chicken, but it was more than servicable.
                        Saturday morning would bring the much anticipated breakfast buffet experience. After reading the local periodicals & seeing every breakfast buffet touting "best breakfast buffet in branson", I decided to call them all, see which one was most expensive & suggest that one. I was hoping that this would give me a better shot at getting decent food. This plan led me to the Grand Country buffet. I was hoping to find one over 10 bucks, but @ $7.49 - it was the best I could do. The buffet was unremarkable to say the least, but it retrospect I didn't really expect it to be good. They did offer a decent array of not quite ripe fruits (honeydew, cantelope, watermelon & pineapple) & a pretty large selection of stuff. Some of the thing I sampled other than the fruit were a malted waffle (soggy but ok), biscuit & sausage gravy (white gravy mix w/ ground sausage - not good), grits (hot, but BLAND), bacon (greasy, but crispy) & a sausage patty (prety good actually). Overall, I'm pretty sure there are worse in town. All of the buffets food was hot, which is an upgrade from most places & the other town folk & tourists seemed to be enjoying it.
                        Still slightly nauseous from breakfast, we didn't want to do anything too crazy for lunch. We went to some store ran out of a house on Fall Creek Rd. You can't miss it, it has a bunch of white yard signs outside adverstising their goods. I bought some fresh made salt & vinegar pork rinds, some boiled peanuts & a jar of hot garlic dill pickles. The pork rinds were excellent & a bargin at $2.49. The boiled peanuts were ok - great in texture, but they are much better with ALOT of seasoning (preferably cajun/crab boil). The pickles were TERRIBLE. Like sucking on a salt lick, the wife and I each ate one & trashed the rest. They were without a doubt completely inedible. My blood pressure rose 100 points from one bite. When I bought them, the man in the store spun some yard about how popular these pickles are with some couple who used to live there but moved to California. He said they spend about $1000 every christmas on them to give out to their neighbors. I am convinced that this couple buys them in an attempt to kill off his neighbors one by one so that he can buy up all the surrounding property. Somewhere in the mohave dessert there is a hole where lie a dozen salt-bloated corpses - preserved from the inside out. In general, I am a huge fan of artesanal products - homemade jams, jellies, jerkies, pickles, hot sauces etc. I like to support these places as often as I can. However, I'm just telling it like it is.
                        Saturday evenings meal was at Cantina Laredo in Branson Landing. I had 3 "Cinco-rita's", which as you may have guessed was a variation on their margarita. It was a blend of 5 premium tequilas (hence the cinco) with Cointreau, lemon & lime juice in a salt-rimmed glass. This was one of the better margaritas I've had. I really like that they didn't use any pre-made margarita mixes & they stuck to liquor & fresh ingredients. It really does make a difference. The meal itself was ok - nothing to write home about. We started with guacamole, made tableside that was certainly the best part of the meal. They mix sea salt with fresh lime juice as the base, then mix in onion, tomato, cilantro, jalapeno & avocado. The salt is really what makes this good. For my meal, I had tacos al carbon. Simply put, these were 3 flour tortillas with 5 strips of bland flank steak each inside, served with a small cup of queso. The accompanying queso had already developed a film over the top when it arrived to our table. It was cold and unappetizing. The flour tortillas were cool & dry & the meat was tough and stringy. The others at the table really enjoyed their meal choices though, ranging from the enchiladas de mole to the tacos de cascobel. I must say that all the other meals did LOOK considerably better than mine also. Oh well, sometimes when you go to the plate you swing and miss, but you've got to keep hacking.
                        Sunday morning was wrought with packing & snacking on all the goodies I'd acquired over the weekend. After heading out from our condo, the father in law convinced the rest of the car that we needed to have our last meal of the trip back at Lamberts. Too tired to protest, we went again & we waited an hour to be seated. I really do like Lamberts, but it is one of those places that I would be satisfied eating at once every year or two. This time I had fried catfish filets with turnip greens & potato salad. The pass arounds were exactly the same as the previous description. The catfish was excellent. Very clean & fresh tasting & not at all greasy. Some of the best I've had. The potato salad was good (though I must admit, I am spoiled by my mother in laws) & the turnip greens were terrific. Braised down with ham hock & accented by vinegar, these were a treat. The meal came with a square of very dense cornbread. The whole meal was very enjoyable & allowed me to sleep well the rest of the way home.
                        Thanks to everyone who provided input on my trip & I hope this review will prove to be helpful to those who need it in the future.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: GDPhalp

                          GDP - regarding the BBQ, MO is sorta schizo with the sauce and method (I know you said you've lived in KC for 29 yrs. but STL is very much like Memphis and KC leans towards TX. one would think that the Branson area would follow TX or KC in style, but maybe since the border is close, it's a more AR influence just far from the MS river (exceptions abound).

                          don't want to start a BBQ debate, plenty of those around, just sort of wondering aloud...there's no bad method, just bad grillers.

                        2. This is a good news/bad news kind of response. The good news is that there is an amazing breakfast buffet at Molly's Mill. It has been a year since we went so I can't remember the specifics, but all the food was great and didn't taste like cafeteria food. I think it was $11-$12. The bad news.....it is a restaurant inside Silver Dollar City and the only way to go is purchase a ticket to the park. If your plans take you to Silver Dollar City make sure you go there. You won't be sorry. Unfortunately if you aren't planning on SDC, there isn't any way to get to Molly's Mill!