Off Beat Travel: Columbia, Missouri

July 12th, 2011

Story and Photos by: Linda Kissam

I think some of the best travel experiences I’ve had has been to places that get little or no press.  I love small town America, and especially small college towns.  Whether it’s a deep rooted need to revisit my college years or the special memories that can only be found in small towns I am not sure; but I am VERY sure Columbia, Missouri is a special place that you shouldn’t miss.

Columbia, Missouri is located mid-way between Kansas City and St. Louis. For years its main claim to fame was as a college town, home to the University of Missouri’s main campus, as well as Columbia College and Stephens College. But for me, that’s just a starting place. Columbia is an awesome small city with a strong sense of self emphasizing arts, culinary choices,  outdoor activities and a high livability index. The downtown, particularly along funky tree-lined Ninth Street, has an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, and music venues that gives the area a notable progressive vibe. The arts scene seems to be centered around Walnut Street.  Both are worthy of your time and treasure.


Hanging out at Shakespeare’s Pizza (lunchtime slices $2) is a real treat.  Affordable, great service and big portions say it all.  A real slice of college memories under the quirky, but masterful direction of “Head Cheese”  Kurt Mirtsching  . Nearby, Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream on South 9th Street is a trendy ice cream parlor with a liquor license.   Let’s just say that whatever you can think of, they have…like MAPLE WAFFLE, the amazing SYCAMORE CARAMEL BANANA SORBET, or the very sassy BANANA SPLIT. A few blocks away don’t miss the eclectic Addison’s for lunch or dinner.  Trendy, urban, flavorful, and innovative comes to mind.  I loved the menu and the really cool art hanging on the wall had me when I walked in the door.  Triple Yum! For the vegetarian at heart, check out Main Squeeze Natural Foods Café also on South 9th. This is delicious fresh faire, sure to melt the heart of even the most dedicated flesh eaters amongst us. Great prices and a huge menu make selecting your lunch a win-win  experience.

Think outside the box for dinner – try grazing your way through the upscale dining area near 8th Street in the downtown area.  Start at the stylish Bleu Restaurant and Wine Bar for a signature cocktail and hors d’oeuvres.  These boys know what they’re doing.  Highly recommend the Cucumber Basil Cooler ($9) with the Pan Seared Coriander Scallops ($14)!  Move on about a block away to the Sycamore on East Broadway for your entrée. Treat yourself to the Grilled boneless Trout fillet from Troutdale ($21).  Chef Mike Odette uses local purveyors when possible, and his menu features produce, cheese, meat, and value-added products from Columbia and the surrounding area. Wrap up your evening at the Wine Cellar & Bistro about 3 blocks away on Cherry Street.  With over 1000 bottles of wine, local contemporary art and the most spectacular and thoughtful desserts I’ve seen in a long time, this is a place you’ll want to end your dining experience at.  Order the Chocolate Soufflé Cake ($6) and the  Camembert En Croute ($9) with a glass of  Ramos Pinot Porto 10yr Tawny Port ($10). Adult decadent deliciousness for sure.


Columbia attracts national music acts to affordable, cozy venues.  Interesting lineups can be found at The fun & quirky Ragtag Cinema & Uprise Cinema.  As Columbia’s premiere art house movie theatre the Ragtag exhibits independent, international and alternative documentaries with some avant garde films thrown in for good measure.  Grab yourself something to eat (full menu available to take inside the theatre), sit down, relax and enjoy the cool vibe of this thoughtful venue.  In this same genre, I know you’ll also enjoy Richard King’s Blue Note in the District.  He offers a variety of music acts so check out the schedule to see what tickles your fantasy.  And be sure to schedule your summer visit when the visionary 9th Street Street Summerfest  is being held outside near the Blue Note.  Think blues and BBQ on steroids.

For you artsy types, check out the trending North Village Arts District.  It’s a wow.  Lots of local, regional and national art to check out.  I took home several  jewelry pieces from the Perlow-Stevens Gallery, but you’re going to enjoy over 50+ artists working out of studios, two film companies, three major dance studios, an interior design company and a whole bunch more places where musicians , artists, and live performances share their extraordinary talents with you.  Personal pleasure time spent in a bohemian paradise.


Treat yourself to a nature stroll through the campus of the University of Missouri (established in 1856). Pick up a copy of Tree Trails, a guide featuring the gardens, sculpture  and horticultural diversity found on campus. It’s an easy walk and a good way to get immerse yourself in picturesque Midwest campus.

For my wine lovers, find your way to Les Bourgeois Winery and Vineyards, near Rocheport. Expect to find good wines for both the beginner and advance palate. Daily tasting and tours open to the public. Besides a winery there is also an outstanding restaurant, the Bistro. The bluff top setting offers spectacular views of the Missouri River Valley. Under the direction of Chef Aaron Wells-Morgan delve into a full menu of regional fare for lunch and dinner, including signature house-smoked meats, fresh seafood, pasta, and produce from their own garden. There are daily specials and a Sunday brunch. Try the BLT Lettuce Wraps ($11) and the Local “Magherita” Pizza ($9) with a bottle of the 2008 Premium Norton ($28).


There are a number of places to stay – from the corporate biggies, to the mom and pop B & B’s.  I favor the B & B’s, and in particular Yates House Bed & Breakfast. Located near the charming town of Rocheport and the Katy Trail, this special property specializes in mid-western hospitality offering six large luxe guestrooms in two adjacent houses.  Not overly frilly, it’s perfect for a romantic getaway, retreat, or plain ‘ol rest.  Yates House features seasonal and locally grown produce, eggs, cheese, meats, and herbs from their gardens incorporated into creatively new and traditional breakfast dishes.  Vegetarians and special diet requirements happily served. Rates run seasonally but, expect $150 – $300.  depending on day and choice of room.  Worth every penny.  Be sure to pick up a copy of co-owner Dixie Yates fab cook book Dixie’s Kitchen. This is a can’t miss property located on a serene tree-lined street.  A true “ahhhh” experience.

One more thing …come home with a Show-Me specialty. Show-Me Bar-B-Q is a smoky, sweet-sour barbecue sauce produced by a local character with a passion for his craft. Harry H. Berrier, DVM.  Rumor has it he manufactures it in his basement in Columbia.  It’s mouthwatering, all natural with no extenders and, interestingly, doesn’t need refrigeration.

For help in planning this off-beat trip, check out Visit Columbia!


Cucumber Basil Cooler | Bleu Restaurant (Photo courtesy of Maralyn D. Hill)

RECIPE: Cucumber Basil Cooler Compliments of Bleu Restaurant and Wine Bar

In a mixing glass  muddle:
1 cucumber slice, 1 or 2 leaves fresh basil, 1 oz. sour mix
1 ½ oz. Hendrix Gin and top with ice.
Give above a quick shake to mix ingredients.
Strain into Double Old-Fashioned glass with ice.
Top with Riesling and garnish with cucumber slice

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