The Bistro: A New Culinary Experience

  • "The Bistro: A New Culinary Experience" originally appeared in the April 2024 "20 Under 40" issue of COMO Magazine.
The Bistro's Watermelon Salad

The blufftop winery restaurant integral to mid-MO’s dining scene.

Small towns are sometimes misunderstood. But a town can be just as vibrant as a big city if you know where to look. Instead of strolling down the block to the hottest new spot, drive down a beautiful, sun-soaked back road to The Bistro, just ten miles west of Columbia off Route BB. This captivating destination of a restaurant, owned and operated by Rachel Holman, is an essential part of mid-Missouri’s charm and allure.  

The Backstory  

The Bistro is an extension of The Blufftop at Rocheport, providing a whole new experience for locals and travelers alike. A late 1990s building, the space was designed by the original Bourgeois family. It was built completely out of a timber-wood frame, standing free of any screws or nails. The concept originated out of a desire to showcase the quality of the Blufftop’s various wines next to higher-end bites. There was an imminent craving to provide an elevated experience for guests.

“We found that people really loved coming out here,” Rachel says. “Some kind of stumble across our property. But it’s intentional when folks come here. They come to celebrate all the moments in life. And we provide a space for them to come and do that.” 

The Bourgeois name is kept close to the heart of the menu. Through various chefs, the options have always been French- and Cajun-inspired, pulling from the tradition and heritage of the founding family.  

Holman has spent much time building and creating The Bistro from a brand context. After graduating from the University of Missouri, she had a short stint in the corporate finance world. It wasn’t long, though, before she found herself finding her passion in The Blufftop. After Holman worked in the private events department as well as standing as the marketing director, the previous owner, Curtis Bourgeois named her CEO. Not long after, the business was passed on to her, ensuring it remained employee owned.  

Over the last year, Holman along with her talented family-like crew has been in the process of a rebranding for the infamous restaurant. Not to worry — the French renditions are here to stay. The real addition is simply an emphasis and spotlight on the elevation that inspired it all. The team is set on creating a memorable and special experience for all guests, from the first bite to the uniquely indulgent dessert and beyond.  

The space is curated to whatever experience is desired. The four-course prix fixe meals presented to the evening’s booked space have their own special touch. Much the same, the in-house lounge’s small plates and shareables make for a tasty memory.  

The Visionaries  

The Bistro is known for these grand experiences, and of course, the pairings that started it all. And what’s a better pairing than local ingredients (farms such as Booneslick Heritage Farm, Happy Hollow Farms, Hemme Brothers Creamery, Strope Farms, Sullivan Farms, and The Veggie Patch) and chef innovation? Creativity simmers behind the counters just as elegantly as the dishes themselves. 

It is almost effortless how the crew works together. Just as butter, smooth and luscious, melts steadily on a warm pan, it comes easy. Talent and connection are to thank.  

Since spring of 2023, The Bistro has brought on two new lead chefs. John and Emilee Klingele are a husband and wife-team.  

John Klingele is the executive chef. As a self-taught chef, he has taken every chance to get in the kitchen throughout his career, learning under various mentors. 

“Food has always been one of the most grounding parts of my life,” he notes. “I’ve always said — whether it be cooks, servers, or just people I’m talking to — food is the one thing that every single person has to incorporate into their daily lives. The Culinary Institute of America uses a saying in their inaugural address, ‘Food is life. Create and savor yours.’ That’s a quote I live by. Every plate I send out has the potential to change someone’s day.” 

His focus is on the savory side of menu development at The Bistro.  

Emilee Klingele is chef de cuisine. Working at a handful of restaurants, pursuing a culinary degree in Chicago, and teaching how to cook at a children’s school, Emilee is well-versed in the food scene. She blends more toward the pastry, bread, and dessert menus — a once-hobby of hers that has taken off into a prominent passion.

The two — along with their sous chef and long-time friend, John Marino — collaborate to craft the seasonal menus. Along with curating the menus, the couple also share the responsibility of running the restaurant.  

The Taste  

The Bistro is quite the restaurant to operate. The upscale dinner service operates Thursday through Saturday evenings. Options range from a classic prime rib to a buckwheat bowl packed with veggies, coconut cream, and black garlic. And with menu items — each exceptionally succulent and bursting with unique flavor profiles — being swapped out nearly weekly, The Bistro is an impressive feat.  

In addition to dinner, The Bistro has opened a lounge with a comfortable, stylish seating area. The classy atmosphere is accompanied by small bites and appetizers. The Truffalo Wings is a current favorite — a twice-fried chicken wing tossed with a robust house truffle buffalo sauce, complete with gorgonzola. But there are many other tastes on the full-flavor menu such as charcuterie, fries, house-made bread, and even steak tartare. The lounge is a prime opportunity to catch up, clink glasses, and entertain the taste buds. 

Brunch, a universal favorite, is now offered on Sunday. Entrees are heavily Cajun influenced with a little midwestern flare. Shrimp and grits with goat cheese, drizzled with hot habanero honey is a current flavorful feature. The Barbeque Benedict is another unique dish, with everything loved about eggs benedict elevated with crispy pork shoulder rillons.  

“We had a wedding last year, and the bride specifically requested a flourless chocolate cake with ganache, and I happily obliged,” Emilee says. “And after they got married and tried the cake, they pulled me downstairs so that she could tell me how much it reminded her of her family’s cake that she was obsessed with. That to me is worth it all. When you can make something that is so close to someone’s heart, it really resonates with you. And you’ll never forget about those experiences.”

John Klingele adds, “It’s having that world where, yes, you have the roasted meatloaf with mashed potatoes and sauteed green beans. But it’s also how we will elevate this to a level that is still familiar, but it’s not just meatloaf.”

Not only is the sense of taste indulged, but the atmosphere is a sight. Emilee even claims one of the reasons she came to The Bistro was the view, overlooking the Missouri River. Windows line the wall, allowing a nature-immersed dinner in the comfort of four beautifully adorned wooden walls. The light shines in over the rolling hills and glistening water.  

Only a 15-minute drive from Columbia, The Bistro proves how much community and energy can be brought to small towns for a special place. It brings guests together, no matter what meal of the day. It unites chefs for inventive, flowing collaboration. It pairs unlikely flavors, allowing the palette to experience new and exciting tastes. The Bistro is where nostalgia meets fine dining. 

“We still want people to know that while it’s the same beautiful building and the same wonderful family, it’s a different restaurant. It’s evolved,” John Klingele adds. “We just want the people, specifically people in Missouri, to step outside their comfort zones. That’s something that we’re very passionate about when it comes to food.”  

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