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Dining Beyond Columbia

Dining Beyond Columbia

  • "Dining Beyond Columbia" originally appeared in the May 2024 "Weekender" issue of COMO Magazine.
Dining Beyond Columbia

Discovering good eats outside the city limits.

Columbia is well-known for its diverse list of high-quality dining establishments — so much so that at times it can be difficult to choose. But let’s pretend for a moment that you’ve got an itch to get out and dare to try something new — embarking on a culinary journey beyond the city limits. 

The weekend is here, and the weather is just right for a quick out-of-town adventure to one of the charming, small towns that sprinkle the mid-Missouri landscape, many of which are home to some of the finest out-of-the-way eateries.

There is a running theme in these destination restaurants — not only do they oftentimes put their hometown on the map, but also employ a staunch commitment to outstanding food and superior service. Be adventurous. Within a one-hundred-mile radius and less than two-hour drive lies your next favorite meal. 

511 Court Street, Fulton | 573-592-7117 

When Garry and Rebekah Vaught decided to purchase one of the historic buildings in downtown Fulton’s Brick District in 2003, their original intention was not to open a restaurant, but instead a coffee and wine bar.  

Nearly twenty years later, Beks is a full-service restaurant well-loved by locals and visitors alike as Fulton’s go-to for an elevated yet casual dining experience. 

“Beks has evolved over the years to become what it is today. While it isn’t exactly what we were planning then, we wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Vaught. 

Exposed brick walls, crown moldings, tin ceilings, and 120-year-old original wood floors lend to the casual yet inviting ambiance of this unassuming eatery. The tall bar is lined with wooden chairs, often occupied by regulars who float in and out throughout the day. 

“I do believe the building lends to the success of the business,” Vaught says, “just because it’s so neat to have a structure that has been around for more than a hundred years in the historic downtown area that gives a feeling of our history.” 

The regular menus feature core favorites including the Parmesan artichoke dip served with toasted pita, sandwiches like the chipotle chicken sandwich and Beks burger, as well as entrees including seared salmon topped with miso butter. 

For lunch and dinner, rotating, seasonal specialties are created daily by Chef Danny, each flavor-forward entree highlighting locally sourced ingredients and seldom (if ever) repeated. Diners will find dishes studded with seafood, wild game, and locally raised Show Me Farms beef complimented by inventive sides and sauces. 

“Danny started as an intern. He is a self-trained chef who displayed a creative ability early on that we really leaned into. He draws inspiration from what is in season and what we can get locally and creates these one-of-a-kind dishes that customers keep coming back for,” says Vaught.  

For example, the barramundi with green pepper slaw, corn relish, spicy avocado Verde, and tortilla strips made its debut alongside an Asian surf and turf — garlic soy flank steak and tempura shrimp served on a bed of ginger rice topped with avocado, cucumber and kewpie mayo.  

Desserts are made in-house from scratch and range from cheesecake to Crème brûlée to the touted carrot cake – a secret family recipe. 

Beks offers a diverse and carefully curated wine menu featuring a selection of white, red and sparkling wines by the glass and by the bottle.  

The restaurant has become a cornerstone for the local community and the Brick District, partnering with businesses and area organizations for special events and serving as home base for the annual Morels and Microbrews festival held the first Saturday in May. 

Distance: ~25 miles | Time: ~20 minutes

Emmet’s Kitchen & Tap

111 N. Main St., Fayette | 660-248-3363

Located on the town square just across from the picturesque Howard County Courthouse (which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places) and housed in a late-1800s storefront that was once a soda fountain, Emmet’s Kitchen & Tap is the “Cheers of Fayette” according to manager Brandy Asbury. 

“It’s not unusual for us to already know what our customers are drinking before they sit down. We remember the orders, the faces, the families — the personal touch is really a big thing for us. We want you to come in and feel like this is your spot,” shares Asbury. 

Employed at Emmet’s since 2004, Asbury and long-time chef Matt Buckman are in the process of becoming the co-owners of the restaurant which has been a fixture in Fayette since 2003. 

Founder Rob Schluckebier, who died in 2020, named Emmet’s in honor of his grandfather, of whom black and white photos hang in the bar and dining area. Schluckebier created the menu, inspired by his training in New Orleans, that ranges from po’boys and gumbo to pastas and shrimp, many of which boast a Cajun flair. 

Asbury says the Bayou Shrimp is a crowd favorite featuring hand-breaded shrimp tossed in a light flour and Emmett’s “The Spice” secret blend, flash fried and served with the house-made honey jalapeno dipping sauce, which she adds, “can be put on nearly everything.” 

“And everyone loves the Big Easy Pasta — it’s creamy and spicy and, of course, there’s the gumbo,” which she says is her go-to comfort food. 

Chef Matt Buckman started as a dishwasher at age 19 and was eventually trained by Schluckebier to become the chef. Every other weekend Emmet’s offers a special “Matthew’s Table” menu featuring a unique dish created by Chef Matt. 

“It allows Matt to be a little creative and play with some different flavors,” Asbury says. “And it gives people who eat here often something different to try.” 

“When he puts together dishes it is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen — his artistic creative process is amazing to watch. I don’t think the ingredients will go together and then I take a bite and I’m like oh wow. He really is a genius.” 

The Pear Tree Kitchen & Bar

1407 N. Missouri St., Macon | 660-415-7316 

Michael Abadessa says The Pear Tree Kitchen & Bar draws customers daily from near and far and in all directions from its location in Macon. 

“Our customers make the journey from Quincy, the outskirts of Kansas City, Jefferson City, Columbia, Iowa — for special occasions or when they are passing through. Many of them are third-generation fans of the restaurant.” 

With a long history of great food and top-notch service, today’s version of The Pear Tree is a happy marriage of two well-loved establishments. The original Pear Tree opened by Albert Abadessa in 1986 which put Bevier, Missouri on the map, and its counterpart, AJ’s Eat and Drink, opened in 2011 in Macon with Albert’s son, Michael. 

“When my father came from New York, he had visions of a supper club, so that is what he created at our Bevier location, including tableside cart service of his made-from-scratch high-quality dishes and desserts, but in a comfortable environment.” 

Currently, The Pear Tree Kitchen & Tap menu offers many of the beloved favorites from the former restaurant, which came to a tragic end in 2012 due to a fire, including the renowned batter-dipped lobster and hand-breaded onion rings. The locally manufactured dressings, gourmet garlic croutons, and secret recipe Magic Dust seasoning are available for purchase. 

“We strive to only use the best ingredients. Our Black Angus beef comes from Creekstone Farms in Kansas and is aged our way, longer than most — eighty-plus days. The lobster is sourced from Nova Scotia, South Africa, and Australia — nearly 5,000 pounds per year,” Abadessa adds.  

A surprising find on the dessert menu alongside the cheesecake and gooey butter cake is the “famous” wedding cake — a large slice of three-layer white cake served with homemade ice cream. 

“I was challenged by a friend to put wedding cake on the menu, so I did, and it sold out in an hour. I made two the next day and they sold out, and it became a thing,” laughs Abadessa. “We go through approximately twenty-five cakes per week.” 

Guests are attentively taken care of by a choreographed core team of long-term employees in what Al Abadessa called “swarm service.” Server Angela Bailey has been employed by the Abadessa family for twenty-plus years, sous chef Ron Russian for nineteen years, and Chef Brenda Nanneman for almost thirty years. 

Bar favorites are also available on the menu including the ground prime beef smash burgers, batter-dipped pork tenderloin, and Cajun chicken sandwiches. The crab rangoon is a crowd favorite served with a duo of dipping sauces.  

Distance: ~60 | Times: ~60 minutes

Sybill’s Restaurant and Gift Shop 

1100 N. Jefferson St., St. James | 573-265-4244 

Namesake of the restaurant, Sybill Light is a third-generation restaurateur who swore she would never be in the business but inevitably followed in the footsteps of her grandparents, Loretta and Zeno Scheffer, and her parents, Tom and Janet Scheffer. 

“Somehow it just gets in your blood,” says Light. 

Loretta and Zeno founded Zeno’s in 1959, a popular steakhouse and motel in Rolla. The restaurant thrived for twenty years, when they passed the restaurant to Tom and Janet in 1979, the year Sybill was born. 

“Dad was the chef and ran the back of the house, and Mom ran the front of the house. We lived right behind Zeno’s in a little house, so I was literally born and raised in the restaurant,” she laughs. 

After twenty-five successful years, Tom and Janet failed in their retirement effort, purchasing a 100-year-old farmhouse in St. James in 2003 with plans to convert it to an antique and gift store. With encouragement from customers and the community, they were soon joined by their daughter in the business and subsequently built on and opened a restaurant in 2006. 

Inspiration for the menu at Sybill’s came partially from Zeno’s classic menu of hand-cut steaks and fresh seafood, with the addition of some exciting new ideas.  

“When the kitchen was first up and running, Dad would put dishes together and I would write down what he was doing and that’s where many of the recipes came from,” says Light. 

Sybill’s has a daily lunch and dinner menu featuring a delicious selection of appetizers, entrees, and desserts unlike anything else that can be found in St. James. Rotating seasonal specials are available, allowing the crew to show their creative side. 

“When we first came up with the maple Dijon scallops, we didn’t know how well it would go over in the middle of a pretty small town. We weren’t sure anyone would go for scallops, but it is one of the items that everyone must have,” laughs Light. 

She says the surf and turf pasta — seafood ravioli with beef tenderloin tips topped with blue cheese crumbles, bacon, and green onions is “to die for” as well as Zeno’s Pride — a twenty-ounce prime beef with steak butter and au jus which can be topped with stuffed shrimp or lobster tail. 

Light advises visitors to save room, as the dessert menu is studded with a variety of scratch-made cakes, pies, and cobblers. 

“Aunt Kara’s carrot cake is actually made by my Aunt Kara who has been our baker for years,” says Light. “The homemade blackberry cobbler is made by Cindy Goodin, who has been with us since we opened 18 years ago. We often hear customers comment that it is the best they’ve ever had.”  

Light says Sybill’s not only serves great food but works hard to offer a high level of customer service as well. 

“It is a dying art wherever you go — we really focus on making people feel special. We are a destination and our customers come to celebrate the best moments of their lives. We want to match that energy. There are lots of places that do great food but combined with great service and consistency — that is what sets us apart.” 

Distance: ~92 miles | Times: ~95 minutes
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