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Behind the Green Curtain: Italian Eatery Opens in Old Jail 

Behind the Green Curtain: Italian Eatery Opens in Old Jail 

  • Photos by Keith Borgmeyer
  • "Behind the Green Curtain" originally appeared in the July 2024 "City" issue of COMO Magazine.
Endwell Taverna a look into the kitchen
Endwell Taverna exterior looking up at the sign
Endwell Taverna Chef Ted Cianciosi
Endwell Taverna - Brian Maness
Endwell Taverna Behind The Bar +10
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Endwell Taverna exterior looking up at the sign

An adventure into the center of Endwell Taverna.

Pizza lives in the midst of Columbia, a Midwest city that at times is a twister practically spinning with reputable names locals and college students alike know and frequent. But there is a low wail in the wind, up on Ninth Street. Bright sunshine comes in the windows, flooding the room that was once Columbia’s first city hall, a city firehouse, and even a jailhouse at one point. 

With bars still on select windows, Endwell Taverna (107 N. Ninth St.), an Italian eatery with pizza at the heart, stands for something much larger than a restaurant. It is a rolling take on how — with a little heart, mind, and courage — the color and flair of a dish comes from within. And of course, most importantly, there’s no place like home. 

(It Feels Like) We’re Not in Missouri Anymore 

Born in Syracuse, New York, and raised in Columbia, Missouri, Ted Cianciosi started in the food industry as a dishwasher at 16 years old. Afterwards, he explored a few other avenues including AmeriCorps and farm work but found his way back to a restaurant each time. He found the restaurant industry fascinating and had no idea what he was about to stumble upon. 

“One night, the pizza chef didn’t show up to work because he was out ghost hunting,” Cianciosi says. “And so Brian Maness was looking around and asked, ‘Does anyone here know how to make pizza?’ I had grown up making pizza with my dad, so I hopped over. It was a busy Friday night and we crushed it. Then he said, ‘You’re the pizza guy now.’” 

A year after his career jump, Cianciosi moved with his brother, also a chef, to Brooklyn, New York. Deciding to take restaurants seriously, he spent twelve years there. He found himself at plenty of mom-and-pop shops and a few Manhattan-based Italian fine-dining restaurants. Cianciosi also explored a stint consulting nationally on pizza places — training, assisting with an opening, and developing menus. 

But after COVID, he found himself missing his mid-Missouri home. Between being suddenly struck with homesickness and late-night calls with Maness discussing the dreams of an establishment, Cianciosi decided to move back to Columbia. Within the last twelve months of moving back, the two have been working on every munchkin of detail to turn the restaurant of their imagination into a reality. 

Beginning as a dishwasher at age 14, Maness has worked his whole life in kitchens. Learning lessons through each job and following his path from the Ozarks to Columbia, Maness opened a food truck in 2013. After eight years of operating Ozark Mountain Biscuits, the food truck found itself with a comrade — Ozark Biscuit & Bar. 

“I’ve had success opening Ozark Biscuit & Bar,” Maness says. “And I’ve learned all the processes it takes to be successful — working through issues, paying dues, seeing how a food truck works in this town, and going on the road doing mobile collaborations all around the country.” 

That experience taught him a lot about “what works and what doesn’t cut it.” 

“That is what led me to want to open another restaurant. I didn’t necessarily think I wanted to be the backbone of a new institution because our focus [at Ozark Biscuit] is my family history with food, connection, and sourcing locally,” Maness adds. “That is my story, but, you know, I have a passion for a lot of different culinary traditions” 

Maness pulls most of his inspiration from home, his grandmother’s dining table spreads, and family gatherings. With little money to splurge, every bit had its importance. He recalls always picking strawberries in the spring to freeze a bulk. Those garden-picked, frozen strawberries tasted the sweetest around Christmas when his family enjoyed them as a holiday treat. The importance of memories is beyond indulgent, and that sense of nostalgia was a building block to Endwell Taverna. 

“Memories are special. Trying to put that feeling into the food you make at any restaurant is important,” Maness explains. “With the partnership with Ted Cianciosi, we must focus on his family tradition. Let that passion shine.” 

Yellow Brick Road 

Heritage and appetite for the industry paved the way for the restaurant. As Cianciosi says, “I mean, obviously there’s no shortage of pizza in Columbia. There is a shortage of Italian food in general. Especially Italian food that truly celebrates the ingredients; that’s what Italian food really is. Italian food is very, very, very simple. And it’s where you want to get out of the way and let the parmesan, let the simplicity, be the star. And I think that Columbia — especially with the local farming scene here — creates a good environment for this kind of cuisine.” 

This quality of ingredients alludes to the slow food movement that originated in Italy during the late 1980s. Carlo Petrini acted on a firm belief that “fast life” disrupted habits and caused a need for fast food. Instead, the slow food movement encouraged taking things slow, quality over quantity, and fresh, local ingredients. 

Another memory of home comes from Cianciosi’s own family. 

“Endwell is named after this township where my father was raised. There’s lots of Cianciosi family,” he notes. “I grew up eating not only my Nonna’s cooking but also my dad’s cooking.” 

Although the memories are fond, the cooking was all made with canned and boxed goods. The thought couldn’t help but wander around his mind what would happen if the recipes were made with fresh produce. After testing out that notion, the elevated family recipes formed the structure of a menu at the Taverna. 

“We’re learning to go back to our roots with this entire menu,” says Maness. 

As well as a collection from his family, Ted Cianciosi is also making sure to have a collection of his “biggest hits” from his time in New York. Within this forest of recipe creation, Endwell Taverna will embrace the ability to switch to new staple menu items each season. 

With passion and spirit on their side, Cianciosi and Maness have also begun a hospitality group. Limestone Hospitality has a goal to foster new entrepreneurial restaurants. 

“We really want to help chefs who are particularly talented, but don’t necessarily have the business acumen under their belt,” Maness explains. “So, utilizing those things I’ve been through, teaching, and helping them put their vision into a restaurant setting.” 

Emerald City 

Pizza is powerful at Endwell. It is a sourdough made with five different types of flour — three of which are locally sourced, one from Italy, and the other is a hybrid. The dough ferments for forty-eight to seventy-two hours to shape an incredibly light, flavorful, and crispy crust. There are about eight to ten signature pies, but the crew also encourages choosing your own adventure. 

“But one non-pizza pizza thing that’s a menu item,” Cianciosi says, “is from upstate New York called spiedies. Basically, it’s the Italian version of barbeque. It’s marinated — traditionally lamb, chicken, or pork — in essentially a souped-up Italian dressing overnight. Then they’re cooked over a charcoal grill.” 

While growing up in Syracuse, he’d visit Binghamton and fall asleep to the smell of Lupo’s Char-Pit as it wafted in through his window. Endwell would not be its proper namesake without that bite. 

The wine program will also have a plethora of Italian wines to top off the experience of the meal. And the bar design itself is heavily intentional — a common theme throughout the whole institution. With blues and greens and bold trim, it has a beautiful Turkish skip to it. 

“It is an elegantly put together room. The focus is on the people in the room and the food in front of you,” Cianciosi says. 

At Endwell Taverna, among the crafted dining tables and the historically preserved building, there are myriad experiences awaiting. A quick lunch between laughs with colleagues or a night out with a lovely sit-down, slow-food experience. 

“And we’re not pushing people out the door,” Cianciosi says. “We want people to stay as long as they want. We built this for you.” 

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