For this off-the-menu meal, Broadway Brewery in Columbia served the Wagyu Beef Sampler, which featured beef tongue chili, a tenderloin atop parsnip puree, and beef heart.
By Evan Wood
An Off-the-Menu Feast
Imagine going into your favorite restaurant and saying: “Surprise me. Bring me something that isn’t on the menu. Better yet, have the chef cook up her favorite food.”
If you’re going to order that way, why not have a whole feast? Throw in wine, beer, or cocktail pairings, invite friends, and make it a night. If you enjoy eating, have an open mind, and have a restaurant you love, ask the chef if he or she would create an off-the-menu feast for you and some friends.
Sometimes known as a chef’s table, these meals can typically be arranged for six to eight people to indulge in five to seven courses—each with drink pairings—at one to two hundred dollars per person. This experience is more than just a meal; you’re attending a full-fledged event, a dinner party of sorts.
But why arrange a dinner like this?
Consider this: If you go out to an average steakhouse and order an entirely forgettable dinner for two, you’re probably going to wind up with a sixty-dollar check and a dinner that lasts forty-five minutes. You’ll order drinks, your food will arrive, and after your main dishes are taken from the table, you’ll peruse the dessert menu and decide to order nothing. You’ve probably had a hundred such dinners in your lifetime.
Meanwhile, you could be dining on creative, enjoyable, and entirely original food at a restaurant that you love. Granted, not every restaurant is ready and willing to prepare such a feast. But for the same reason patrons commission their favorite artists to create original pieces, you should feel inclined to see what your favorite kitchen is capable of.
A chef’s table is a throwing down of the gauntlet. It’s going in to a restaurant and saying: “I’ve enjoyed this place every time. I’ve been impressed every time, and now, for a little extra cash, I want to be blown away.”
If you have an open mind, you probably will be.
Although an uncommon dish, beef heart is delicious and high in iron.
Using the Whole Cow
Choosing the right place is a complicated science.
If you’re going to indulge in extravagance, find a restaurant that can handle it. However, even the most ostentatious restaurants—if they’re willing—are going to charge a handsome price, so find a middle ground.
For me, the right restaurant for this experience was Broadway Brewery, an unpretentious brewpub in Columbia.
What I like about Broadway Brewery is that I’ve never been disappointed there. The simple yet creative menu, which features standards like pulled
pork sandwiches and cheeseburgers and less common fare, such as rabbit with dumplings, is a plus. And omitting the fact that Broadway brews its own very good beer, the restaurant’s focus on local and readily available ingredients is another big appeal.
“In the last ten years, I’ve pretty much based my reputation on doing that,” says Chef Rob Uyemura, speaking of sourcing locally.
In his previous position as a chef at YaYa’s Euro Bistro in Chesterfield, Rob turned a kitchen that was using very few local ingredients into one that did most of its sourcing locally.
“We started moving the local products in and getting to know the farmers,” he says. “It was an educational process for everyone that worked there—learning where stuff came from.”
Rob’s farm-to-table methodology also keeps menus seasonal and ingredients fresh; it brings a sense of place to every meal. As the executive chef at Broadway Brewery, Rob fits right in; his philosophy meshes well with Broadway’s stated mission of celebrating local farmers and foods. In fact, Rob met Co-owner Walker Claridge at a farmers’ market.
Today, much of the protein comes from area farms, and a chunk of produce is right from Walker’s farm. And that regional food focus is great for a dinner like this because quality is of the utmost importance, and there is no substitute for fresh ingredients. It also facilitates creativity.
Broadway Brewery’s deep reserve of distinct ingredients is a result of the way the restaurant
sources and uses ingredients.
“We buy whole animals,” Rob says. “We get a whole Wagyu steer every three weeks.”
The meat from the Wagyu steer—a breed of cattle known for high quality meat—is used for burgers and steaks, but the menu uses as many cuts as possible, making it cost-effective to buy the entire animal.
“If we were to buy individual cuts instead, it would be too expensive for us to use here,” Rob says. And the same goes for the pork.
Some patrons might only be interested in the standard cuts, and for those folks, there will always be a sirloin, a strip, or just a classic burger. But Broadway’s use of whole animals has found a home with curious and creative connoisseurs.
“We’ve done shredded tongue tacos,” says Walker. “People cannot believe how good the flavor of the tongue is.”
If you’re intrigued by unfamiliar and unexpected foods, a chef’s table dinner provides the perfect opportunity to test your limits.
Broadway Brewery’s sourcing methods also provide a basis for a trusting relationship between the kitchen and the patrons, and that’s the type of restaurant that you want. You wouldn’t want to try an unusual cut of meat for the first time at a restaurant you don’t trust. Here, you know that the meat is fresh and high quality. You can drive out to the farm and see for yourself.
As a restaurant, Broadway Brewery exists squarely between the humble cafés and burger joints, which simply wouldn’t have the culinary know-how to plan an extravagant menu, and the highest of high-end restaurants, which might be reluctant to deviate from their fixed menus, and right in the center of its own culinary landscape—the Midwest. I knew that Broadway had the chops, enthusiasm, and ingredients to prepare a creative, scrumptious meal, so a table for eight was reserved, and a date was set.
Each dish had a beer pairing, from the porter to a blonde ale to black IPA.
Eating Beef Heart with a Drone Pilot
When Paul Jackson mentions that he’s been flying drones during the past few months, an ominous picture starts to form in my mind.
What he’s really talking about is more akin to flying a toy helicopter—if a toy helicopter could travel at around fifty feet a second and take gorgeous photos with a built-in fourteen megapixel camera.
Columbia artist and public figure Paul, along with his wife, Marla, and members of the Missouri Life editorial staff, are guests at this chef’s table dinner, and I feel lucky to have him there. If you don’t know Paul, Google “Paul Jackson State Quarter” or “Paul Jackson Tiger Spot.”
Aside from Paul’s notability, his engaging personality makes for excellent company. Before the first course begins, Paul is the center of attention, while the rest of us are eating fresh heirloom popcorn from Rob’s garden topped with smoked sea salt and drinking Broadway’s Blonde on Blonde ales.
Paul is telling us about crashing his DJI Phantom Vision into a chain link fence when the first
course arrives: Missouri trout three ways. That’s fried trout, grilled trout, and trout bacon, plus some local spicy greens and goat cheese. The grilled trout is the standout, but surely the trout bacon is the most inventive. Walker explains the “bacon” is made with trout bellies, which are often discarded. Broadway Brewery’s creativity is on display already, and it’s a savory treat.
Paul and Marla even comment that the trout bacon is better than some real bacon that they just bought at the grocery store.
The next course is grilled rabbit loin on a skewer, which is succulent and juicy, served on top
of cheddar grits with barbecue sauce and pickled squash. The creaminess of the grits blankets the tang of the squash. The beer pairing, Broadway’s APA, compliments and cuts through the dish with its clean citrus hops.
We’re all trading reactions to the food, the beer, and the service. It’s never a bad idea to invite an eccentric artist to dinner, but even if you do a chef’s table with a few family members, the mood tends to be conversational; it comes with the territory. You feel compelled to think about what’s on the table and to really engage with it.
To provide the greater context of the meal, Walker comes to the table to talk about each course and the sources of ingredients. His exactness in naming the farms and farmers that the food came from is impressive and the sign of a good chef’s table.
The third course is my personal favorite: a bison potato dumpling in an Ozark mushroom broth, topped with a long strip of curvy pretzel toast. A pinch of the tangy mustard and some bison summer sausage sits on top of the toast. As presentation goes, this dish struts without going over the top, and the crisp taste and texture of the pretzel adds flair to the hearty dumpling. A black IPA—dark as night but somewhat refreshing and light—makes for a quality pairing.
The main course is a Wagyu beef sampler. Wagyu is extremely marbled, and you might
recognize it as the type of cow used for Kobe beef. Like genuine Champagne must be produced in France, genuine Kobe must be produced in the Kobe region of Japan, so your chances of eating authentic Japanese Kobe in America are slim to none. However, Wagyu is also the breed used for the not-to-be-scoffed-at American Kobe.
This sampler puts the absurdly high quality on display. In the center, a piece of seared loin, rare in the middle and chocolate brown on the outside, sits atop of parsnip purée. To the left, braised beef tongue chili stands alone, and to the right, rare beef heart is paired with baby beet greens. As the dishes are ushered out and set down, it becomes clear that the bar has been raised.
The loin is soft and tender but cannot compare to the melt-in-your mouth texture of the tongue in the rich, flavorful chili. The heart, I admit, I’m afraid to try. Despite many good experiences here, I’m nervously coaxing my fork along. I swallow some of the porter paired with this course; its richness compliments the dish, and its chocolate notes dance lightly on an intense medley of flavors.
I move along to the heart and take a bite. The flavor is irony but subtle, and it’s the most tender texture you can imagine. Before I know it, there’s nothing left on my plate, or in my glass.
Dessert, a light apple-blueberry cobbler, topped with ice cream and paired with barley wine, is an all-around sweet cap to the evening.
As we depart, the restaurant is still humming with other patrons. We walk across the street to Columbia City Hall for a short demo of Paul’s flying abilities. It’s windy, so he has to land his drone all too soon.
As chef’s tables go, this one ended perfectly. I feel as though I’ve just spent a long evening at an old friend’s house.