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Dine Inside a Cave
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Cave Pulled PorkThe pulled prok with two sides at The Cave Restaurant.
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Cave Bread PuddingJack Daniel's bread pudding at The Cave Restaurant.
Barbara Gibbs Ostmann
If you dig it, they will come, thought Dave Hughes when he started excavating a cave to make a restaurant. More than twenty years later, folks are still coming and returning for seconds and thirds.
As its name implies, The Cave Restaurant is in a cave—an honest-to-goodness cave in the Ozark hills near Richland in Pulaski County. Just getting there is an adventure. A scenic drive on a two-lane road—a short stretch of which is gravel—brings you to the parking area for The Cave Restaurant and Resort, alongside the Gasconade River. From the parking lot, guests are transported by van or by foot up the hill to the entrance of the restaurant. Guests enter by elevator or exterior staircase.
The current owner, Gary Dyer, who formerly owned two restaurants in nearby Lebanon, purchased The Cave Restaurant in 2009 and has been busy refining the menu, refurbishing the cave interior, and restoring the old log cabins at the resort. It’s an ongoing process, or, as Gary says with a laugh, “It’s a money pit.”
A Speakeasy and a Still
The resort began in the early 1920s as a rustic camp along the Gasconade River. The cave was known then as Dance Hall Cave. People climbed ladders to reach the cave, which reportedly housed not only a dance hall but also a speakeasy and a still. Local legend says that Al Capone used to frequent the place. The cabins and the low-water bridge near the site were built by Ed Steckle, who drowned in 1929 while trying to clear a logjam along the bridge during high water.
For decades, the resort sat empty. Then in 1984, Dave and Connie Hughes bought the old resort, fixed up the cabins, and renamed it Ozark Springs Resort. One day in 1989, Dave explored the cave in the bluff above the river. The mouth of the cave is 30 feet above ground and 100 feet above the river.
Dave came up with the idea of expanding the cave and building a restaurant in it. His wife told him he was out of his mind, but he was not deterred. He began enlarging the cave, working with a jackhammer, shovels, and picks. Before long, Connie was working alongside him. In four years, they and a few other helpers moved 2,160 tons of rock out of the cave, turning it into a 225-seat restaurant. The Hughes family operated the restaurant until Gary bought it three years ago.