The Ozarks has some of the most unique dining experiences.
Where else can you savor a multi-course meal in a wind tunnel on an urban farm? Or feast on an outdoor all-you-can-eat pizza buffet made with farm-fresh ingredients? Or learn how to grow your own shiitake mushrooms?
You can enjoy all that and more in the Ozarks.
If you’re a foodie, then here are five unique culinary experiences you must try this year.
The Keeter Center at College of the Ozarks at Point Lookout
There’s so much to love at the Keeter Center. First, it’s staffed by 350-400 students who work there to offset the cost of their education. At College of the Ozarks, students must work at least 15 hours a week to earn free tuition.
Students labor on a farm, in a dairy and so much more. It gives them diverse experiences and those handmade and farm-raised goods are front and center on the menu at the Keeter Center.
It showcases beef and pork from the campus farm, freshly ground mill products, fruit spreads, lettuces and greens from the hydropic greenhouses, fresh milk from the dairy, and other fruits and vegetables grown on campus, says Valorie Coleman, public relations director.
There are several dining options from homemade ice cream to pastries and Dobyns Dining Room, which is open for lunch, dinner and brunch. Lunch is first come, first served but you will need reservations for dinner or brunch.
The dining room is rustic and elegant with a stone fireplace and wood chairs that look like they’re made with tree limbs.
Brunch includes a robust omelet station, delectable desserts, fresh-made Caesar salad hand-carved meats, side dishes, breakfast fare, seafood and more.
The freshly ground cornmeal is used in a variety of dishes from shrimp and polenta to cornbread. The cornmeal is ground in Edward’s Mill which was built in 1972 to preserve the tradition of milling in Ozarks. If you happen to spread apple butter or jam on a biscuit, chances are it was made by a student in big old-fashioned kettles at the jelly station.
A dinner favorite is Meatloaf Mignon: Grilled, bacon-wrapped meatloaf blended with ground chuck, campus pork, mushrooms, breadcrumbs, and house pepper jelly ketchup. Served with garlic whipped potatoes and sautéed green beans.
Save room for ice cream, because it’s probably some of the freshest around. In the predawn hours, COO students milk the cows, then pasteurize the milk/cream and deliver it to the Keeter Center. The ice cream is made fresh daily. You will taste a difference. They sell 35,000-40,000 scoops a year, says Coleman.
This dining experience is truly unique.
Pizza Club at Millsap Farms
This might be the most charming, family-friendly meal in Springfield.
Every Thursday, May through the first or second week of October, Millsap Farms hosts pizza night on the farm.
Curtis and Sarah Millsap run the farm with their nine children and lots of helpers.
This team of workers stands side-by-side in the open-air rolling dough and topping pizzas with ingredients from their farm. Curtis Millsap then slides the pizzas into the handmade 800-degree New Mexico style Horno wood-fired oven where the pies cook in minutes. The finished product is transferred to an outdoor buffet table where hungry customers line up for their fill.
Each week features four varieties of pizza, including cheese. The pies showcase seasonal ingredients. You might enjoy barbecue sauce, roasted chicken, mozzarella, red onions, smoked gouda, and cilantro pizza or brown butter sauce, roasted butternut squash, mozzarella, kale, fresh mozzarella and pumpkin seeds.
Reservations for anyone 13 and older are required and it’s $16 for the pizza. Children 4-12 are $6.50. Gluten-free crust is available for an additional charge but must be reserved in advance. All reservations are made online and should be canceled if you can’t make it because the evening usually sells out and someone else can take the reservation.
A few strands of Edison lightbulbs are strung in the trees and there’s live music each night.
They have water and limited drinks for sale, but you can also BYOB. Seating is very limited so be sure to bring lawn chairs. A flashlight is useful to find your car at the end of the night. Bring bug spray as this is an outdoor experience. The Millsaps have a farm stand and you can buy produce before you leave. Parking is limited so carpooling is encouraged.
There’s an adjacent field where the kiddos love to frolic, and their happy squeals can be heard throughout the night.
The food is great, the music is fun, and the sense of community is irreplicable.
Lavender Falls Farm in Clever
Why do so many people love Lavender Falls Farm?
In a period of seven weeks last year, 12,700 clamored to the business to sip lavender-infused prosecco and soak up the picturesque scenery.
Perhaps it’s the slight aroma of lavender fields in bloom that greet guests. Or a fresh cutting of lavender that graces the soft, tangy goat cheese drizzled in lavender-lemon infused honey.
But there’s also an inspiring story behind this charming culinary experience.
The farm is owned by Catherine and Thor Bersted. Their lives changed in 2013 when Thor was severely injured in a training accident with the Springfield Police Department. He woke up in the hospital and was told he’d never be a police officer again.
While under the influence of painkillers and wondering how he’d contribute financially to his family’s future, he Googled cash crops. Lavender was the second one on the list, so he ordered more than 750 plants. At first, Catherine thought he was crazy because neither one of them had any experience in farming, but their families rallied behind them, built a greenhouse and planted the lavender.
Soon, Catherine had her own line of lavender lotions and products. They sold at farmers markets, then in the mall. And then they got the idea to create an experience on their property.
After multiple surgeries, Thor was stronger and is now part of the thriving business.
They built an open-air café, with wood beam ceilings accented with strings of Edison lightbulbs. The café looks out on their charming land which includes a small waterfall.
This year, Lavender Falls Farm will be open for dinner only Tuesday-Saturday, May 6-June 25. New this year is a $10 reservation fee which will be credited back to your bill. Last year, people were selling reservations, so this was established to discourage that practice, says Catherine. Parking is extremely limited, so they strongly suggest carpooling or taking an Uber.
Favorite menu items include mouth-watering beef medallions and fresh, never frozen salmon seared on a Kudu grill over lump charcoal. Save room for the lavender cheesecake.
There’s live music every night and plenty of lavender-infused cocktails and fare waiting for you.
Take a class at the Workshop at Finley Farms in Ozark
People in this region know when Johnny Morris decides to take on a project, the end result often wows.
And Finley Farms is no exception.
Morris owns this destination in Ozark which includes a riverside restaurant, coffee shop, chapel, historic bridge, farm, and more to come. This is a historic restoration and renovation project which will be many years in the making.
The first piece to open was the Workshop, home to a coffee shop and a variety of classes. You can learn how to craft an old fashioned, inoculate a log to grow shiitakes, make the perfect buttery pie crust, weave, or put together a beautiful floral arrangement.
The focus is on food, gardening, crafts and children’s classes.
The courses vary by season and fill up quickly, so the best way to stay abreast is join the email list. There’s a waiting list, so you can always sign up if a class is full and hope to get in. Here’s a list of upcoming classes.
The Workshop space itself is an experience and pays homage to its history. The building is from 1932 and was a Missouri Department of Transportation garage and then Wheeler Garden center, so there’s an industrial vibe. But there are also live ferns planted in the middle of some tables. The greenery is a beautiful contrast to the metal accents in the space.
The original bays are now large, mostly glass garage doors that act as windows and look out on the lush gardens and terraced farm on property. Outside, chives sway in the wind; rosemary, thyme and sage flourish in raised beds. There are a firepit, cornhole and benches.
Inside, the weathered wood tables are made with reclaimed materials.
On May 19, from 3-7 p.m., the Thursday night Ozark Farmers Market opens for the season so if you can’t make a class, be sure to visit the market. The garage doors are open, there are various vendors and you can meander around the property. Actually, the entire property is worth a stroll any time and has a paved trail snaking through the center.
For a delicious coffee shop treat, order the Ozark, a honey and lavender latte over ice.
Urban Roots Farm in Springfield
At Urban Roots Farm, you have two totally different opportunities to connect with your food and drinks.
This certified naturally grown farm is located on 1.7 acres in downtown Springfield and hosts farm-to-table dinners and cocktails on the farm.
For the cocktails, grab your gal friends because this is a ladies-only event. The evening will include a farm tour and different cocktail stations. At each station, you will learn how to craft a cocktail that is often made or garnished with farm-fresh herbs or edible flowers.
Ticket prices include hors d’oeuvres made with ingredients harvested off the land. There are two such events scheduled for summer: June 4 and August 27. Tickets are $60.
If you prefer something more substantial, sign up for a different event: a farm-to-table dinner with a meal prepared by the chefs at Progress restaurant.
The next dinner event takes place on May 13 and 14, with happy hour, meet and greet and live music.
Then, about 100 diners sit shoulder-to-shoulder on long tables in a wind tunnel on the farm. If there is no chance of rain, then they set up outside for an alfresco dining experience. The tables are accented with fresh flowers, candlelight and it’s a chance to make new friends at this communal dinner.
The meal is very veggie-heavy, but includes a locally sourced protein, says Alyssa Hughes, farm manager.
There’s always a carrot course, a tradition that began after the first dinner when the carrots were forgotten in the warmer and didn’t come out until after dessert. It’s been a joke ever since, but don’t worry, the carrots are served before dessert. Hughes said it has been fun to see how different chefs prepare the carrots, as they have teamed up with various chefs over the years.
The dinner includes wine and a local beer.
Final details including how many courses and the price were still being worked out at press time, check the website for updates. Hughes estimated it would be around $120 per person. Tickets are expected to go on sale in mid-April, and can be purchased online on Progress’ reservation website.
May 13 & 14: Farm to Table Dinner with Progress Restaurant
June 4: Cocktails on the Farm
August 27: Cocktails on the Farm
September 23 & 24: Farm to Table Dinner with Progress Restaurant
Correction: An earlier version of this story included incorrect dates for a dinner event at Urban Roots Farm. We have updated the story with correct information.