The Garrison restaurant. (Photo: The Garrison)

Want to go? Reservations for The Garrison open 10 a.m. Friday, June 17. Reservations are required and are open for month-long slots. The restaurant opens July 1.  For reservations visit finleyfarmsmo.com/thegarrison.

When the first diners enter The Garrison — the long-awaited restaurant tucked away on the ground floor of The Ozark Mill — they will walk through a dimly-lit molasses tanker, original to the plant. 

Molasses was used to sweeten grains at the mill, which dates back to 1833.

The Garrison was originally envisioned as a speakeasy. But when it opens on July 1, it will be a fine dining establishment that pays homage to the iconic Ozark restaurant, Riverside Inn, and its founder Howard Garrison — hence the name.

There are strong nods to the speakeasy tradition including the unconventional molasses tanker tunnel entrance and a somewhat secret exit door. Two striking chandeliers made from clear liquor bottles immediately catch your eye and reinforce the bootleg theme. 

The chandeliers frame a stunning bar from the 1880s, which was salvaged from Pennsylvania.

Howard Garrison (1901-1974) is a legendary figure in Ozark. He started the Riverside Inn and it became a destination restaurant for generations before closing permanently in 2009, due (in part) to repeated flooding. 

Garrison was a restaurateur, talented artist — and an outlaw.

During prohibition, he was arrested for illegally serving alcohol and served time in prison.

One of his paintings entitled: “A view from my prison cell in Ava” is at the entrance of the restaurant. Other pieces of his artwork adorn the wall, including a sketch of the future Riverside Inn, which was located on the Finley River.

There are other treasures from the famed restaurant including its fireplace and a large ornate mirror.

 “We’ve done our best to pay tribute to Howard Garrison and Riverside Inn, but also preserve as much of the mill as possible,” said Dayle Duggins, marketing manager.

His voice comes alive in The Garrison. Literally. Step into the bathroom and a recorded interview plays overhead.

Although the restaurant doesn’t open until July 1, media were invited to a sneak peek on June 1. 

The Garrison in Ozark is a destination

Inside The Garrison. (Photo: The Garrison)

Once the restaurant debuts, it will almost complete renovations of The Ozark Mill, which began in 2018. 

Located on the Finley River, the historic mill was the last commercially operating watermill in Missouri. 

Johnny Morris bought the property in 1993.   

He envisioned a riverside restaurant and historic preservation project. His daughter, Megan Stack, came on board and expanded that vision.

Stack attended Ozark North Elementary as a child and has fond memories surrounding Ozark.

“It has always had an emotional connection for our family,” she said. “So getting to be a part of the visioning process with my dad is really special to think about beyond the original concept of the restaurant and the mill, what else we can offer here. And so, a visioning process was involving the community and seeing what people in Ozark wanted to see because we are deeply rooted in the community here.”

In 2018, the five-story mill was moved off its foundation. The foundation was raised four feet and flood doors were installed to help prevent future floods. Those doors were recently tested when the river rose. The water came halfway up the doors, said Duggins.  

The mill was put back together and as much of it preserved as possible. The floors are original and so is the vast majority of the tin. 

It has a popular restaurant upstairs, gift shop, and stunning views of the river.

Later this year, they will start offering history tours, which will highlight the personalities, traditions and tales of the Ozarks and the mill. 

Finley Farms is a destination that includes the farm, The Ozark Mill, a coffee shop, chapel, trails and more. The project is ongoing and will eventually house a brewery and lodging, among other things.

The food and drinks at The Garrison

A table at The Garrison. (Photo: The Garrison)

When The Garrison opens, the menu will feature 18 dishes, eight playful cocktails, wine, spirits and beer. 

The menu is farm-forward and will include 17 organic items, such as sweet potatoes and black kale, grown on the one-acre farm.

“Expanding our company’s stewardship principles into the food side of things made a lot of sense trying to be good stewards of this watershed environment,” Stack said.

The plates are designed to be shared and Duggins recommended three to four per table. 

Executive Chef Kevin Korman was brought in to develop the entire culinary concept around this development. He hopes to help tell a story through food.

The Garrison’s menu is French-inspired, intertwined with Ozarks traditions and those of Riverside Inn, such as its signature fried chicken.

Korman has a background in French cuisine.

“That (French fare) didn’t worry me at all. It was the fried chicken,” Korman said.

Korman and Stack consulted with Eric Engel, who owned Riverside Inn until it closed in 2009.

The chefs went through a dozen variations before they landed on their succulent version of Riverside Fried Chicken. It starts in an herb brine and then the meat is hand-battered and fried until the exterior is crispy and the interior is juicy. It’s not greasy and the skin is so light that it’s hard to believe it has ever touched oil.

Other menu items include tender diced sweet potatoes, caramelized in smoked hickory syrup, served with a smattering of Black walnuts and fried sage on a bed of crème fraiche.

There’s seafood, steaks, pot roast, bison tartare and desserts.

The rosemary pound cake is almost blackened in brown butter, then served with homemade lemon chamomile ice cream.

Chef Korman says the chocolate layer cake is incredible.

For the ultimate experience, get tasting menu which has seven small portions of different dishes and costs $65 per person. It’s the best way to sample the fare.

Otherwise, prices vary from $8 for an order of black garlic fries to $65 for a 24-ounce porterhouse.

Then, there are the lavish cocktails inspired by The Mill’s machinery and history.

The Damsel is a slightly sweet, floral, citrusy concoction with an Earl Grey-infused gin base. This cocktail honors two aspects of history. First, a piece of machinery called the Damsel which fed grain into the millstones. Before that piece of machinery was invented, there were girls who did that job, said Duggins. They were known as “mill damsels” and were as young as 6 years old.

The Turbine is one of Korman’s favorite cocktails. It starts with tequila that is infused with smoked guajillo peppers and black sesame. It’s blended with aloe, passion fruit, agave and Chamoy (a Mexican sauce) served over an ice block dusted with Tajin. 

Of course, there’s a bold Garrison cocktail, think of it as a combination of an Old Fashioned and Manhattan, said Korman.

The Garrison’s ambiance

Entrance to The Garrison. (Photo: The Garrison)

Riverside Inn was known for its candle-lit dinners and that same intimate vibe carries over into the Garrison.

“This is a space to make memories,” said Duggins.

There are tables for two or four, larger half-circle booths are tucked into the wall. Crisscrossed beams, original to the mill, separate each booth. 

The menu is completely separate from The Ozark Mill restaurant upstairs. The Ozark Mill is more family-friendly, this is more romantic or special occasion. 

Step outside and there’s a cozy patio space lined with fire pits. It has gorgeous views of the Finley River, mill pond dam and the historic Riverside Bridge, circa 1909.

Also downstairs in the mill is a private event spaces that seats up to 150. It has metal arched ceilings and spectacular views of the river.

The Morris family worked with Christian County Historic Society, Christian County Library, and the Garrison family on this project.

“Developing the concept for The Garrison was a cool and sentimental project for our family,” said Stack. “All the memories we had at Riverside Inn and knowing how important Riverside Inn was to people in Ozark and Springfield. … To carry on some of that legacy in this space was really important to us.”

For more information, visit finleyfarmsmo.com/thegarrison or facebook.com/finleyfarmsmo.

Juliana Goodwin

Juliana Goodwin is a freelance journalist with experience covering business, travel and tourism, health, food and history. She is a former Food and Travel Columnist for the Springfield News-Leader, a former business reporter for The Joplin Globe, and has written for USA Today and Arkansas Living Magazine, among others. More by Juliana Goodwin