This past May, I joined a group of my associates from the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) 0n a visit to Lake of the Ozarks and Columbia, Missouri. We traveled from St. Louis to Lake of the Ozarks, checked into the Regatta Bay Condos and headed off to dinner at The Duck. Owners Mark Hooker and Donna Ziegler welcomed us warmly and we visited over a variety of foods prepared by Chef Chris Case. Case began his love affair with food at age 14, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and then landed cooking jobs in Germany, the Virgin Islands, Connecticut and Colorado. He and his wife honeymooned in Thailand and the fresh, exotic foods he tasted there made a lasting impression on him. Plate after plate came to our table as we enjoyed appetizers of smoked trout, tempura vegetables, steamed mussels and crispy tuna sashimi. The entrées served were tournedos of beef, rosemary rack of lamb, duck a’orange, sea bass provençal and chicken jaeger schnitzel. Stuffed already, we made room for a dessert selection of molten chocolate cake, carrot cake, key lime pie and Bananas Foster. Welcome to the lake, indeed.
We enjoyed a well needed night of rest and headed for the Bagnell Dam Strip and breakfast at Stewart’s, home of the head-sized cinnamon bun. How can you not love a place whose slogan is “Home of the biggest buns at the Lake”? Before we left, owner Steve Beck insisted we try his breaded pork tenderloin with pepper gravy. Reminder to self… loosen belt one notch. We strolled the strip, feeling at times as if we had stepped back into the ’50s. Here you’ll find souvenir shops, skee ball, batting cages and arcades. A 50′ tall Indian salutes an equally tall gentleman from across the street. Don’t miss out on the home made fudge or candy. You could spend hours at Dogpatch, a 10,000 square foot souvenir shop with novelties in every nook and cranny.
We paid a visit to the majestic Osage National Golf Club, an Arnold Palmer signature course, and enjoyed bloody marys and mimosas while General Manager Steve Belton shared the history of the club with us. The 18 hole course features 7,150 yards of zoysia fairways and bentgrass greens. An additional nine holes creates three 18 hole combinations. The club boasts a 20,000 square foot clubhouse with a 5,000 square foot Tournament Room.
Mike Bleile is the owner and winemaker at Seven Springs Winery and he invited us in for a bite of lunch, some live music and wine tasting. Chef Josh Juarez served us his signature Spicy Shrimp & Crab Bisque in addition to a cranberry and curried chicken salad wrap. Mike poured us a broad sampling of his wines: Chardonel is a cross between Chardonnay and Seyval, fruit forward with a little oak. Vignoles is another hybrid and is off-dry with melon and stone fruit notes. The sparkling Muscato is as you might expect slightly sweet. Norton is Missouri’s state grape and one I admittedly have not developed a taste for. It thrives in the Missouri climate and has even inspired a book: “The Wild Vine” by Todd Kliman. Our final tasting was Seven’s Red Heaven, a sweet red blend served chilled, quite refreshing on a warm afternoon.
Next up was a visit to Tan-Tar-A Resort, Golf Club, Marina and Water Park. We took a peek at “Timber Falls,” the state’s largest indoor water park before boarding the 75′ “Tropic Island” yacht for a 90 minute lake cruise with host Captain Omer Clark. Seeing the lake from the water was truly a treat. There are several magnificent waterfront homes and restaurants. You can enjoy a cold beverage while taking in the sites and learning more about this man made lake. We then adjourned to the Windrose Restaurant at Tan-Tar-A for appetizers and drinks. I strolled out on the dock and got a kick out of watching hungry carp gobbling bread crumbs scattered by kids of all ages.
We stopped for a waterfront dinner at Shorty Pants Lounge and Marina prepared by Chef Scott Munsterman. The menu has a heavy New Orleans influence with Cajun favorites like Jambalaya, red beans and rice, Étouffée and crawfish. I opted for the very spicy Voodoo Chicken served atop sautéed onions, peppers and rice. The atmosphere is extremely casual at Shorty Pants and it was the perfect spot to unwind. We capped off the day with a visit to Randy’s Frozen Custard, a Lake Ozark institution. If you go, I highly recommend the Ozark Turtle, but I don’t think you’ll go wrong with whatever you select. Just check out the menu. We watched a red sky, unaware that tornados were brewing in the distance