Sunday, January 10, 2010
We’d driven past here numerous times before, but each time, either they weren’t open, or we weren’t hungry. The planets finally lined up on Saturday, November 7, the same day we’d hiked at Painted Rock nearby. (Sorry for the delay in posting; the holidays just couldn’t be put off.)
The Westphalia Inn: I can recommend it, and I can guarantee you we’ll be back. When you walk in the door and enter the front lobby, with its antiques and stone fireplace, you’ll automatically get a comfy feeling.
This building is a historic hotel, in a historic German-heritage town that is pretty to drive to and visit. Westphalia, Missouri, is one of my shining examples of German immigrant communities transplanted to Missouri soil. It’s a picturesque small town of relatively modest brick homes surrounding a lovely stone church perched on a hill; there is a strong “Old World” feel to the place.
In addition to the “restaurant” aspect of the business, the Westphalia Inn also sells wines from Westphalia Vineyards, one of a number of small wineries generally along the Missouri, extending downstream to St. Louis. (Support local products! AgriMissouri! Hooray!)
The main floor of the Westphalia Inn constitutes the dining area—separate rooms, actually, containing four or five tables each, allowing them the flexibility of hosting small and larger groups with private dining areas. (I’ll get to the food report in a minute.)
On the second floor is the Norton Room, which is cozy and casual, wood-paneled, with a bar and plenty of tables for your group, or where you can just hang out. Up there you can order a decent selection of appetizers, enough to have a light meal: fresh-baked pizzas, hot dips (such as “Cajun crab” and “artichoke and sundried tomato”), hot chicken wings, chicken tacos, and “cheesy French onion focaccia.” All are $6.50.
Desserts are available, too: cinnamon crunch pizza with white chocolate drizzle; fruit cream puff kabobs with chocolate drizzle; campfire s’mores fondue . . . any of that sounding good? They also have nightly specials.
As I walked around the Norton Room (named after Missouri’s premier aged-red-wine grape variety), I kept thinking how fun it might be to hang out here on some of these bitter cold nights, having a light dinner of appetizers and sipping a hot beverage (since I don’t drink brandy anymore). Another plus: When we were there, the clientele all seemed pretty grown-up and decent—not seedy; not prone to college-age foolishness.
Also on the second floor are a few rooms displaying antiques for sale—with quite reasonable prices, I thought. You might want to check out what they have.
Back downstairs in the restaurant proper: All the appetizers and desserts already mentioned are available here as well, but the main attraction is the family-style or by-the-plate dinners: the traditional country ham, pan-fried chicken, or German pot roast dinners (or some combination of these). These dinners all come with the usual accompaniments of mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, coleslaw, and home-baked bread (with margarine and jelly). The meals range from about eleven to fourteen dollars a plate, or per adult, depending on if you want plated or family-style dinners. (Note that the children’s “family-style” prices start at $8.50.)
In the restaurant area, you have an extended selection of desserts to choose from—chocolate cake, cheesecake, ice cream, cobblers.
Is it sounding good yet? Let’s talk about the ambience. When we were there, early in the evening, it was quiet and laid-back. The waiter was laid-back and unhurried, but she was nevertheless very attentive. With the small rooms, the atmosphere was cozy. (Though if the place were packed, I suspect it might get kind of loud.)
While we were there, a middle-aged couple was seated near us, along with their quite-elderly mother. The mother needed some special accommodations due to her disabilities, requiring extra time to be helped to the table, and the waiter paid close (but not cloying) attention to making sure everyone was situated comfortably and that their special requests were respected. There was not a bit of awkwardness on her part, and she didn’t seem rushed at all. Kudos to her for that. To me, this kind of thing is huge.
But here’s the kicker. You see, unlike the rest of civilized, sophisticated, metropolitan America, here—in and around Jeff City—meals of fried chicken and country ham are still practically ubiquitous, and I’ve had a lot of them since I’ve moved back to the state. These foods are available at all manner of diners and cafés, as well as church suppers, in this area.
But I swear, the food at Westphalia Inn actually tasted like my own Grandma Renner’s cooking. Not “similar to,” but just like. It almost blew my hair back. It was like traveling back in time to “dinner at Grandma’s house,” the white bread and jelly, the mashed potatoes and gravy, the chicken, the ham, the green beans . . . even the cole slaw tasted like hers. I almost wanted to ask for a glass of milk, to make my childhood memory complete.
Okay, I know that your grandma’s cooking might have been very different from my grandma’s cooking, but surely you can see my point, and understand why this old-fashioned food tastes to me like none other in the whole world, and how, with Grandma gone, it’s like a precious disappearing resource—and you can see why I’ll be back.