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Unwind with your friends

Grab your brunch-loving buddies and explore some of the town's classic spots for down-home cooking and chatty atmospheres

May 8, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST

Grab your brunch-loving buddies and explore some of the town’s classic spots for down-home cooking and chatty atmospheres. Some cafes provide a more casual vibe and the others offer a more sophisticated dining experience, so you’re bound to find a destination on one of these no matter what your group prefers.

The Upper Crust

904 Elm St., Ste. 108;
& 3107 Green Meadows Way
Sun. 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Similar to the French cafes it resembles, The Upper Crust is both chic and casual. Patrons order at a counter and then seat themselves at tables draped with white tablecloths, polished silverware and shiny white plates. The counter service gives the cafe a casual vibe, but food is brought out from the kitchen in purposeful arrangements, like a food feng shui.

With a six-hour brunch window, the full spectrum of morning people can enjoy their favorite dishes. The Upper Crust is known for its bakery, the extent of which is showcased in two massive display cases. Desserts such as monster cookies and baby cakes are artfully frosted or garnished with ganache. With desserts strategically stacked and illuminated in the case, it’s nearly impossible not to bring home a treat for later, if you can resist taking bites on your way home. Fuss and fancy free, The Upper Crust is a cozy cafe escape in mid-Missouri for brunch eaters on a budget. — Allison Pohle

Eggs Benedict & Hollandaise Sauce, The Upper Crust. Photo by Julie Dimas


3915 S. Providence Road
Sun. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Sophia’s, owned by the same couple that owns Addison’s Grill, is tucked away on South Providence Road. Despite its distance from the downtown happenings, Sophia’s offers an urban, upscale ambience with a sophisticated menu. Dishes combine unexpected ingredients to create flavorful, local food.

The menu incorporates traditional brunch with a twist. Select items from the dinner and lunch menus are also available during brunch hours. Until last month, the most popular brunch option was Adam’s Breakfast Plate, which is a simple spread of eggs, bacon, potatoes, bread and fruit. It was dethroned by the Breakfast Monte Cristo when Executive Chef Brian Bradley added it to the menu five weeks ago. The Triple Berry Pancakes are a favorite among the waitstaff, as well as the Lobster and White Truffle Quiche. Sophia’s doesn’t offer any specialty brunch cocktails, but hair-of-the-dog staples, such as Bloody Marys and mimosas, are available. — Maura Hohman

JJ’s Cafe

600 Business Loop 70 West
6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

When the selling price of hogs fell and the price of feed skyrocketed in 1989, hog farmer James Clayborn decided to open a restaurant to save himself and his family from financial ruin. Together, James and his wife, Jo, started JJ’s Cafe. In 2013, they handed over ownership to granddaughter Sara Paben, who grew up working at the restaurant. “I always joke and say now I’m the little ‘s’ at the end of JJ’s,” Paben says.

Along with the kindred ownership comes the family’s secret gravy recipe. It tops the Country Fried Steak Pile Up, a skillet of breaded sirloin steak with hash browns, eggs and cheese, with your choice of toast or biscuit on the side. The breading underlies what Paben calls the full effect of a country fried steak.

The same homemade gravy is also highlighted in JJ’s Biscuits and Gravy. The biscuits are buttered and cut in half before a round of flat grilling. “They’re the homestyle biscuits that a lot of people crave or look for when [they] walk into a mom-and-pop shop,” Paben says. — Nicole Meyer

Ernie’s Cafe

1005 E. Walnut St.
6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The selection isn’t fancy — there are no lattes or bacon-infused potatoes drizzled with gourmet maple syrup. In fact, the menu has barely changed since World War II. The hashbrowns are made of potatoes and butter, and that’s it.

Ernie’s Cafe is the kind of place where the waitress behind the counter will stop to talk to customers perched on diner stools. A small but mighty Columbia tradition nestled between Tenth Street and the Arts District one block north of Broadway, the cafe has been serving its simple American fare to early risers and hungry students for more than 80 years.

Among the cafe’s hearty selections is the signature No. 6, a plate of two barbeque sauce-smothered pork chops, two eggs, hashbrowns and toast.

Although the café has evolved from its beginning as a hopping date-night diner to a must-have breakfast and lunch staple, the interior recalls its origins of malts and first kisses. A glowing neon Ernie’s sign buzzes beneath the clamor of knives cutting through pork chops and cooks singing the blues in the kitchen while slapping their spatulas on the grill to the beat. — Elise Schmelzer


Bleu’s Rosemary Lemonade
The restaurant’s homemade lemonade is spiced up with blueberry vodka, blueberry simple syrup, fresh rosemary (of course) and a splash of Riesling.

Cafe Berlin’s Twisted Sister
Orange, apple and grapefruit juices add flair and flavor to sparkling wine. This sister would make any average mimosa jealous.

Günter Hans’ homemade sangria
Infused with fresh fruit, including oranges, lemons and limes, and mixed with Chambord (a blackberry liqueur from France), this concoction is a fresh summertime delight.

The Roof’s Columbia Mule
Combine spiced-pear liquor, Jim Beam whiskey, raspberry Chambord, house-made sour mix and ginger beer and you get this exotic beverage. The Columbia Mule is an “easy-sipping, porch weather kind of cocktail,” says Damien Cooke, head bartender for The Roof and 11Eleven.

Trey Bistro's Mark Twain Blackberry Lemonade
This lemonade features lemongrass and lemon wedges muddled on the bottom with the blackberry-infused bourbon, pink lemonade and sour mix poured over ice. This refreshing mix of fruity flavors comes off crisp and isn’t too strong on the bourbon.

Glenn’s Bloody Mary
Snappy and spirited, the Glenn’s Café Bloody Mary is full of flavor that pops. Absolut Peppar vodka contains hints of bell, chili and jalapeno peppers, which makes it a zesty drink for those not afraid to heat up their palates.
Photo by John Farmer de la Torre; Shannon Elliott

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