Whiskey Warehouse: History & Fine Dining in Alma, Missouri

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Photo from Whiskey Warehouse website

Last Saturday evening, four of us went to the Whiskey Warehouse in Alma, Missouri, to celebrate a milestone birthday of one of our party. We wanted to make an occasion of the evening, but had no idea what to expect from this restaurant that opened in October 2012. We were delighted with the experience from the moment we walked in the door.

Alma, Missouri, is a town of 400 people located 50 miles east of Kansas City. The restaurant is in an old whiskey warehouse (hence the name) that was built in the latter half of the 19th century. In its original incarnation, the facility supplied whiskey and beer to the six saloons in Alma, which at the time was one of the “wettest” towns in Missouri. The building continued to function as a whiskey warehouse until Prohibition became the law of the land in 1920.

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Photo from Whiskey Warehouse website

The current owners of Whiskey Warehouse, Don and Jean Stoll, have kept the basic structure of the old warehouse, exposed the brick walls inside, and hung works from regional artists on the restaurant walls. Don also has his art studio on the upstairs level of the building. It is a pleasant and eclectic mix of old and new.

After we were seated, Don wandered from table to table describing the building’s history, as well as his own background in the area. He and my dinner companions (from nearby Marshall, Missouri) soon discovered common friends and relatives, and I learned something of Alma’s history and residents. Many of the original settlers were German immigrants who opposed slavery in the pre-Civil War a time when much of mid-Missouri was pro-slavery.

Soon our food arrived, starting with a coconut shrimp appetizer, a choice of three salads (all were excellent), and home-baked bread with honey-cinnamon butter. Then we received the entrée of prime rib, accompanied by twice-baked potatoes and asparagus, all of which would rival food served in the best restaurants in Kansas City. Dessert was a sumptuous turtle cheesecake (chocolate and caramel), except for the birthday celebrant, who received a molten chocolate cake that she devoured.

Chef Philip started cooking with his Italian grandmother, and began is training at age twelve. His experience before moving to the Whiskey Warehouse included serving as sous chef at the Camp Mitchell Retreat Center in Morrilton, Arkansas, where he served gourmet meals to guests at the center. His wife Leslie handles pastries and desserts.

Both Chef Philip and Leslie were on hand for us to thank last Saturday night, which we did profusely. I had the best meal I have had in months (perhaps since my experience at Catalpa in Arrow Rock, Missouri, last spring.)

If you want a special experience and are willing to drive an hour from Kansas City to get it, or if you want to plan an evening out on your way back to Kansas City from Columbia, I highly recommend making reservations at the Whiskey Warehouse.

The restaurant is only open on Friday and Saturday nights for dinner. You must have a reservation, and there is just one setting each night. The menu changes weekly, and you can find their future menus on their website’s Reservations page. The next few weeks feature Italian, Mardi Gras and Valentine’s menus. Act now to schedule your February reservation.

Catalpa: Fine Dining in Arrow Rock, MO

On Monday, I wrote about the Oregon Trail emigrants choosing their leaders on the Kansas and Nebraska prairies. This post back-tracks to Arrow Rock, Missouri, where my first Oregon Trail novel begins. And today’s post is about a superb meal I had in Arrow Rock in 2012 – 165 years after my novel takes place.

Arrow Rock is a small town on the Missouri River about two hours east of Kansas City and three hours west of St. Louis.  It is well worth a day or weekend trip from either city, or as a stop if you are driving I-70 across country.

Arrow Rock is an old Indian site, and developed into a frontier town on the Santa Fe Trail. Today, it is a National Historic Landmark, where many of the buildings depict life in the 1830s and 1840s.  Some of the buildings are original and have been carefully restored; others are replicas.  The Lyceum Theatre operates in the summer to produce Broadway quality productions.

My husband, mother-in-law and I ate at Catalpa Restaurant in Arrow Rock last Saturday to celebrate Mother’s Day.  Chef Liz Huff has created a fine dining experience to rival any restaurant in the nation.   Liz trained at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont, and has worked in a number of restaurants and other food service positions, including a stint at the butcher shop where Julia Child placed her orders.

We started our meal by sharing a spanakopita, which was plenty large enough for the three of us. The spanakopita was served on a bed of fresh spinach and topped with homemade Greek vinaigrette and feta cheese. (The table behind us each ordered their own spanakopita, and they had a pile of leftover boxes when they left.)

Our appetizer was followed by a house salad of spinach tossed with strawberries and blueberries and a creamy sweet dressing.

My husband and I ordered duckling as the entrée, which was roasted in a ginger-teriyaki glaze and served on Thai-like rice noodles in a peanut sauce.  Al ate all his, but I took half mine home, and it was almost as good leftover for lunch on Monday. Al’s mother had red snapper steamed in parchment with herbs and peppers and served with orzo.  Her meal looked as wonderful as our duckling tasted.

By the time we had finished the entrées, we didn’t have room for much dessert (though I was sorry not to have tried the lemon pound cake). But we stuck to homemade ice cream – lemon sorbet, cappuccino, and the best chocolate custard I have ever had (more precisely, it was “Belgian Chocolate Spiced Rum Chocolate Chip” custard). I could have dined on the ice cream alone, and I am not an ice cream fan.

To be sure, the emigrants to Oregon did not eat as well as we ate at Catalpa last Saturday night. But don’t take my word for it; see other reviews of Catalpa at TripAdvisor.

You can find out more about Catalpa on their website, on their Facebook page, or by calling them at 660-837-3324. Catalpa is small and their hours vary with the Lyceum schedule, so be sure to call ahead for reservations.

Other restaurants in Arrow  Rock include J. Huston Tavern and Arrow Rock Station. These establishments are also worthy of a meal.

For more about what to see and do in Arrow Rock, see the town’s website.