110 S 9th St
Columbia, MO 65201
Team Oster hit the road last Wednesday for the tri-annual Oster Family reunion near Yellowstone National Park. The three day drive provided us with the perfect opportunity to pay homage to one of our favorite foodie couples, the Sterns. We've spent many a Saturday morning (or is it Sunday?) listening to them describe what they've been eating on NPR's The Splendid Table. When Warren suggested that we order their Road Food book/bible and try out some of their recommendations along the way, I jumped on it.
The Sterns had several suggestions for St. Louis, but since we planned to do an extended stay in St. Louis on our way home, we flipped the page to Booches in nearby Columbia, Missouri. Booches is actually a pool hall and they only serve burgers (on wax paper), but the Sterns' description was so enticing, we had to give it a try.
Now let me just say that when I go to a new town, my default is to look for a Japanese or Thai restaurant. I don't really get excited about burgers. When we rolled through Columbia's town square (which was much more hip than I expected), I saw a LOT of places I wanted to try. BUT we were on a mission, so we headed to Booches. I had expected it to be on the outskirts of town, but there it was tucked between coffee shops and bookstores, bars and yoga studios.
It was about 5:30pm on a Wednesday so we found the place fairly empty--just one other family was eating at a table by the window and one guy was sitting at the bar chatting with the bartender. The pool tables were covered and I got the distinct impression that things didn't get started until much later. The place had a very masculine feel, which isn't too surprising since it is a pool hall, and at one time it was men only. The walls were decorated with funny signs and clips from the ages as well as sporty memorabilia, just as the Sterns said it would be.
We sat down at a table near the pool tables and tried to figure out what to order. The waitress kindly directed our attention to the menu on the wall and we quickly tried to decide what to order. (Our options: burgers and dogs in various forms.) "Any body want a hot dog?" I asked. Satchel and Jiro shook their heads. "Hamburgers?" I asked. They nodded. "Warren, do you want a chili dog?" I asked innocently. He looked at me with a we're-going-to-be-in-the-car-for-another-four-hours smirk and said, "Do YOU want me to eat a chili dog?"
"Three hamburgers and a cheesburger," I told the waitress.
"They're really small," she said, "So if you are hungry, I'd recommend ordering two."
I took a tally of who was really hungry and only Warren raised his hand, so we ordered one more. She also warned me that they only came dressed with mustard, pickle, and onion. That was fine with our crew. "What do you have to go with them?" I asked.
"Chips," she said.
Both monkeys barked for chips, so I ordered two. Next she asked for our drink order, or maybe she did that first, I don't remember. Regardless the monkeys got water, Warren got a Diet Coke, and I glanced at the bar and asked for a Boulevard on tap.
Once the order was in, it was time to hit the bathrooms. The monkeys and I ventured to the very back of the building where we found the two smallest restrooms of all time. Think toilet in a closet. Twice. Outside one was a small sink, and that was that. I can only imagine what the line looks like on a busy Saturday night.
The monkeys really wanted to mount the pool tables and go wild, but I kept them in check. On our way in Warren had told them very matter-of-factly that the restaurant did not like children. (See the sign above, which although a joke, was just one of many I had read about.) I reminded them that they had to act right or we'd have to leave without our dinner. Somehow this worked.
Back at the table, they polished off their chips, and Warren and I sipped our drinks. Soon we were presented with five hamburgers on small squares of paper. No frills here! They were smallish, but I'd hardly call them sliders. We all wasted no time sinking our teeth in--even Jiro, who had maybe eaten one other hamburger in his life. (Two, tops.) Not bad. Not bad at all. Satchel and Warren polished theirs off with no trouble. Jiro ate half of his before donating it to me. I was full after my cheeseburger, but that didn't stop me from eating it.
Overall. I'd say that they weren't anymore exciting than a burger at Alex's or the Lamplighter. I was underwhelmed. (Or maybe under-intoxicated.) And a little mad at the Sterns. "I hope we don't end up eating a lot of junk on our pilgrimage," I said to Warren, who nodded in agreement. He gets cranky without green veggies. And I get cranky without Asian food!
However, in the Sterns' defense, the meal was cheap. fast, and without incident. I also imagine that should I ever meet someone from Columbia and mention that I've been to Booches, I will have immediate street cred.
The best part of our Road Food journey was just getting to Columbia, which is a darling town. And home to a great ice cream place. Stay tuned!