About half an hour south of St. Louis sits Kimswick Missouri, a 157 person hamlet; a sweet little postage stamp of a town nestled within the surrounding green expanse of greater MO. We made the journey, ne pilgrimage, knowing it would add a full hour to that day’s trek to Dubuque, for an entirely necessary visit to Kimswick’s famed Blue Owl Café.
Sure, to city dwellers such as ourselves, the sight of Kimswick conjured images of The Deliverance, though a little further in, scenes of the “downtown” began to unfold, revealing a nightmare of slightly different dimensions, one full of cutesy stores selling blown glass, antiques, porcelain dolls, and other such atrocities.
Surprisingly, it was a tiny bit difficult to find parking in the large lot across the street from the Blue Owl, this on a Wednesday morning; we actually had competition. The façade of the restaurant revealed a large, covered, front porch, full of happy diners; a charming scene draped in bushy green plants and bunting.
Inside, the cafe resembled a life sized, American-themed dollhouse, plastered with all things red, white, blue, and precious. The servers floated about in vaguely Amish looking full-length, denim colored aprons with frilly cross sleeves, carrying trays laden with all manner of sweet, savory, and buttery; what would have felt so contrived somewhere else felt just right there in Kimswick.
The Blue Owl’s Foyer includes their renowned baked goods/take out counter, where they sell their signature item, the “levee high apple pie,” which can be purchased in the form of one, giant bee hive looking pie, or, for the more discerning diner, who aims to ingest thousands of calories as opposed to tens of thousands of calories, a simple slice is also available for purchase.
There was a consistent line at that counter, all Wednesday morning long (where on earth did those people come from? Why weren’t they at work? Does all of Kimswick take a collective Wednesday morning break to dine as a community at the Blue Owl?) We were given the option of the porch or the dining room, but porch seats were coveted and came with a wait, so we opted for our indoor table, positioned next to a fireplace bedecked in all things USA.
When it came time to order, we got a little ambitious. A little bit…ahead of ourselves. I was not leaving the Blue Owl without their baked chicken salad pie warmly hugging my insides; and Jake was not leaving the Blue Owl without their southern fried chicken with country gravy hugging HIS insides (would you pass up the opportunity to have FC in a small town restaurant in the bowels of Missouri? I think not). When we couldn’t settle on a third item for the four of us, it only seemed reasonable to order from the terrific trio section of the menu, where we could select a sampling of three menu items for the price of one. And that is how, on top of baked chicken salad pie, fried chicken, biscuits, green beans, mashed potatoes, and gravy, we also ended up with an egg salad croissant, quiche lorraine, and white chicken chili. Followed by apple pie.
As we waited for our behemoth order to arrive, we enjoyed an exhilarating people watching session while sipping a round of bloody’s, served in mason jars, blooming with fluffy celery and giant green olives.
The fried chicken order came with a salad dressed in their house made version of “western dressing” (for the uninitiated, Western dressing is basically a bottle of red sugar and vinegar, a delicious way to incorporate dessert into your salad course). The Blue Owl’s adaptation somehow trumped Western, with a sweeter and deeper flavor, heaped atop cold, shredded cheddar cheese (a topping godsend to food everywhere; from baked potatoes to hot beef sundaes (coming up) to walking tacos (also coming up) to salads). Also, buttery croutons and iceberg lettuce. A resounding yes, all the way around.
Following that, white chili, a thick, heady mixture with a nice herb flavor, made a little bit more perfect with a sprinkling of tabasco.
The quiche was buttery and creamy, with a nicely browned crust that I definitely could have devoured all by itself
Here, a simple scoop of typical egg salad, served within an average croissant.
And then, the item I had driven us an hour out of our way for, the baked chicken salad pie. It was just as I had imagined, hot mayonnaise spiked with hunks of chicken, celery, and, bestill my heart, water chestnuts, all encased in that same, delicious, fattening quiche crust, only this time, topped with hot, bubbly cheese. It was truly spectacular, in a mid ’70’s, suburban housewife cooking from her Joy of Cooking cookbook kind of way.
The Blue Owl’s fried chicken’s crust was crisp and salty; gift wrapping for the hunk of juicy chicken hiding within. The dish included southern style green beans (read; under-seasoned and cooked until they are a soggy mess, not my fave) and the most dense, calorie laden biscuit I may have ever consumed, alongside an ice cream scoop of mashed potatoes covered in thick, gooey, country gravy.
And yet, we still had not reached the meals end. There was still that slice of levee high apple pie to go.
In our defense, we took about half of it to go (along with an entire banana cream pie; not important. Look away). We are a group of marathon eaters and gluttons but even we have our limits. The pie, it turned out, took a far second fiddle to the baked chicken salad for me. the layers of apple sit inside of a thick candied crust that doesn’t yield easily to a fork or knife. You can’t just casually use the side of your fork to break off a bite, you have to saw at the crust (or use your hands to rip a piece, as we did) and then free some apple to consume with it. That’s not a terrible feature in and of itself, but it’s worth noting, and to me the whole thing was just a bit dry. I guess I like my fruit pies a little gooey and sloppy.
Ill, we waddled to the front door, assured that if we lived in Kimswick Missouri, death by heart attack would strike quickly and mercilessly. The owner, Mary Hostetter, held court at the hostess stand, sweet as all get out and absolutely bursting with pure southern hospitality.
Next door to the restaurant resides the Blue Owl Sweet Shoppe, you know, in case anyone finds themself in a “I’ll never have the Blue Owl again” panic after their meal, which, incidentally, I did.
I had been fully hypnotized by Kimswick’s small town charm at this point and I needed a little bit of it to take with me. Mikey, apparently was just plain hypnotized.
In the sweet shop, ice cream, cookbooks, chocolates, and, bottles of the Blue Owl’s absurdly cracktastic salad dressing, which I bought and lugged with me all over the Midwest then back to San Francisco. Also, a purchase of chocolate puffs of some sort, because, well, I don’t know when to say when.
The drive to Dubuque was shrouded in bilious misery. A word was not exchanged for the first four hours or so as the lot of us fought to digest and prepare for what would come next.
The Blue Owl Restaurant and Bakery
6116 Second St.
Kimswick, MO 63053