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Hail, Columbia: A family food haven

Columbia, MO—You might think about humming a few bars of “Food Glorious Food” when you pull off I-70 West in search of a place to eat; it will help keep your spirits up. Let’s face it. Meal time can be a drag on a family vacation. In your heart you don’t want to stop at just franchises, but you are afraid of the unknown available at local places. Plus lots of families have picky eaters. Not to worry in Columbia, Missouri, exit 126. The 200+ restaurants in this mid-western higher education center willingly take-on all challengers.

Eating your way across the “District” in Columbia is great fun for everyone.

About the District: The sidewalks are broad. There are inviting vest-pocket parks, colorful planters, and curving super-sized cement benches trimmed with mosaic designs. The area is made up of old buildings renovated as new spaces. New spaces for locally owned businesses like art galleries, restaurants, flower shops, ice cream parlors, theaters, bakeries, even a pool hall that serves burgers. New to the District is a children’s museum that is scheduled to open later this year. It’s called the YouZeum and it is dedicated to health so its interactive exhibits include a lot about food, too. But, I digress.

In the six hours I spent in Columbia, I did my best to find the best in town. Before I tell you what we found and where, I gotta tell you about Flat Branch.

We had lunch at Flat Branch Pub and Brewing, which is located on 5th Street and anchors one end of the District.

At Flat Branch, our waitress didn’t raise an eyebrow when I requested a kid’s menu, even though the Pint-Sized Menu is only offered to guests 12 and under. The most popular item is Dino chicken nuggets at $2.95, followed by cheese pizza at $2.50. Flat Branch makes its own root beer, cream soda, and ginger ale, all a little on the sweet side. Each sells for one dollar. As does a glass of chocolate milk. Root beer is the hands down favorite, she said, especially when teamed with Arbuckle’s Ice Cream (made on campus at Mizzou); a kid’s float is $1.50. Ice cream floats are a favorite with adults too; however, the Flat Branch adult float ($6) is teamed with stout and, as our waitress said, “You’ll need an id when you order that.”

Booche’s on Walnut Street is the pool hall that serves burgers; six pool tables inside, dining inside or out. $6 burgers are served on waxed paper with a bag of chips. No frills, lotsa fun. A game of pool? $5 an hour.

Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream on 9th Street has a cement but life-like statue of a bull dog out front. It is in honor of the owner’s dog and you can guess its name. The statue is leashed to a tree and has its own water bowl (filled). Inside the ice cream flavors are made fresh every morning. Ever try a scoop of Cake Mix? How about Watermelon? Samples are free. Generous one scoop cones are about three bucks.

Lakota Coffee Company, also on 9th, roasts its own coffee in a bright red roaster at the rear of the shop. Ask them to grind a pound ($10.95) to take home; I picked up Ethiopian coffee, which brews more red than coffee brown. Tastes divine. For kids? Individually wrapped Rice Krispies ($1.50), fresh fruit, even milk by the glass. ($2)

Before you get back in the car, stop at The Candy Factory (7th and Cherry Sts.) Sam and Donna Atkinson have owned the business for 14 years. Lots of candy on the first level from salt water taffy to truffles. The double-dipped dark chocolate graham crackers are worth the splurge. Candy Factory chocolates are made upstairs and the area is open for viewing. To go to the second floor, children must be accompanied by an adult. Little girls might like to see a Cinderella doll standing next to a milk chocolate carriage drawn by white chocolate horses.

I heard there was a place in the District that made grilled peanut butter and sliced banana sandwiches. I didn’t find it today. But, there’s always tomorrow.

How do you like your pb’s?