On a trip to Springfield, MO earlier this summer, I decided to find a place in the downtown area of Springfield. Well, there really isn't much of a downtown area, but what civic leaders in Springfield have done over the past few years, there's MORE of a downtown vibe these days than there was even 10 years ago. One of the places that has helped with the revitalization of Springfield's downtown area is a place that has been open for a little over a year now - Civil Kitchen & Tap. I had read about the place in a local business magazine on an earlier trip to Springfield and decided to give it a try on this visit.
Tom Muetzel owned a couple restaurants in Springfield - the now-closed Ophelia's and Finnegan's Wake. Anne Kim Baker came to work for Muetzel at Ophelia's, but he soon found that her skills were needed at Finnegan's Wake, a long time Irish pub in Springfield. She became such a valuable employee for Muetzel that he made her an offer to become a partner in the restaurant.
Muetzel and Baker came up with a concept restaurant - Sequiota Bike Shop - a small bistro that caters to bikers using the trails at Sequiota Park located across the street from the restaurant on Springfield's south side. They opened Sequiota Bike Shop in the spring of 2015, but they weren't finished with coming up with and idea for a new restaurant in Springfield.
Trolley's Park Central Pub had closed their doors in downtown Springfield about the same time that Muetzel and Baker were opening Sequiota Bike Shop. They came up with a concept of comfort food with a gourmet twist bringing in Betsy Pruett as the chef for the new restaurant. Muetzel and Baker enlisted the help of two of their managers - Thomas Hong who managed Finnegan's Wake, and Baker's husband Clayton whom she met when he was managing Ophelia's. The restaurant opened in October of 2015. Not long after they opened the doors to the restaurant and tap room downstairs, the Copper Still lounge opened on the second floor of the building.
Park Central Square was developed in downtown Springfield in the early 70's. About five years ago, the square underwent a nearly $2 million dollar renovation adding a large fountain, green space and a reconfiguration for pedestrian traffic. It's basically the centerpiece of what I've felt is a somewhat dysfunctional downtown area ever since I started to come to Springfield 30 years ago. Civil Kitchen is located at the corner of E. St. Louis Ave. and Park Central Square, about a block away from Finnegan's Wake. (see map) I was able to find a parking space on E. St. Louis and got into the restaurant around 1:00 p.m.
The inside of the front part of the restaurant features garage door walls that open up to an outside eating area. It was very warm that day, so the doors were shut. The decor featured somewhat of a modern rustic interior with a small bar and a number of tables in the room. Keeping with the theme of a hot southern Missouri day, I noticed that the songs they were playing in the restaurant had a "hot" theme including Nick Gilder's "Hot Child in the City", Foreigner's "Hot Blooded", and The Lovin' Spoonful's "(Hot Town) Summer in the City".
There's actually two parts to Civil Kitchen - a larger dining area with a larger second bar is located toward the back space. The bar had a stone facade and there was barn board wainscoting along the far wall. Antique-style Edison lamps hung from the ceiling. The back room wasn't open for lunch that day even though there appeared to be people back there.
I ended up sitting at the small bar up front and I was greeted by the bartender Tyler. He gave me a food menu and asked me what I wanted to drink. They had the Bronzeback Pale Ale from the Piney River Brewery located near the small southern Missouri town of Bucyrus available and I had one of those.
The menu is what I would call Southern comfort food with an upscale bent. Some of the more interesting items on the menu were chicken and waffles - or chicken and house-made donuts served with either syrup or gravy; pinko-breaded pork cutlet with a jalapeño gravy; and an open-faced "hot brown" turkey sandwich served on a waffle and topped with jalapeño gravy and a mornay cheese sauce. Sandwiches included a roasted turkey panini with blueberry jam; the breakfast burger that featured two grilled beef patties served on a waffle bed and topped with a fried egg, bacon and American cheese and finished with a choice of syrup or gravy; and an apple bacon cheddar sandwich that featured sliced Granny Smith apples, peppered bacon and fresh cheddar cheese served on a waffle.
It was down to the "hot brown" or getting a burger and I mentally did a coin flip and got the Smash Burger - two grilled beef patties served on a toasted brioche bun and topped with fresh lettuce, sliced tomatoes, sliced onions and American cheese. I asked Tyler if I could get a couple pieces of bacon to go along with the burger. For a side, I had my choice of nearly a dozen different items - house fries, smoked mac & cheese, steamed broccoli and red rooster potatoes were some of the sides they offered. I saw that they had beer-battered onion rings as a side. I asked Tyler if they were good and he said, "They're great. My favorite thing for all the sides." I got those and he was right - the onion rings were tasty. They had a light flaky batter and the onions were sweet to the taste.
The burger was also very good. The American cheese was slathered on top of both burger patties. The smoked bacon gave the burger another dimension in taste and patties were thick and juicy. This was a big-assed burger - and very filling. I ended up finishing up the burger mainly because it tasted so good and I think I left just one of the onion rings on my plate. I was so full from this meal that I wasn't even hungry for any dinner that evening. It was a great value as the burger with a side was $10 bucks and a $1.50 up-charge for the bacon.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Civil Kitchen. I felt my burger was delicious and it was a great value. The beer selection was varied and interesting. The service was top-notch and friendly. And the atmosphere of the place was friendly, inviting and unhurried. There are a number of good restaurants in the Springfield area and I would have no problem recommending Civil Kitchen as a casual place that serves interesting food at a good value.