305 E. Walnut St., Springfield, 417-832-1515, theordersgf.com, hotelvandivort.com
Hotel food is always a gamble. It can often seem an afterthought meant to placate weary travelers who are too tired or too lazy to venture out into the unknown. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, and The Order at Hotel Vandivort is one of those exceptions. A night spent at The Order is well worth it. High-quality ingredients, an enchanting atmosphere and excellent service converge to create an exciting addition to Springfield’s dining scene. Everything from the cocktail menu and food to the décor is executed with intention, and that thoughtfulness shines through the entire dining experience.
The restaurant’s concept was dreamed up by the owners—John, Billy and Karen McQueary,—IDM Hospitality Management (a consulting company based in Madison, Wisconsin) and the chef, Zach White. Together they created the idea of “Modern Missouri.” White explains the concept as using locally sourced ingredients to create upscale but approachable food inspired by Missouri cuisine. Take the cashew chicken lollipops: five perfectly crispy drumsticks that are served with a side of cashew-butter-oyster sauce. And they are excellent. The flavor of the sauce is more concentrated than traditional cashew sauce, and it is served on the side so you can add as little or (as in my case) as much as you want.
Local inspiration doesn’t stop with the food. Much of the décor was created in Springfield, including the 92 lights that hang above the dining room. Made by Springfield Hot Glass, the bulbs were hand-blown to resemble plumb bobs—a nod to the Masonic history of the building. (A plumb bob is a tool that was used to make sure a vertical line was straight.) Much of the iron and woodwork was also created locally, and the effect is a modern and sophisticated design that still manages to feel inviting.
Along with the cashew chicken lollipops, my friends and I ordered the bacon, onion and Terrell Creek goat cheese Rangoons as an appetizer. As a true red-blooded Missourian, I love crab Rangoons, so initially I was skeptical. But my hesitation was put to bed with one bite. They were packed with flavor and folded neatly, like a pocket square, so every mouthful contained some of the filling, which, let’s be honest, is the real reason anyone eats a Rangoon.
The cashew chicken lollipops take a Springfield legacy dish up a few notches.
For my entrée I landed on the potato and rosemary gnocchi, which was decadent, rich and creamy. The gnocchi was light and fluffy, the sauce tasty, and the grilled asparagus bright, but the true highlight of the dish was the organic mushrooms. Sourced from Willow Mountain Mushrooms, these fungi were little sponges, soaking up all the glorious flavors of the dish, which would have been too much if it had been any larger of a portion. I was able to eat an entire appetizer, entrée and dessert. And this is nice when you are looking for a culinary experience—when you don’t want to get so full on an appetizer you barely have room for the main event. If you’re looking for portions the size of your head, The Order is not where you’ll find them.
I also tried the roasted pork tenderloin. While everything was cooked well, the flavor profile was a bit too sweet for me. The parsnip and rutabaga puree had maple syrup, the pork was drizzled with a brown sugar bourbon glaze and even the wilted greens were on the sweet side. On their own, all of the elements were good, but the overall dish lacked balance.
The drinks, however, do not lack balance. The cocktail menu was the brainchild of Corey Jernigan, a consultant from Destin, Florida, whose resume includes creating the drink menu at the venerable Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. Working with the owners and White, Jernigan crafted 40 cocktail recipes for The Order. Those 40 recipes were eventually culled to the 21 drinks currently found on the menu.
I decided to try the SOMO Rum Punch—Zacapa rum, lemon juice, simple syrup, house-made grenadine, bitters and Fever Tree ginger beer. It was refreshing and went down quite easily. And at a price of $11, maybe a little too easily.
The next time you’re looking for inventive food and well-crafted drinks, head to The Order for a meal you won’t forget. Just don’t make the same mistake we did: If you’re dining on Thursday, Friday or Saturday night, be sure to call ahead.
We tasted the roasted pork tenderloin, cashew chicken lollipops, SOMO Rum Punch, potato and rosemary gnocchi and Hurts Donut bread pudding.
Five Fun Facts:
1. Snag a seat by the fireplace on one of the comfy couches. Drinks and small plates are served at any of the seating throughout the main floor.
2. The name The Order is a reference to the masonic history of the building.
3. There is a private room toward the back of the restaurant that is great for booking birthday dinners, and typically there is no extra charge for the room.
4. Be on the lookout for inventive changes to the menu. White purposefully kept the initial menu conservative, but he is excited to add boundary-pushing dishes to the mix.
5. Don’t miss the Hurts Donut bread pudding dessert.
Many elements of the decor, such as lighting and woodwork, were created locally in 417-land.
5 Questions With Chef Zach White:
417 Magazine: How did you learn to cook?
Zach White: I’ve been cooking for about 13 years. The majority of it has been in Springfield. I started washing dishes at Clary’s American Grill in 2002, where I quickly worked my way up, and then helped James Clary open Fish restaurant. I also worked at Flame and eventually became head chef. For the last three years I’ve been working at Touch. I was offered the position here at The Order in January. It was such a unique opportunity to be able to build something from the ground up.
417: What’s the best meal you’ve eaten?
Z.W: The braised porchetta from Braise in Milwaukee. It was served with a simple salad of local greens, local stone-ground grits and foraged mushrooms. Very, very simple but the flavors were just spot on and so clean.
417: What’s your vision for The Order?
Z.W: It’s pretty fluid. It’s an organic thing. I want it to be a trendsetter in the area. I want it to be that place people can come and relax and enjoy a meal in a fine dining atmosphere but that also has a relaxed, approachable feel to it.
417: How do you stay on trend?
Z.W.: Because we’re about five to seven years behind [in Missouri], I watch some different cooking shows, I read a lot on the internet and I have some friends in those food scenes that help point me in the direction of those things.