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A Taste of Branson: Andy Williams’ Moon River Grill

When you think cities known for their great restaurants, good food, fine wines … what comes to mind? New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Branson?Wait, Branson?
If a handful of creative and committed culinary professionals get their way, Branson will soon be a city everyone thinks of when it comes to treating your tastebuds to a night on the town.And why not? After a long day of shopping, shows and sightseeing, what better way to recharge your batteries than with a great meal and a cold beverage at one of Branson’s growing list of new eateries.

Up on Highway 76, music icon and veteran Branson entertainer Andy Williams recently spent more than $1.5 million to turn a financially failing sports bar into a one-of-a-kind restaurant experience featuring old family recipes, top-notch service and a pop-art collection. And down on the new Branson Landing, nearly a dozen dining destinations have opened their doors to offer tourists and locals alike a wide variety of places to break bread.

They’re listed on the Moon River Grill menu as “Andy’s favorites.”Williams admits it was the recipes he remembers his mother whipping up in the kitchen that provided much of the inspiration for the menu.

“I used my mother’s recipes for the chicken vegetable soup, for the rhubarb shortcake, for the spaghetti and meatballs, and for the meatloaf,” he said. “Pot roast, chicken pot pie, mac and cheese, and catfish are all things that I really liked. They’re what you call comfort foods.”

Although he designed and decorated the grill himself, he said he had a little help when it came to putting the menu together and perfecting the old family favorites for mass production.

“Mainly I used my brother, Don, who is the cook in the family,” Williams said. “He kept the recipes of my mother’s. He spent about two days in the kitchen with my chefs on the things that just weren’t turning out the way we wanted them to.”

Hours of work were spent on perfecting menu favorites such as the chicken pot pie, for example.

“We finally got it the way we wanted, which was with a lot of carrots and not too stiff,” he explained. “It should be creamy.”

The next step was to ensure consistency in the dishes’ preparation and presentation. “We don’t want people to come in one time and get a wonderful duck breast, and then come in another time and get one that isn’t so wonderful,” he said. “That’s what you don’t want.”

Inconsistency kills, he said.Wine and art

Not only is much of the menu based on old family favorites, the wine list offers four California varieties — a cabernet, merlot, chardonnay and white zinfandel — specifically bottled and labeled for Williams in addition to the other vintages offered.

“We made a deal with a wine company up in Napa called Round Hill Winery,” he said. “I had a wine-tasting at home with about 10 friends. Round Hill sent some samples to taste, and we picked the ones we liked the best. The ones we really liked, the ones that came out way ahead in our tasting, are the ones on the menu.”

Not in the mood for the fruit of the grape? Williams suggests a drink called a Naughty Betty. The fruity, mai tai-like beverage is named after an eye-catching painting of a chimpanzee in a dress that hangs behind the bar at Moon River Grill.

“Naughty Betty was painted by Donald Roller Wilson, a painter out of Arkansas,” Williams said. “He’s collected by a lot of celebrities. Robin Williams is a big fan of his.” Naughty Betty really is naughty, Williams emphasizes. He said to just read around the painting when you are in the bar to find out why.

“There’s a little bit of a story about Naughty Betty,” he joked. In addition to Naughty Betty, Williams displays much of his pop-art collection — including works by Andy Warhol and Roy Liechtenstein — on the walls of the restaurant’s dining room.

Located at 2600 W. Highway 76, the Moon River Grill opens at 11 a.m. daily. For more information, call (417) 337-9539.

Information courtesy of Joplin Globe

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