Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tasty Treasure in Small Town America

202 W John St (River Side of Courthouse), Van Buren, Missouri

If you are ever in Missouri, I want to share a tasteful treasure with you. It's called "The Mercantile Restaurant".

When you explore as much as I do, you find great accidental scores. This one was blog worthy.

Me and my legit Kentucky Fried Chicken

I and two friends, Cristina and Dawn, were driving home from spring break. We had spent the week in Nashville, and I insisted we to drive up to the Kentucky border to eat fried chicken just for bragging rights of having real KFC.

We enjoyed the experience and soon went on our way back home. The sun had set and we were still driving through Missouri when we all agreed we were very hungry.

At the nearest exit we pulled off the highway, and my gps showed there was a BBQ joint near by. We took a few wrong turns, and while trying to get back on the right road, we found the Mercantile.

We parked and circled around the building trying to peer in the window to see if it was open or not. The lights were on but we didn't see many people inside, and none of us could see business hours posted.

A few moments later a man leaving the restaurant came out and held the door open for us. I was the first to poke my head in the door and greeted the smiling waitress, "We weren't sure if y'all were still open or not."

The woman waved us in and laughed, "We are open as late as there are hungry people!"
It is even written on their facebook page, "Our closing time is a "suggested" time as we serve until there are no more customers."

Cristina and I
The restaurant decor is such that it gives off a "tight knit small town community" vibe.

The different staff came out to talk to us at various times seeming to take genuine interest in us visitors, and asking questions about our travels and where we were from.

One waitress asked if we had gotten lost once we told her we were headed to Tulsa from Nashville. She got a good laugh when my two traveling partners pointed at me and said, "She made us go to Kentucky for chicken."

We felt very welcome and comfortable there, and had some great conversation with the staff.

There was a small salad bar with a surprisingly wide variety of choices. And it was all so yummy. I thought it was probably just because I was so hungry.

Shrimp Fettuccine Alfredo
We were all rather chatty until the main dishes came out. Then our table went silent for several minutes. Each one of us was so lost in the deliciousness of our meals. When one of us finally spoke, all any of us could say was, "Wow!"

I was so full by the end of the meal, and had leftovers too. And the only way I could describe my meal was, "I think that's the best food I've ever had.

When we went to the cash register, another shocking surprise came. It was very inexpensive. Hot chocolate, salad bar, shrimp fettuccine Alfredo, and a bread stick, came to a total cost under the price of what I expected the salad bar to be.  And all with excellent service.

As we drove away that night, all three of us road trippers agreed, even though it was over a 4 hour drive from home, we had to bring others here some time. It was a little piece of heaven.

The leftovers stayed in my fridge for 3 days, and I thought for sure it wouldn't be as good as I remembered. I had told myself that it only tasted amazing, the way all food tastes amazing when one is very hungry. But after I heated it up in the microwave,  for a third time the restaurant surprised me. It tasted even better than I remembered. 

About 3 months later, Dawn and were driving back home from a trip to West Virginia, and we both wanted to go back to the restaurant we had such fond memory of. This time we arrived in daylight and found that the food was just as amazing as last time, and the town of Van Buren was surrounded by breathtaking beauty.

And the coolest part, the staff remembered us! And asked even more questions seeming so interested in our travels around the country.

If you decide to visit the Mercantile, I recommend coming in the daylight so you can see the whole beautiful area. Here are a few shots of Van Buren:

UPDATE: There's been a lot of visitors to this blog from Missouri since I posted this piece.
Have you been to Van Buren? Have you been to the Mercantile? Please comment sharing your thoughts, and where you are from!


  1. The Merc is our favorite local restaurant.

  2. I live in Van Buren. Glad you enjoyed it, thanks for stopping by!

  3. my very best friend lives in Van Buren. it does not surprise me that it was a great time with nice people.