Sunday, July 11, 2010

Rayville Bakery/VanTill Farms

Greg showed me a flyer he picked up at the Kansas City River Market; "we need to check this out sometime." Rayville Baking Co, who sell their delicious fresh made breads at the market, opened a restaurant on their farm in nearby Rayville, MO. Friday night features hand made, wood fired oven gourmet pizzas and their own VanTill Family wines in a bucolic outdoor setting. "Sounds like a fun change of pace", Greg said. You have to know Greg that a "change of pace" for him is akin to a life changing experience for most of us. I eagerly agreed.

So this past Friday, we motored off to tiny Rayville, MO (pop 204, several horses and a post office) to sample the VanTill's offerings. Tagging along for the ride was Greg's neighbor Sue and her friend Marie. Greg even broke out the new Hyundai Tucson he bought a few months ago and never drives. The ride up, along MO highway 210 and then MO 10, is pleasant and scenic, snaking along the Missouri river bottom and skirting the bluffs. On this Friday, the fields were green, the trees full and the traffic light. Watching the darting and diving of a bi-plane crop duster we happened to spy along the way was something us city folk do not often see. Police and ambulance helicopters, yes.. but few crop dusters.

It took an ambling hour to get there and we found it with no problems. Once parked, we entered the building and asked the lady we saw where the restaurant was. She directed us to the restrooms. When we clarified what we wanted she sent us back outside whereupon we were told we had to go back in and order from the front. Since it looked more like their wine and baked goods store, we just assumed... well.. assumed wrong. I would suggest that the management make the ordering process a bit more clear.

Once ordered and directed again in the right place we found a spacious iron table on the patio; one of those large party tents with the sides rolled up. The bar was a table with the selections of the wines and Boulevard beer in the bottle. You could help your self to water and lemonade.

But the night was about the pizza. We ordered several to sample the wares. One was a bacon gorgonzola with balsamic glazed onions, red sauce, garlic, mozzarella and the aforementioned bacon and gorgonzola cheese. Greg selected a rosemary pear pizza with white sauce, chicken, Asiago, mozzarella, rosemary, garlic and bosc pears. The other choice was the Mediterranean with red sauce, chicken, hot Italian sausage, mozzarella, garlic, feta, onions, Kalamata olives and spinach.

The pizzas are baked right in the same room in the hand built brick oven. The crusts are crisp and tasty with just the right thickness. The bacon gorgonzola was wonderful, the strong flavors blending into a bright and unforgettable combination. The rosemary pear was a revelation. I am not always fond of fruit used in odd ways; keep the strawberries, cherries and other fruits out of my salad, soup and pizza and put them where they belong. But, as with the bacon gorgonzola, the unique flavors combined so well. The sweet pears and the lush sauce blended with the chunks of tasty chicken, perfectly accented with just enough rosemary and garlic as not to overwhelm. This is a pizza worthy of any serious pizza restaurant.

The Mediterranean was interesting and flavorful. Although tasty and perfectly baked, it was just a bit too busy with all the ingredients piled on. Damn good pizza however and quite unique.

The pizzas are generous sized and range in price from the basic spinach blanco (white sauce, spinach, cheese and tomatoes) at $13 to the $17 Mediterranean. For an extra $3.50 a generous sized fresh Greenhouse Greens salad is available with a choice of dressing. The greens were grown on the farm and thus freshly picked and mixed with tomatoes, cucumber, onion and olives. Fresh, sweet, crisp and wonderful.

If you are nuts, like we were, you get a dessert too. Everything from vanilla ice cream to some of the best home made strawberry shortcake I have ever had. Not overly sweet, the shortcake was a fresh baked biscuit-like cake, not those nasty twinkie sponge things. The strawberries were grown on location, likely picked that day, and so naturally sweet. The cream on top was fresh and silky. At $4.50 it is a bargain and only available in season.

Greg had a beer, but the ladies and I split a bottle of the VanTill's own wine. We chose a white chardonel. Chardonel grapes, a hybrid chardonnay and seyval, are popular among Missouri wineries. It is a dry white wine with an abundance of fruit. I actually prefer the crispness of the regular chardonnay as opposed to the softer chardonel, but Sue and Marie were captivated by it. A fine bottle of wine, but I think next time, with the pizza, a red would be better.

Charming place, friendly staff, but don't go expecting fine tableware or to be waited upon; everything is ordered (except the wine) and paid for at the front counter. A bit clumsy, but it works once you figure out the system. As with any alfresco dining, the flies can be a problem and remember you are out in the country so they are plentiful. Get extra paper plates (the usual place settings, thankfully there were no plastic forks) to cover your pizza.

A perfect end to the evening is to stroll to the nearby green houses and see where your strawberries, rosemary, salad greens and such were grown. A few grape vines and flower gardens dot the area. Be sure to take home some bread, jam or wine if you want.

So, definitely worth the travel time from the big, bad city and we plan to go again before the summer ends. They do have the restaurant open year round with the patio covered and heated.

But go during strawberry season for the wonderful shortcake.

VanTill Farms/Rayville Baking 13986 Hwy C Rayville, MO

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