Bulrush introduces Ozarkian cuisine to the St. Louis fine-dining scene.

This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Missouri Life magazine.

Options are plentiful for destination dining in St. Louis. Gastronomes head into the city to seek out first-rate steakhouses, favorite traditional restaurants, or global fusion cuisine establishments. Others search for highly acclaimed, James Beard award-winning chefs.

If a locavore-centric restaurant that serves multicourse flights inspires your food-loving soul, Bulrush is a destination worth exploring.

The restaurant, located in midtown St. Louis on Washington Boulevard, brings together historical Ozarks food and the creative culinary techniques of Chef/Owner Rob Connley. Bulrush is a unique fine-dining restaurant that takes the locavore philosophy to an uber level. I recently met the James Beard Award semi-finalist at a professional chef meeting where he was the speaker.

Chef Rob talked about his passion for the food and history of Ozarks cuisine. He spoke about how he searches and forages for foods that have slipped from our culinary awareness over the past century. That includes native species of plants and rare heirloom breeds of animals.

His ever-changing menu might include such modern-day rarities as bluebells, sassafras leaves, cattail pollen, venison powder, corn husk ash, kudzu, and redbud.

Chef Rob’s research through historical archives, family journals, and interviews with museum curators is reminiscent of a History Channel special. He and his staff research indigenous tribes, European immigrants, and enslaved people who were relocated to the Ozarks in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas.

The cultures and cooking styles of these populations blended during the colonial period more than two hundred years ago. The inhabitants’ daily diet and special occasion meals used what they could grow or raise along with what was plentiful at the time. Cattail, for example, was common in Missouri both then and now and is flavorful through every stage of its life.

The hyper-seasonal menu at Bulrush is dependent on what can be foraged from the restaurant’s 10,000-acre partnership with area landowners. Some heirloom varieties that Chef Rob procures from local growers date from 1841.

In addition to the culinary offerings, Chef Rob is proud of the beverage program at Bulrush.

“Our beer and cocktail program is 100 percent local, including all mixers and syrups/shrubs/kombuchas made in house with forage and zero waste kitchen ingredients,” he says. “But our wine program is based on archival research into Missouri’s role in saving the French wine industry from the phylloxera epidemic of the mid- to late 1800s.”

One of the wine list standouts is Séléné from France, which traces its root stock to Missouri and that 19th-century wine grape rescue, according to Chef Rob.

“Bulrush creates extremely contemporary Ozark food based in early nineteenth century traditions,” he adds.

Bulrush gives diners a chance to experience wild foods and flavors reminiscent of times past. That is evident in a remark from a recent diner: a ninety-two-year-old lifelong Ozark native who finished his meal by saying, “I didn’t recognize a thing you served me, but every course reminded me of my childhood.”

For operating hours and reservation policy, explore BulrushStL.com.