Ode to the Ozarks

An exploration of history through highbrow Ozark cuisine.

By Judy Hennessey

Photography by Kim Dillon


Expect the unexpected when you dine at Chef Rob Connoley’s hot, new, dining venue, Bulrush. Don’t let the sleek, minimalist entry fool you. Everything from the cocktail menu to the cuisine is an ode to edibles and libations steeped in history, specifically from the 1820s to 1870.  “What we are doing here is completely unique. I’m not copying what anybody else is doing,” explains Connoley, a self-taught chef and native St. Louisian whose family pedigree is deeply rooted in the Ozarks. Years of research fueled his imagination and passion for regionally forged food. It was after meeting Justin Bell, a L’Ecole classically trained chef whose linage traces to the Ozarks as well, that Chef Rob came up with Bulrush’s innovative concept.

The bar menu offers a peek of what Bulrush is all about. Mains like Seared Walleye Fillet, rice and slaw dressed in sumac sofrito and fermented pepper sauce with bursts of juicy pickled cherry tomatoes, shows off the impressive locally sourced menu. Yet one will need to indulge in Connoley’s tasting menu to fully experience his culinary and artistic vision. “This project was delayed three years because I couldn’t find a space,” says Connoley.     

“I knew exactly what I wanted but no landlord would agree to a huge hood hanging in the center of the room.” But patrons of the arts Ken and Nancy Kranzberg had a space they weren’t using, making it possible for Chef Rob to create his stage.

Every night is a show. The wait staff, dressed in period denim and bib aprons, leads you into the main dining room, making you feel as though you are being seated for a live theater performance. All diners have a first-row seats as one long table wraps around the hood suspended over an open kitchen equipped with professional stoves and various prep stations. Beverages are discussed as the first course is plated by Bell.

“All of the food you are eating tonight is from the 1800s but prepared with a very modern twist,” says Connoley. Be prepared to savor the taste of St. Louis’s Ozark roots!