Unless you’ve eaten at Flyover 114 times this year, you probably haven't tasted every item on the menu. The team, led by co-owners Adam Wells-Morgan and Dan Dethrow, recreates the menu two to three times every week with brand-new dishes, making each night at Flyover a different experience.
Wells-Morgan, the restaurant's executive chef, takes the lead on inventing original items for the menu. His process, though a tad unconventional, seems to be working for him so far: “I really like to – it sounds strange – I smell literally everything that comes in my kitchen,” he says. “I put dishes together in my head using smell memory. If I can smell it, I can taste it.”
Wells-Morgan grew up in Columbia, Missouri, and worked at various restaurants around the country before opening Flyover in 2016 with his best friend, Dethrow. While Wells-Morgan focuses on the food, Dethrow takes care of the drinks, and together they are trying to bring new, innovative ideas to Columbia to expand its food scene.
We met the master behind Flyover’s endlessly expanding menu to find out more about his inspiration, process and tips on cooking.
What is your favorite ingredient to cook with? One of my favorite things to cook with is pork. I love the animal and how versatile it is. One time, I inadvertently had six out of 15 dishes containing pork on the menu. But I predominantly like to feature pork on my pizzas, and we always have a pizza that rotates on the menu.
What is the most intriguing dish you’ve made recently? I did a really cool duck breast dish not that long ago. I cured the duck breast over night in angostura bitters, crushed sumac, orange zest, garlic, a little bit of rye whiskey and chili flakes. All that should be wacky as hell together, but it was basically like a spicy Old Fashioned that I cured the duck with, and it was so good. I was playing and hoping for the best, and it ended up becoming something I was pretty damn proud of.
How do you decide what to keep on the menu and what to change? There are things that never come off the menu because they’re just that popular. There are some things we’ve taken off just because it was time to do so, but there have been some that I’ve rotated back in because either I like them so much, or we had an abundance of people asking for them to come back. We do have a really good group of regulars who come into Flyover, so they’ll come in and say, “When is this coming back? This was so good!” And I try to write that down so I don’t forget it. That tends to be one of the best ways for me to cycle the menu back through.
What always stays on the menu? My soft pretzel dish with the boursin fondue, the chicken-fried cauliflower, the Midwestern carnitas, the cornmeal-crusted catfish, and the mac 'n' cheese. I am proud of that mac 'n' cheese. It uses Patchwork Family Farm’s bacon, and it uses Milton Creamery’s Prairie Breeze cheese, so it’s all local products. It’s just a wood-fired bowl of happy right there.
Do you have a secret weapon spice/ingredient/technique? It’s not really that big of a secret, but I love cooking with open fire, like a wood-fired oven or over charcoal. Open flame is one of the best things. Gas works, obviously, but having a natural flame off of wood or charcoal is ideal.
I also use an immersion circulator quite a bit; it’s a temperature-controlled water bath, and it’s used to cook vacuum-sealed products. So, say you want a medium-rare steak, like the beef tenderloin I have on the menu right now. You cut it; you cryovac it in a chamber sealer so that it’s in zero-oxygen packaging, and then if a medium-rare steak is 128 degrees finished, you set your water bath to 128 degrees. Put in the vacuum-sealed pouch with your meat in it, and cook it for about an hour. The entire piece of meat will be rendered to the temperature you set, and all you do is pull it out and sear it really fast. Then you have a perfectly cooked steak that is medium-rare from edge to edge inside.
What does cooking with an open flame add to your food? With a wood-fired oven especially, it adds nuance and subtle flavor to it. Cooking the same pizza or the same dish in a convection oven at the same temperature will yield a similar result, but there are nuances in the wood fire because it’s got the smoke and super dry heat. [The taste] is night and day.
Do you use an immersion circulator at home? Big time. You can get a food saver, like a little vacuum sealer, and then my favorite at-home immersion circulator is called Joule by ChefSteps. It is one of the best immersion circulators you can buy.
What do you like to cook when you’re at home? When I’m at home, I like to make breakfast food. I work dinner and late nights, so I don’t do it very often. I [also] like making breads and braises at home, and I really like making Bolognese or fresh pasta – things that really appeal to me that I might not make at the restaurant. I kind of cook for me when I’m at home.
Do you have a favorite comfort food? My ultimate comfort food is chicken-fried steak. And then my other weird one – just completely wacky – red coconut curries. For some reason, that just rings my chime every time. We have great pan-Asian food here in Columbia, which is just awesome. And we have great grocery stores with the supplies you need for it.
What is your first food memory? One of the first things I remember was my grandmother teaching me how to make whipped cream when I was 6 or 7, maybe a little older. She showed me how to do it by hand, too, not with like a mixer or anything. Once you’ve had the real thing, cool whip and all that crap just tastes as terrible as it actually is, and I love introducing people to something as simple as that. I actually have a tattoo on my arm of a whisk with whipped cream on the top of it in remembrance of [my grandmother].
If you could tell at-home cooks one thing, what would it be? Don’t be scared of salt! People are so scared of salt – it is the craziest thing in the world. Do not be afraid to season your food. Whatever you cook food in is what it’s going to taste like, so if you cook it in just water, it’s going to taste bland. People ask me, “Why is your pasta so good?” The simple explanation: salt.
What is your ideal day of eating in Columbia? Breakfast at Meriwether Cafe. Love, love, love it out there. I’d be torn between Murray’s or Barred Owl for my lunch or dinner. They both do such a good job with both meals. I’d probably say lunch at Barred Owl and dinner at Murray’s because I eat really late, and Murray’s is open a little later. That’s a hard one.
How have you seen the local food scene change within the last year? The food scene in Columbia is expanding, and I am absolutely loving it. In the past year or two, honestly, I don’t want to toot my horn, but with us and Barred Owl opening, I think we’ve brought some new ideas to town that might be taking off. It’s not just me saying that – I’m hearing that from my customers. I love seeing how Columbia is changing. There is becoming more of an awareness about all of the awesome products that are available in our area – Barred Owl, Flyover, Peachtree, Wine Cellar & Bistro – all those guys are doing a great job of showcasing what is available in the area, and it’s just making all of us work harder and promote our region, not through competition, but through mutual appreciation. I love it. I absolutely love it. I’ve been a Columbia native for the majority of my life, and for a while the reason I wanted to open a restaurant here was because I felt the food scene was kind of stagnant. One of the best food scenes in the country right now, in my humble opinion, is Kansas City. I’m there a couple times a month because my brother is the executive chef at both Grand Street Café locations. I feel like Columbia leans more in the direction of Kansas City, and if we push in that direction, there’s no reason we couldn’t be one of the best food cities in the state.
Who are chefs in Columbia you admire? Brook Harlan is one of my buddies, and what he’s doing at the Career Center is just outstanding. Brook does such a good job of educating today’s youth in the culinary scene, and he does such a phenomenal job in what he is able to put out at the Career Center. Ben Parks and Josh Smith at Barred Owl, love those guys. What they’re doing over there is right up my alley. They’re really up in the game of whole-animal utilization. Brandon Vair at Meriwether – I love what he and his wife are doing out there. Ben Hamrah is doing a great job with Peachtree with the Sunday Suppers. I guess I’ll start with those guys.
Are there any concepts of cooking you hope to see added or expanded in Columbia? More Middle Eastern. I’m amazed we don’t have shawarma, and things like that. But predominantly, I am dying for really good Hispanic food. I go to Kansas City, and that’s about all I eat. We have Tex Mex here in town, but real regional Hispanic food does not exist in Columbia. And I think it would be really well received.
What are your plans for the future? Well, what everyone wants us to do is to make Flyover bigger [laughs]. We’ve kind of been kicking the idea around of maybe looking into a breakfast and brunch place in addition to Flyover in the next couple of years. We’d like to, but you never know. For right now, we’re focusing on making Flyover good and evolving it with the times to stay as on-trend as possible. For the immediate future, I’d say that’s what we’re going to focus on – making Flyover the best it can possibly be.
Flyover, 212 E. Green Meadows Road #9, Columbia, Missouri, 573.825.6036, flyovercomo.com