When you think of your favorite brunch places in Columbia, Missouri, Cafe Berlin likely tops the list. A mid-Missouri staple for more than a decade, the eatery continues to build its legacy with an additional kitchen, a new head chef and an ever-stronger locally driven carte du jour.
As was the tale of restaurants around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed operations at Cafe Berlin, and now, the restaurant has made some of those changes permanent, including offering service only six days a week and establishing a to-go kitchen, which will launch in 2022.
The to-go kitchen is housed in the same building as Cafe Berlin’s full-service kitchen – it previously existed as a commissary kitchen for Ozark Mountain Biscuit Co., Pasta La Fata and Fiddle & Stone Bread Co. at various times. The Cafe Berlin team also plans to add a grab-and-go service area, complete with a simple menu – think biscuit sandwiches and breakfast burritos – and a patio.
Both customers and staff have long awaited these changes. “Cafe Berlin has been a well-oiled machine for years,” general manager Sam Johnson says. “But the pandemic gave us an opportunity to think about how we want to do this moving forward. The global food industry is changing, so how can we stay relevant?”
Enter the café’s new marketing manager, Adrienne Luther, and new head chef, John Marino, who have used customer feedback and creativity to upgrade their areas of expertise. Marino, in particular, is leaning into longtime café favorites, but adding his own twist. Each weekend brings a new waffle special (announced in the café’s weekly newsletter), and the menu boasts even more fresh flavors and local produce in everything from salads to burritos to quesadillas.
Marino promises to keep the classics, however, which were first served by owner Eli Gay. “There’s stuff that Eli put on the menu that’s unique, and it’s not going anywhere,” he says. “That’s kind of why people come to Cafe Berlin in the first place – for dishes like the Butch Jones [bacon and eggs wrapped in a large pancake and topped with apples and sausage] or the Starving Artist [a biscuit topped with potatoes, sautéed greens, two eggs and housemade vegetarian chipotle gravy].”
There are new fall menu items that might make you think twice about your order, though. Muffin-size pot pies served with a side of potatoes and gravy, for instance, will drop soon. And although the eclectic collection of coffee mugs will remain the same, they’ll be filled with a new custom blend developed in collaboration with Fretboard Coffee. Dubbed Cafe Berlin 256, the blend combines light, medium and dark roasts, and it’s available by the cup or by the bag at both Cafe Berlin and Fretboard Coffee.
The menu isn’t the only thing getting a facelift. Inside the restaurant, the walls and windows have a fresh coat of paint, and renovations are underway to remove the stage and replace it with a coffee and juice bar. In the future, Cafe Berlin hopes to host a Friday night open mic on the patio, but for now, friends of the staff are playing live music out there.
The impetus for all the changes at Cafe Berlin is its customer base. “We’re grateful for the people who kind of kept us afloat during the pandemic,” Johnson says.
To show their appreciation, the staff plans to start a loyalty program – probably in the form of a punch card – that rewards regulars.
Follow Cafe Berlin on social media for the most up-to-date information on menu and structural changes, or pop by to see and, most importantly, taste its progress.
Cafe Berlin, 220 N. 10th St., Columbia, Missouri, 573.441.0400, cafeberlincomo.com