Dobyns Dining Room, Point Lookout

Farm-to-table is the gold standard at Dobyns Dining Room.

The stellar Sunday brunch features ice carvings and live music. Lunch and dinner in the 290-seat dining room remain busy year-round. Thanksgiving brunch reservations open August 1; last year, it sold out in three days.

Why all the buzz? Housed in The Keeter Center, reminiscent of the State of Maine lodge at the 1904 World’s Fair, Dobyns serves regional fare on the College of the Ozarks campus, ten minutes south of downtown Branson. Much of the food is grown or raised on property, and the college’s philosophy involves students every step of the way.

Smoked bacon and pork loin come from the campus-run hog farm and processing plant. Pastas, jellies and jams are prepared in-house. Vegetables are picked garden-fresh. Flour, ground by students at the on-site grist mill, is kneaded into fluffy, whole wheat yeast rolls. Products from the campus dairy herd include custom ice cream flavors dreamed up by students.

It all happens under the leadership of Executive Chef Robert Stricklin, who worked in four and five-star restaurants around the world before he helped develop the certified culinary arts program. The college believes in giving young adults who can’t afford a degree the opportunity to graduate debt-free by working 15 hours per week at 100 campus stations. Approximately 110 students work in the kitchen alongside professional chefs. Students also wait tables. More than 90 percent of the menu is created from scratch.

On a Saturday night with live piano music in the background, my husband and I started with appetizers: tasty fried green tomatoes breaded with campus cornmeal and topped with house jalapeno jelly, pan-seared hickory-smoked catfish cakes served with slaw and a delightful tomato tartar sauce and corn fritters. My salad came with creamy house-made Ricotta cheese and pear-honey dressing. The outstanding signature, smoked tomato soup, was served with a dollop of whipped pesto cream and cornbread biscotti, winner of a student competition. Warm cranberry-cinnamon biscuits and yeast rolls accompanied apple butter in a mini iron skillet.

My pork pomodoro entrée featured campus-made products: tender pork medallions basted with pesto, garden tomatoes and roasted garlic over cornmeal polenta. My husband opted for satisfying pot roast served with mashed potatoes, rich brown gravy and vegetables. We sampled the to-die-for barbecue mac, homemade elbow noodles drenched in smoked Gouda cheese sauce with chunks of hickory-smoked pulled pork and caramelized topping.

A cake devotee, I couldn’t resist the massive slice of ten-layer chocolate cake filled with chocolate ganache and garnished with fresh whipped cream and raspberry sauce. It’s enough for four, and its leftovers enticed us to return for lunch before heading home from our Branson weekend.

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