A blue margarita and batter-fried lobster might be the first things that come to mind about The Blue Heron restaurant, located in the heart of the Lake of the Ozarks, Mo. But to the local lake community and broader Missouri lake-goers, the establishment represents a longstanding reputation for distinctive fine dining and tradition. Authentic cuisine; unparalleled views; well-trained staff; charming ambience filled with traditional mix Dutch décor, eclectic art and antique collectibles; and the host and owner, Joe Boer, all contribute to its authenticity.
On the first Saturday of the opening season, guests trickle in to kick off the summer with a cocktail and take in the majestic lake views from the patio before heading inside for one of the restaurant’s renowned menu items, such as the fresh batter-fried lobster tail or hand-cut daily aged prime beef, along with a few surprises such as royal French onion soup, breaded onion rings or delightful caviar.
“The lake season doesn’t begin until we come here,” say Mark and Jan Skertich from St. Louis about the tradition they’ve carried on for 20 years. “It’s the ambience that makes it wonderful. It’s really our favorite place at the lake. Boer is a class act. He always remembers you, and the service is divine.”
Meanwhile, serious Lake Ozark weekenders and loyal patrons Jeff and Tamie Tindle of Lee’s Summit have made The Blue Heron a culinary anniversary tradition. While celebrating their 35th anniversary, they have fun recalling their favorite menu items and entertainment they’ve enjoyed over the years. Jeff is open to trying something different each year such as smoked pork, but Tami says she has a hard time choosing anything but the batter-fried lobster year after year. “I just can’t veer from it,” she says with a laugh.
Boer attributes years of success at the lake to his commitment to remain “unusual.” An avid antique and art collector, he chooses to run his business and advertising with the values by which he chooses his art: with authenticity and expressiveness. “I do odd, unusual and different things so people will recall us,” he says.
One example of this is The Blue Heron’s nontraditional billboards along Highway 54. In lieu of the typical steak or lobster image and exit number, Boer prefers humor, light-heartedness and whimsical artwork that invokes an authentic dining experience.
When asked if anyone ever takes a dip on the notorious cocktail patio pool, Boer laughs. “I’m never asked this question by men, only women,” he says. “And yes, we once had a patron who swam in the pool, a very bold woman who was threatened with a terminal illness and felt like going for a dip at the end of the night.” The incident fazed neither Boer, nor the staff.
“Life is short,” he says. “It was an impulsive thing to do.” However, his insurance company apparently doesn’t view the cocktail patio pool in the same way. “They call it an attractive nuisance.”
Boer can’t hide the genuine pleasure he gets from his job. He knows his establishment from stove to table and is well known for his passion and extensive knowledge for wine, house cognac and brandies. The interest has lead him to write as contributing columnist on, as he puts it, “articles relating to intoxicating beverages” for LO Profile Magazine.
As with many of our favorite establishments, it is the people who make it special. The people provide the energy, memories and stories to share and make a place much more than the sum of what we see. Such is true with The Blue Heron. Or as the Skertiches put it, “We’re happiest when they open and saddest when they close.”
The Blue Heron is located at the corner of Horseshoe Bend Parkway and Business 54 in Lake Ozark, Mo.; 573-365-4646; theblueheronrestaurant.net.
The restaurant is open May through October and holds a no-reservation policy to be most fair and accommodating to walk-in guests, so arrive early.