Just outside the Common Pleas Courthouse sits a park bench that overlooks downtown Cape Girardeau (the locals just say “Cape”). During my brief stay on the Cape last summer, this was where I would start my day.
I would stop and get a perfect cup of coffee from the Dynamite Coffee shop on N. Spanish Street. Then I would climb the steps to the bench that offered a picturesque view of beautiful downtown Cape. Why was I visiting Cape? I was thinking about relocating from Washington, D.C. where I’ve lived in the same flat in the Adams Morgan area for the last 25 years. My family, and large extended family, live about 20 miles south of Cape in a rural area. I thought if I was going to relocate, then I would move closer to where they live. However, I wasn’t going rural, and I thought the downtown Cape area, which I have visited occasionally, was interesting and might be a viable option.
Located about 100 miles south of St. Louis, downtown Cape is snuggled up against the west bank of the powerful Mississippi River. A flood wall that is 17 - 20 feet tall protects the downtown area from the river, which did its job last May when there was considerable flooding in the Southeast Missouri area.
As I sat on my perch, I noted how quaint the downtown area was. It never seemed really crowded, but had just enough traffic to give it somewhat of an slight urban feel - emphasis on “slight”. The delivery trucks were making their routes, people were driving to work, and barges slowly moved their way up and down the river. Cape is also a college town that is home to Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) - however, being it was late July, most of the approximately 12,000 students were on summer break. I’m sure the city becomes more vibrant when the autumn semester begins.
Now I could have stayed at my younger sister’s home for my visit. However, I knew if I really wanted to get a feel of downtown Cape then I would have to stay in the area - walking around, exploring, eating, and just experiencing it. In my search for lodging, I learned that there were no hotels near the river and downtown area. A friend suggested that I look into the AirBNB option which I did and found a nice room in a Civil War era house just a few blocks from downtown - and for only $35 a night. Score and score - and I will add that my first AirBNB experience was terrific. The host was very welcoming and I met the friendliest cat west of the Mississippi - the perfect location for my downtown Cape journey. I did note that a Marriott Courtyard was coming to downtown on Broadway street which would be a positive addition to the area as the majority of Cape hotels are located 3-4 miles from the downtown area along Interstate 55. So after finding a place to stay, my next move was to research the area for food options and things to do.
I did a little research online and made some mental notes. I didn’t want to write anything down, as I just wanted to wander around the area to see what jumped out. Since Italian is my favorite, I quickly discovered Bella Italia Ristorante on N. Spanish street and decided to give it a try. It pretty much had your usual Italian fare (spaghetti, chicken parmesan, etc.) I decided on the four cheese lasagna with meat and a nice glass of Chianti (no better wine for pasta with a tomato sauce). It was good and I wish I had the chance to visit it again to try the lobster ravioli, but my stay was short and I wanted to experience a variety of restaurants. My AirBNB host recommended that I eat at Port Cape Girardeau which is located right on the river and it was a hit for me. I figured ‘when in Rome’ why not order the catfish platter with two sides (a yummy sweet and sour slaw and mac & cheese). The jalapeño hush puppies that were included with the platter were very good, and the warm bread with strawberry honey was delicious. I had went there for dinner, and left very full and satisfied. Since the river was right outside the Port, I walked over to the bank. There were have a couple of benches and it was nice to sit and watch the lazy river activity as the day ended and the humidity relaxed a bit. It was a perfect way to end my day.
I started my next day with my coffee and view from the courthouse bench, then went to visit the Crisp Museum located at the SEMO River Campus. Small, but very informative place where I learned a lot about not only Cape but southeast Missouri history - and how the river and railroad were utilized in developing the city into what it is today. Definitely worth visiting if you are in the area.
For a late lunch, I found Minglewood Brewery where I enjoyed a nice, hoppy but smooth “crafted on the spot” IPA and a tomato and olive pizza. I’ve always been a fan of local breweries and the interesting ales and beer they craft for their community. And good pizza to boot. Definitely a place I will go back to.
Also, I want to give an honorable mention to Socials Cafe on Main Street - my younger sister and my two nieces met me there for lunch and we all really liked it. Fresh sandwiches, wraps (I had the turkey), salads, and cupcakes for dessert! I also had an interesting conversation with my younger niece who told me that we weren't in the "real" Cape as that was out by the mall. Nothing against the mall area, but I personally prefer the atmosphere and history of being in downtown Cape by the river - for me, the "real' Cape.
So the outcome of my visit - 9 months later I moved to downtown Cape in a nice apartment building located just four blocks up from the river. Thus begins my life in a new community down by the sometimes lazy and sometimes powerful Mississippi River.