Infuxn Vodka Bar

Infuxn.

 

Let’s start with the pronunciation of this odd little word, specifically the latter half.

 

It does not rhyme with suction; it rhymes with fusion.

 

Now, put it all together and say in-fusion.

 

Not only is that what the name sounds like, it also describes what goes on at Joplin’s ultra hip vodka bar called Infuxn.

 

infuxn lounge

 

This upscale lounge with its sleek decor, VIP seating, frozen drink rail at the bar, and vodka bank in the rear makes me feel like I’ve have been transported from southwest Missouri directly to a club in Vegas.

 

infuxn bank 2

The vodka bank. Care to make a withdrawal?

 

In addition to its unique atmosphere, Infuxn sets itself apart from other local bars by focusing on the art of the cocktail. Many of the drinks here are actual infusions, which are defined in the dictionary as “drinks, remedies, or extracts prepared by soaking the leaves of a plant or herb in liquid.”

 

Yes, Infuxn has a remedy for whatever ails you.

 

The medicine man here is Daniel Valentine, the creative force behind Infuxn’s cocktail elixirs. He has crafted a menu of drinks that is anything but ordinary. Daniel even takes his art beyond the menu by concocting a daily drink special, plus he makes customized drinks based on his patrons’ requests.

 

The novel atmosphere and chill vibe of Infuxn make it a great place for a date or to meet up with friend. Recently, my friend Carrie and I stopped here and relaxed while we sampled a few of Daniel’s masterpieces.

 

I’ll admit, I’d assumed that all of the drinks would be vodka-based, since Infuxn is a vodka bar. While many of them are, I later realized that the two drinks I’d ordered had not a drop of vodka in them.

 

This is the French Connection.

 

infuxn french

 

Beautiful, isn’t it?

 

But it’s not what I ordered, and that was my own fault. When our server placed this pretty brandy snifter on the table, I realized that it looked nothing like the icy Last Summer that I’d intended to order. Glancing back at the menu, I saw that the French Connection was listed below the Last Summer, and I must have been so intrigued with it that the words “French Connection” came out of my mouth when my brain meant to say “Last Summer.”

 

Oops.

 

But instead of sending the drink back, I opted to try it. After all, Infuxn is the place to sample innovative concoctions that you can’t find anywhere else.

 

The French Connection is made with a variety of ingredients, many of which I looked up before writing this article because I wasn’t exactly sure what they were, like Bulleit Rye (Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey) and Green Chartreuse (a naturally green liquor made from alcohol, sugar, and 130 plants and flowers). Add in some orange bitters, house maple syrup, serve it over a muddled sugar cube, and garnish it with an orange peel and fresh rosemary, and you’ve got your French Connection.

 

Fragrant and subtly sweet – yet potent – this is definitely a sipping drink. I would even order it again – on purpose.

 

Carrie started out with the tropical Lusca, which is Infuxn’s version of a Mai Tai.

 

infuxn lusca

 

The Lusca is made with Pyrat rum, The Kraken black spiced rum, Cointreau, and fresh lime, pineapple, and orange juices. Lime syrup and orgeat (I had to look this up, too: a syrup made from almonds, sugar, and rose water or orange flower water) are added, then the mixture is shaken, strained, and served over ice.

 

 

It won’t come as a surprise that the next drink I ordered was the Last Summer.

 

infuxn last summer

 

Made with Hendrick’s gin, lavender-ginger syrup, and fresh lemon juice, this elixir is served over ice and topped with a Luxardo cherry. This refreshing drink goes down easily, so pace yourself – especially on a hot day. And do yourself a favor and eat that decadent (and expensive) Luxardo cherry on top; fruity with a hint of amaretto, Luxardo cherries are the luxe cousins of the familiar Maraschino cherries.

 

 

Carrie ordered the popular Moscow Mule next.

 

infuxn mule 1

 

This shiny, chilled copper mug contained Russian Standard vodka, ginger beer, freshly squeezed lime juice, and a special ingredient (ooh, mystery!) and was topped with a slice of lime and a slice of cucumber. This invigorating drink is a guaranteed thirst-quencher on a sultry day.

 

Halfway through my second drink, my stomach piped up and asked me to fill it with something more substantial than liquid. I’ve learned by now not to argue with my stomach, so I asked for a food menu, which contained a variety of small-plate options.

 

I ordered the Crab Stuffed Mushrooms, which provided a creamy, salty contrast to my mildly sweet drink.

 

infuxn crab

 

Carrie, a vegan, ordered the hummus.

 

infuxn hummus

 

The hummus flavor that day was garlic, and it was served with fresh celery, carrots, and fried naan (which is lightly seasoned and highly addictive).

 

I’m excited that Infuxn is part of Joplin; it offers a one-of-a-kind experience in our city, making it a must-visit place for both tourists and locals.

 

Just make sure you practice saying the name before you go.

 

 

 

Infuxn is located at 503 S. Main St. Click here to visit Infuxn’s website.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

 

All Aboard Ice Cream

There are restaurants you stop at to fill your belly, and then there are restaurants you visit to fill the pages in your family’s book of memories.

 

All Aboard Ice Cream is one of those memory-making restaurant destinations.

 

Location

All Aboard Ice Cream is located on Highway 86, just south of Joplin. It’s right across the street from Shoal Creek and some of Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center‘s scenic hiking trails. Take advantage of this great location by enjoying a nature walk before or after your visit to All Aboard.

 

 

The Appeal

The Kansas City Southern postal car that sits in the front of the property attracts curious visitors to All Aboard, but the old-fashioned ice cream and hamburgers are the gustatory draws (more about those later).

 

all aboard rr car

 

When my daughter and I visited All Aboard, the first thing she did was run to the rail car to begin exploring.

 

This was once a postal car, and I found it interesting looking at the names of the towns listed on the mail slots in the center of the car.

 

all aboard mail

 

Back in the day, it might take days or weeks for messages to be delivered. Explaining this process to email-savvy young ones makes for a unique history lesson.

 

all aboard car interior

 

You can also eat inside the air-conditioned rail car at one of the dining booths.

 

By the way, All Aboard offers birthday party packages in the rail car. Talk about a one-of-a-kind location!

 
 

Whisler’s

After exploring the rail car, we headed over to the train depot to order our food.

 

 

all aboard depot

 

The counter is divided between All Aboard’s dessert orders on the left and Whisler’s Old-Fashioned Hamburgers on the right.

 

Burgers? Wasn’t this supposed to be about ice cream?

 

I promise I’ll get to the ice cream, but first let me tell you about Whisler’s.

 

Lunch before dessert, you know.

 

People who grew up in southwest Missouri have heard of the original Whisler’s in Carthage that has been perfecting its hamburgers since the 1950s.

 

all aboard grill

 

Well, I didn’t grow up around here so I’d never heard about Whisler’s until it opened at the All Aboard location.

 

Whisler’s is the type of all-American restaurant that you envision when you think of the wholesome 1950s, when burgers and ice cream were regarded with much more reverence than those served in today’s fast-food chain restaurants.

 

That’s because everything was made from scratch back then – and with quality ingredients.

 

Whisler’s old-time burgers are made to order on a busy, sizzling grill in the open kitchen. If you come at peak lunch time, be patient. There’s only so much room on the grill, so strike up a conversation with your neighbor in line while you wait for your juicy beauties to be ready.

 

all aboard burger

 

I ordered a single cheeseburger, which is slightly larger than a slider. Made with fresh, local beef, this burger was dressed with mustard, onions, pickles, and cheese, and topped off with a fluffy bun.

 

If you’re craving more meat, you can order double and triple burgers, or you can choose burgers topped with other types of meat, such as the “Pig and Bull” (with ham), “Sow and Cow” (with bacon), and the “Farm” (with ham and bacon).

 

My daughter doesn’t like burgers (what?!), so she ordered a hot dog.

 

all aboard picnic 2

 

She was obviously happy with her choice.

 

 

Finally, the Ice Cream!

A good old-fashioned slider meal begs to be topped off with a rich, creamy treat. All Aboard makes it easy to satisfy that craving by presenting a variety of ice cream flavors at the counter adjacent to Whisler’s.

 

all-aboard-ice-cream small

 

I confess that I’ve eaten All Aboard Ice Cream countless times in the past — but it was known as Anderson’s Ice Cream back then.

 

Let me explain.

 

Anderson’s Ice Cream satisfied the collective sweet tooth of the Joplin community for many years. Carl and Freda Anderson founded the original ice cream company in 1936 in downtown Joplin, and it was operated by family members until 1999.

 

In 2012, Billy Garrigan answered the prayers of many Joplinites and opened up Anderson’s Ice Cream inside the Candy House Gourmet Chocolates building.

 

Treating my kids to Anderson’s Ice Cream to kick off the first day of summer vacation became our family tradition.

 

When Garrigan moved his business in 2015, he also changed its name to All Aboard because a company in the Northeast had trademarked the name Anderson’s. While it would’ve been nice to carry on the Anderson’s name, I think All Aboard suits this train-themed business perfectly.

 

Drew Evans is the owner of All Aboard now, making premium ice cream in the Anderson’s tradition (its richness comes from 14% butterfat). I tried a scoop of caramelly Creme Brûlée (which is hard to see in the photo because it was such an incredibly bright day), and it was creamy perfection.

 

all aboard dessert

 

Family Friendly

When Garrigan opened All Aboard, his goal was to make the business and location as family friendly as possible. He scored well with the high-quality (yet affordable) burgers and ice cream.

 

The train theme puts him over the top.

 

In addition to the rail car, there’s other railroad memorabilia to discover. My daughter had fun standing by the crossing sign (which looks like she’s standing just a few feet from an active track)…

 

all aboard rr crossing

 

…and ringing the bell in front of the train depot.

 

all aboard bell

 

Older kids can play in the picnic area out front, and young children can toddle around safely in the enclosed patio area where their parents can sit down and eat in peace. There’s also a sandbox and a mini train; tickets can be purchased for a ride around the picnic area.

 

all aboard mini train

 

All Aboard has gone to great lengths to create a destination where families can enjoy wholesome food and family fun.

 

And where lasting memories are made.

 

 

All Aboard is located at 102 Castle Drive. Visit its Facebook page here.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

 

Grand Falls

Grand Falls is a must-see for anyone visiting – or living in – Joplin.

 

This natural formation is beautiful, so be sure to bring your camera. Bring your family, too, because Grand Falls makes an outstanding background in photos.

 

But Grand Falls isn’t just a pretty place to visit.

 

It’s also the largest continuously running waterfall in Missouri.

 

falls autumn

That’s, right! The water in Shoal Creek plunges 12 feet to a rock ledge.

 

What? Only 12 feet? Clearly you won’t need to crane your neck to see the top of the falls, but you are guaranteed a chance to see it flowing every time you visit because, well, that’s how a continuously flowing waterfall works.

 

Above the falls there’s a man-made dam. This was installed to form a reservoir that supplies water to Joplin residents.

 

The natural falls are created by a ledge of solid chert rock that measures 163 feet across, creating a Little Niagra Falls right here in our backyard.

 

There are outcroppings of chert next to the falls that fill with water and create pools that kids of all ages can splash in,

 

falls pool splash

and explore to discover frogs and other types of life in the water.

 

falls kids on chert

Grand Falls is accessible from Riverside Drive, and there’s a small gravel lot where you can park your car. You can admire the falls from there, or you can walk the path from the parking lot down to the creek.

 

As you can see from all of the rock in the photos, the terrain is uneven, so be sure to wear appropriate shoes. If you plan on playing in the water (especially in the pools of water in between the rocks), I’d recommend a pair of rubber aqua socks because the rocks can be slippery.

 

Falls kids on rocks

Or maybe you just want to find a dry rock to sit on so you can rest while listening to the peaceful flowing water. Visit the falls at sunrise and treat yourself to the sight of early morning mist drifting off the creek while you sip some coffee.

 

falls mist

Ahh.

 

After visiting the falls (which is on the east side of the creek) our family usually stops at Inspiration Point and McClelland Park (which are both on the bluff on the west side of the creek).

 

Inspiration Point is located near the intersection of Glendale Road and McClelland Park Boulevard. There’s a gravel overlook area where you can pull over and enjoy a breathtaking view of Shoal Creek.

 

falls inspiration

Next to Inspiration Point is McClelland Park. This park is situated on top of a hill, making it a prime spot for kite-flying in the spring. There are several areas with playground equipment, plus a disc golf course that’s located in the south part of the park.

 

The many mature trees at McClelland make it a perfect place for a picnic, and there are several tables located throughout the park.

 

Here’s a table near the bluff that overlooks Grand Falls to the east. We visited the park on that spectacular fall day take photos to use in our holiday card.

 

falls picnic

 No, we didn’t use this for our holiday photo and, no, she did not push her sister off the table (surprisingly).

 

So take a few minutes out of your day to stop at picturesque Grand Falls, where you can enjoy the unique natural surroundings and recharge your batteries.

 

If you have more time, swing by Inspiration Point, then have a picnic under the trees at McClelland Park.

 

 


Grand Falls is located at 5400 Riverside Drive, and McClelland Park is located at Maiden Lane and Shoal Creek (click here for its website and map).

 

Directions to Grand Falls: Off I-44, exit 6; south on Route 86 (Hearnes Blvd./South Main Street) two blocks; at the roundabout go west (right) on Glendale Road 1.5 miles; south (left) on Jackson across the low-water bridge; west (right) on Riverside Drive two miles; and Grand Falls is on the right.

 

Photos by Travis Smith; family photo by Lloyd Smith.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Brunch at Club 1201

There’s something decadent about brunching. For one thing, going out for brunch implies that you possess ample time to linger over a morning meal, which is quite the opposite of how I typically find myself each morning, reaching for grab-and-go foods as I scoot the kids out the door to one activity or another – even on the weekends.

 

Sigh. I remember those weekends before having kids when I could sleep in, back when time was a luxury.

 

Brunching is special because it typically happens at locations with elegant decor and neatly-pressed linens covering the tables. It’s as though these places understand that if you possess leisure time in the morning, then you deserve to celebrate that in beautiful surroundings, by golly.

 

Finally, brunching involves eating dishes that are essentially fancied-up versions of regular breakfast fare. Take Eggs Benedict, for instance, which is basically a plate of eggs, bacon, and toast that’s been artfully arranged and topped with a sumptuous sauce.

 

Yes, brunching has been an elusive activity for me for the last decade or so, ever since parenting trumped leisuring as my primary focus on the weekends.

 

That is, until last weekend.

 

club 1201 brunch out2

Our kids spent Saturday night at Grandma’s house, leaving my husband Travis and I with – gasp! – no obligations on Sunday morning, so we decided to treat ourselves to brunch at Club 1201.

 

For years, I’d been hearing people talk about brunching here and telling me I just had to try it. Club 1201 serves brunch only on Sundays, lunch on weekdays, and dinner on Fridays and Saturdays (in the rear dining room of the building, in what’s called Uncorked @1201). Over the years, we’d eaten every other meal except brunch here, but this was about to change.

 

To commemorate this occasion, I even wore a dress. It just seemed like a brunchy thing to do.

 

club 1201 brunch c and t 2

The interior of Club 1201 is decorated with an eclectic collection of picture frames, doors, and other architectural features that are presented as pieces of art, which creates a uniquely sophisticated backdrop. Linda Williams, the owner of the restaurant, greeted us and showed us to our table, which was covered with crisp black linens.

 

So far, so fancy.

 

Linda asked us if we’d like to start off at the Bloody Mary Bar, which is somewhat of an institution at brunch here. While we aren’t Bloody Mary drinkers, we’d heard so many people rave about Club 1201’s bar that we had to at least check it out.

 

club 1201 brunch bmb1

Club 1201’s Bloody Mary bar is set up in the rear dining room (the one that houses Uncorked @ 1201 on weekend evenings), and you can customize your drink to your heart’s desire. Starting with a base of tomato juice or Zing Zang (if you like yours spicy), you can then add vodka (plain, bacon, or sriracha), and dress it up with an assortment of olives and bacon.

 

You can also celebrate your brunch with a sweet and bubbly mimosa, or with a nice caffeinated cup of coffee, juice, or water.

 

We started off our brunch date by ordering the beignets. I fell in love with beignets when I lived in New Orleans, where they’re served sprinkled with so much powdered sugar that it’s impossible to eat them neatly, and you end up looking like a ghost.

 

club 1201 brunch beignets1

Club 1201’s beignets arrived at the table with an elegant dusting of powdered sugar and a raspberry coulis for dipping. These little French doughnuts were warm and moist, with the coulis adding a light touch of sweetness.

 

But because I love to envelop myself in a cloud of powdered sugar when I eat beignets, I asked our server to bring an extra dish of it. You can take the girl out of New Orleans, but you can’t take the New Orleans out of the girl.

 

club 1201 brunch beignet dust

Our fancy table didn’t look so fancy afterwards, though.

 

I ordered the Eggs Benedict for my entree. At Club 1201, the poached eggs are stacked on top of smoky bacon and toasted baguette slices, then drizzled with a buttery Hollandaise sauce. You can choose either fruit or Parmesan potatoes as a side dish; I chose the potatoes, which were thin and crispy and sprinkled with a sweet and spicy seasoning that was thoroughly addictive.

 

club 1201 brunch eggs benedict

Travis ordered the Steak and Egg Flatbread for his entree. He prefers lunch foods over breakfast foods, so this flatbread option was ideal for him. The size of a small pizza, this dish was made with pieces of tenderloin and scrambled eggs topped with flavorful fresh rosemary.

 

club 1201 brunch steak

Other items on the brunch menu that looked interesting to me included the Monte Cristo Sliders, made with ham and cheese and served on cinnamon swirled toast, then dusted with powdered sugar (more powdered sugar!); and the Chicken and Waffles (something my daughter raves about but I have yet to try), which is served with maple syrup and peppered sausage gravy.

 

The chef’s frittata and crepe specials are not listed on the menu because they change each week, so your server will tell you about those. Club 1201 also offers a lunch menu during brunch time on Sundays. Having more options makes everyone happy.

 

As we left Club 1201 on that sunny morning, my husband turned to me and said, “That was really good. Why don’t we do that more often?”

 

I was about to launch into a speech about the million reasons why we don’t, when a gentle breeze playfully rustled my skirt, reminding me how fun it was to dress up and take the time to do something out of our normal routine, like brunching.

 

“Yes,” I agreed. “We should.”

 

 

Brunch is served on Sundays, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Club 1201 is located at 1201 E. 32nd Street. Click here to visit its website, and click here to view its Facebook page.

 

*The only photo in this post that I took was the one of the powdered sugar/beignet aftermath. Our server took the photo of me and my husband, and Travis (our family’s photographer) took the remaining photos.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Cunningham Park

Helicopter Park is what we used to call it, about a decade ago.

 

I’d bring my oldest two girls here to let them jump, slide, swing, and climb on the brightly-colored playground equipment under the shade of the many tall trees in this park.

 

If we were lucky – and we often were – we’d hear it: a distant whirring, growing closer and louder by the minute until we saw the source of the sound hovering above the treeline, pausing for a moment as if winking at us before it whisked itself away.

 

cunningham pre 1

Seeing this flying object was a highly anticipated event whenever we came here, and we’d all stop whatever we were doing just to watch it. This magical machine was the St. John’s medical helicopter which was housed at the hospital’s helipad right across the street from one of our favorite places in Joplin: Cunningham Park.

 

cunningham pre 2So many leaves on the ground from so many trees!

 

Unfortunately, what my girls and I knew as Helicopter Park was destroyed by the EF5 tornado that roared through Joplin on May 22, 2011. All of those beautiful shade trees were transformed into matchsticks, tossed with mangled playground equipment, then lumped into piles of debris.

 

But it didn’t take long for the people of our city, working alongside thousands of volunteers from all over the country and all over the world, to clean up the twisted bits of our former buildings and parks, and to create fresh spaces where we could form new memories. The result was a touching tribute, not only to the past, but to the ever-present power of the human spirit.

 

My kids and I weren’t the only ones who missed playing at Cunningham Park in the months after the tornado; lots of people were hard-pressed to find a space in Joplin where their kids could run and play with no worries.

 

Thanks to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, that all changed. The production, which built seven homes a few blocks from the park, also took on the task of building a play area and basketball court at Cunningham Park, introducing these features to the public in October 2011.

 

cunningham boomtown

This wooden play area is made to look like Joplin in its booming mining days. I like it because it feels like a miniature movie set from an old Western.

 

cunningham tall playground

For kids who crave more height and thrills, there’s a three-story modern plastic playground set that has been added on the north side of the park.

 

cunningham old playgroundThe former playground today.

 

cunningham post tornadoThe former playground after the tornado.

 
In the center of the park, in the space that once contained the playground equipment that my kids climbed on back in the Helicopter Park days, there’s now a serene koi pond on the north side and a pond with a waterfall on the south side, with a bridge separating the two.

 

cunningham koi

This is the reflecting pond, which honors the lives of the children lost in the tornado.

 

Walking southeast from this area is the green space where my kids would once excitedly run from me in an effort to get me to chase them. Most of this area is still open, but there are a few new fixtures that are honor the lives lost in the tornado.

 

cunningham plaqueThis plaque lists the names of the 161 citizens who perished on May 22.

 
cunningham fountain

Dedicated on November 22, 2011, the “Proclamation of Restoration” fountain is a replica of the original one which stood at Cunningham Park, the first city park in Joplin, and it reads: To the City of Joplin and the “Seasoning of Lives” lost during and from the aftermath of the May 22 tornado.

 

The north part of the park features a tribute to the volunteers who flocked to Joplin to help our city in those months after the storm. This is the Volunteer Tribute and Children’s Memorial, designed and built by architecture students from Drury University in Springfield, Missouri.

 

cunningham steel band

This stainless steel band represents the “The Miracle of the Human Spirit” wristbands that many people wore during the recovery process.

 

The four circles of the tribute represent Rescue, Recovery, Demolition and Rebirth, and pieces of debris form mosaics in the walls of the circles.

 

cunnningham debris mosaic 1

In the center of the circles is a mosaic that reflects the stories about the “Butterfly People” that children told after the storm.

 

cunningham butterfly mosaic

To the north of this area, just past the boundaries of the original park, is the Butterfly Garden and Overlook. What I think is so cool about this area is the “penciled” outlines of the former homes that stood at that spot, especially the Carl Owen house, which was built in 1911 (click here to see what it looked like).

 

cunningham penciled

Sometimes while my kids were playing, I’d look at that house with its unusual row of windows on the upper floor, and I’d wonder what exactly the upstairs was used for. I’d like to think that it was a huge dance studio or a writing room that overlooked the park (how dreamy would that be?).

 

cunningham flowers wall outline

Today, you can walk through the skeleton of the house and learn facts about the tornado and the butterfly garden from the series of plaques that are placed inside of it.

 

cunningham strong fountain

There are several places in the garden where you can sit down and reflect, or simply watch the many butterflies alight on the many blooms that were planted there just for them.

 

cunningham waterwall

There’s a cozy spot under a pavilion that faces the water wall, a 38-segment water feature which represents the number of minutes that the tornado was on the ground. There’s a void in the water wall at the seventh minute, which is when Cunningham Park was struck.

 

While I miss those times when my girls were little and I’d take them to Helicopter Park, I embrace the new features of this transformed park and appreciate the symbolism of every one of them.

 

Now, instead of a helicopter rising above the treeline, I envision a phoenix rising from the rubble.

 

cunningham rosesCunningham Park is located at 26th Street and Maiden Lane.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

 

Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center

Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center is one of my favorite places in Joplin. It’s a place where you can both learn about and experience the unique beauty of a chert glade in southwest Missouri.

 

The first stop on a trip to Wildcat Glades is the visitor’s center; a unique building that reflects its desert surroundings (yes, desert, but more on that later).

 

christmas bird count center facade

The center houses a hands-on learning area, classrooms and a gift shop that sells educational items and earth-friendly items like these earrings made from recycled cereal boxes.

 

wildcat butterfly earrings

The Missouri Department of Conservation has an office adjacent to the center, and it’s a good place to pick up information about other Missouri parks.

 

In the middle of the center, visitors can view wildlife native to the area. There’s a 1,300-gallon fish tank and Ozark stream, plus a chert glade terrarium complex that houses snakes and a tarantula.

 

wildcat turtle tank

A bobcat and a coyote can be found lurking nearby (both are stuffed, thankfully).

 

wildcat center cat

Stop and say hello to Willow, the female American kestrel (a type of small falcon). Adopted by the center in 2015, Willow is unable to fly, so she now lives safely indoors here at the center.

 

Isn’t she pretty?

 

wildcat kestrel

There’s a discovery area where you can listen to different wildlife sounds (such as bird calls), as well as feel the textures of various animal pelts.

 

wildcat center pelts

 

There are several classrooms in the building, and the center offers frequent programming for both children and adults, like “Nature Photography” and “Bird Banding” (for adults), and “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Talkin’ Turkey” (for children).

 

Several large events are held at Wildcat Glades throughout the year, like the Shoal Creek Water Festival in summer, and the Christmas Bird Count in December.

 

Armed with knowledge of the area and its wildlife, you’ll be ready to hit the trails and start exploring. Exit through the rear of the visitor center, and you’ll find the hiking trail that begins on the chert glade. 

 

wildcat romping on chert

In Missouri the term “glade” is used to describe a place where underlying rock cuts through thin soil to develop its own unique ecosystem. At Wildcat Glades, the rock that cuts through the soil is chert, which is extremely rare and extremely hard, and it breaks sharply. Like flint, chert was used to make spears and arrows, and archaeologists have found many near Wildcat Park (there are some on display in the center).

 

The chert glade ecosystem is very dry, and plants that are native to arid climates can grow here (yes, that means cacti in Missouri!). These plants also attract wildlife native to arid climates, such as lizards and scorpions (eek!). I’ve personally encountered snakes twice while on the trail.

 

wildcat girls on path

After crossing the glade, the trail enters the woods and begins following the banks of Shoal Creek. The change in scenery is dramatic: from a dry, sunny glade to a cool, shaded forest.

 

wildcat peaceful water

The view from the creek bank is breathtaking in places. Tall bluffs jut out from the sparkling water and demand admiration. If you are up for a challenge, there is a trail that follows the edge of the bluffs and offers a fantastic bird’s eye view of the creek; if not, you can safely view the bluff from below.

 

wildcat cliff reach

If you stay on the trail that leads to the Redings Mill bridge, you can peek into a cave (this is my kids’ favorite trail, for that very reason). We’ve also been fortunate to have spotted a fox along this same trail.

 

There’s so much to discover at the Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center; we find something new each time we go.

 

 

Wildcat Glades is located at 201 West Riviera Drive. Click here to visit its website and click here to view its Facebook page.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Mary Lee’s Cafe

Update June 2017: After decades of serving Joplin, Mary Lee’s Cafe has closed its doors.

 

When the sun peeks up from the horizon, and your stomach reminds you that it needs sustenance, you’ll find a wide selection of places where breakfast is served conveniently located just off the interstate on Range Line Road.

 

Familiar restaurants like Waffle House, Denny’s, IHOP, and Cracker Barrel offer hearty breakfasts to early morning risers, and with locations throughout the country, diners choose to eat at these restaurants knowing what to expect.

 

But while these restaurants offer familiarity, they don’t offer a true taste of Joplin. For those who are seeking satisfying meals served with a heaping side of hometown atmosphere, Mary Lee’s Cafe is “The Place to Be.”

 

mary lees the place to be1

See?

 

Located west of Main Street, about ten minutes from the interstate, Mary Lee’s small stone building is painted a peachy pink color, and is accented with weathered wood shingles, giving it a homey appearance. On its west side, a broad pine tree sprawls its branches, partially blocking the building from view and causing passersby (like me) to drive past without noticing it.

 

mary lees exterior3

Seeing the the crowded parking lot and folksy sign out front is what finally caused me to register the fact that I’d arrived at Mary Lee’s on a recent Saturday morning.

 

mary lees sign

I was there to meet a group with whom I was doing an area tourism bus tour, and we were kicking off the day at this local hangout which has been in business for over three decades.

 

As I walked to the entrance, I saw a big group of people leaving the restaurant, looking relaxed and satiated. That’s a good sign, I thought.

 

Once inside, I saw that there were only about ten tables inside the tiny dining room. If that group of people had not left, I don’t think there would have been room for our large party.

 

mary lees interior1

While I waited for the rest of my group to arrive, I asked the waitress some questions, starting with the most important one: Who is Mary Lee?

 

“This is Mary Lee,” she said, pointing to a framed photograph hanging on the wall near the cash register. “She passed away in 2010.”

 

mary lees mary lee

“This tells you more about Mary Lee and the restaurant,” she said, handing me a laminated page detailing the cafe’s history.

 

Mary Carlene Arnold and her mother Elda started the cafe in 1984, although theirs wasn’t the first cafe to operate in this building. In 1937, Jess and Elva Greenlee opened the Greenlee Cafe and chose this particular site because it was located next to the two hospitals in Joplin. At that time, the hospitals didn’t have cafeterias, so Greenlee Cafe’s strategic location made it popular in the neighborhood.

 

The cafe closed in 1964, and the building served other functions for the next two decades until Mary Lee and her mother breathed new life into it in the 1980s. Even though the neighborhood hospitals had closed their doors and constructed new buildings in the south part of Joplin, Mary Lee’s thrived.

 

With breakfast and lunch specialties like fluffy omelettes, German fried potatoes, biscuits with sausage gravy, tender chicken fried steak, potato salad, and hot beef sandwiches, Mary Lee’s was frequented by people who appreciated good home cooking.

 

mary lees interior2

After Mary Lee’s death, her sister Janice Tusinger wanted the cafe to continue operating, so she leased the space to longtime employee Helen Green and longtime customer Kenny Meistad, who continue to run the business today.

 

Fun Fact: Green and Meistad were married at the cafe in October 2010 by customer Dr. Andy Fritsch.

 

So much about that fact exemplifies dedication: to a person, to a business, and to a local gathering place that provides food and comfort.

 

Let’s start with the food. When our party was ordering, the waitress advised the man sitting across from me to get the small size of biscuits and gravy, and the customer seated behind us  – a regular – chimed in that she agreed.

 

When that happens, you know the portions are going to be huge.

 

And they were.

 

I ordered the Spanish omelette, a fluffy bed of eggs filled with spicy salsa and topped with gooey cheese, plus crispy hash browns and biscuits and gravy for sides. The moment the waitress put my food in front of me, I knew there was no way I was going to finish my meal.

 

I sure had fun trying, though.

 

mary lees omelette 1

The biscuit was a large pie-shaped version of this Southern staple. After tasting a bite of its flaky goodness, I put aside the rest to take it home to my daughter.

 

Later, when I delivered it to her, she thought I was the best mom in the world. She also said Mary Lee’s biscuits and gravy reminded her of the first time she was introduced to this dish; her grandmother from Georgia had made it, and it was love at first bite. It’s hard to top Grandma Dot’s biscuits and gravy, but it appears that Mary Lee’s has tied.

 

As I worked my way through my enormous meal, another customer came up and started talking to a woman in our party. Apparently, he was one of Mary Lee’s regulars who was striking up a conversation with a newcomer, just as long-time locals tend do at this cafe. Clearly, there are no strangers here.

 

When the waitress came to box up the remainder of my meal, I asked her how often the “regulars” come. “Oh, we have some here every day,” she said. “Some come to eat, some come to drink coffee; some come alone, and some come to meet friends.”

 

mary lees exterior2

More than just a cafe that serves good homestyle cooking, Mary Lee’s is a place that feeds the soul, and nourishes a sense of community.

 

Now I understand why Mary Lee’s loyal customers claim that it is “The Place to Be.”

 

*Note: Mary Lee’s Cafe accepts cash or check only. It is open every day of the week from 6:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and is located at 712 ½ West 20th Street. Click here to visit its Facebook page.

 

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

 

Tropicana Bar and Grill

In Sanskrit, buddha means “awakened one,” and that’s how I felt after tasting the Buddha Gouda burger at the Tropicana Bar and Grill.

 

Not that I had achieved enlightenment or anything – it was just that my taste buds had been jolted into a state of hyper-alertness.

 

This tender burger’s topped with sweet sauteed onions, smoky bacon and gouda cheese, plus a creamy sauce that’s amped up with a dash (or five) of Sriracha, a hot chili condiment. Sweet, smoky, and sassy, this burger is one of the most popular items on the menu here.

 

tropicana buddha

I’d describe the menu at the Tropicana as pub food with a twist. Take the Munchies (appetizers), for instance. You can choose from traditional fare like spinach artichoke dip, onion rings, or deep-fried mushrooms, or you can venture out and try the Killer Bill’s Fried Dills (pickle chips served with ranch dressing) or the Philly Rolls.

 

tropicana phillyA philly IN a roll – not ON a roll. 

 

The Philly Rolls are made with sliced beef, sauteed onions and bell peppers, plus swiss cheese all wrapped inside an egg roll and served with ranch dressing (who doesn’t love ranch?). These rolls are fabulous.

 

The rest of the menu contains something for every palate. There are salads like the Big Bleu, with fresh greens and grilled chicken topped with apples, blue cheese, and candied walnuts; sandwiches like Grilled Pimiento Cheese served on wheat berry bread (a vegetarian option); specialties like Fish Tacos, and a variety of inventive burgers.

 

My husband ordered one of specialties: Fish and Chips. These house-battered cod loins were mild and crunchy, and they were accompanied by a side of handmade chips.

 

The Tropicana has a full-service bar on the main floor and offers several beers on tap. Here’s a sample of the ever-changing beer menu.

 

tropicana on tap

We visited the Tropicana on a Friday night, and heard live music from a band playing on the second-story stage.

 

tropicana bandIt looks like this musician is shooting laser beams on innocent diners below… 

 
In addition to the stage, there’s also seating upstairs which consists of a long wraparound bar and stools overlooking the dining area below. We ate upstairs and enjoyed watching the hustle and bustle of the activity below.

 

We also had a clear view of this enormous octopus mural, which is a creative addition to the Tropicana’s nautical theme.

 

tropicana squidThis looks small, but it actually spans a good portion of the wall. 

 

The Tropicana also has several outdoor dining areas. This makes me giddy.

 

tropicana day

I love that more Joplin restaurants are adding this option. I look forward to chilling out on the Tropicana’s patio this summer, whether it’s for dinner or lunch (the Tropicana is open during the day, too; see its Facebook page for hours).

 

When we were done with our meal, we walked through the main floor and that’s when it dawned on me. We were there on a busy Friday night, yet something was missing.

 

Smoke.

 

That’s because the Tropicana is a smoke-free establishment. Woohoo!

 

But something that was there that captured our attention was this flashy contraption hanging on the wall.

 

tropicana juke This looks like an overgrown smartphone, doesn’t it?

 

Can you guess what it is?

 

It’s a juke box for the digital age.

 

The Tropicana has certainly succeeded in putting a contemporary spin on the traditional pub atmosphere, creating a modern and welcoming gathering place on Main Street.

 

The anchor’s been dropped – the Tropicana is here to stay.

 

tropicana anchorI couldn’t resist the nautical pun.

 

Tropicana Bar and Grill is located at 2402 South Main Street. Click here to visit its Facebook page.

 

tropicana patio t and c

Enjoying the patio in summer

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Art Studios in Joplin

Have you ever wanted to make your own jewelry? A glass ornament? Ceramic dinnerware?

 

Or maybe you’d like to paint your very own picture to hang in your home?

 

You can learn how to do all those things right here in town because the art studios in Joplin offer classes which cover a wide variety of skills, materials, and techniques.

 

And, no, you don’t have to be a Picasso to enjoy taking one of these classes. The mission of these studios is to make art accessible to the general public, so they offer classes for every skill level.

 

rsvp people painting

In addition to offering art classes, many of these studios have galleries displaying the work of talented artists in the community – and it’s for sale. So if you’re looking for an original piece, either for yourself or to give as a gift, definitely visit these galleries.

 

Firehouse Pottery: Turn a piece of unpainted pottery into your very own work of art at this studio. Unpainted items include tiles, mugs, plates, vases, wine glasses, holiday decor, animal figurines for kids (and adults!) to paint, and much more.

 

FIrehouse shelves

Walk in and paint any time, or sign up for a special session like “Date Night” or “Story Time Pottery” (for the little ones). 122 South Main Street

 

George A. Spiva Center for the Arts: This “fine art hub of the Four States” offers classes in painting, anime, fused glass, photography, jewelry, and more.

For children, Spiva offers ongoing weekly classes which introduce them to a variety of media (“Preschooler and Pal Art Class” and “Creation Station”).

 

art spiva

Browse through Spiva’s gift shop to see original work from local and regional artists. Of course, no visit is complete without walking through the galleries to see the latest exhibits featuring artists from all over the world. 222 West Third Street.

 

Local Color Art Gallery & Studio: This gathering place for local artists offers Saturday painting classes for beginning and intermediate students, ages 8 and up (all materials are included), plus Wednesday classes for more experienced painters (who bring their own materials).

 

The studio also offers a monthly “Vino and Van Gogh” class, where instructors lead you through the process of painting a work by one of the masters in the art world, such as Van Gogh or Monet, while you enjoy a glass of wine.

 

art local color

Walk through the gallery to see the abundant talent of our area’s artists, including paintings, art glass, jewelry, woodwork, ceramics, hand-dyed silk scarves and more. 1027 South Main Street

 

Phoenix Fired Art: This studio offers beginning clay classes for both adults and children. During Saturday drop-in classes, people of all skill levels can come in and work at their own levels.

 

Artists who are skilled in ceramics can purchase an Open Studio Membership, which allows them access to the equipment in the studio so they can work on their projects.

 

art phoenix

Phoenix Fired Art also sells pieces made by local and regional artists. You’ll find ceramics, jewelry, textiles, art glass, and more. 1603 South Main Street

 

RSVPaint: Relax, sip, visit, and paint with your friends at this art studio. Enjoy a glass of wine (or beverage of your choice) while RSVP’s instructors lead you through the painting process, step by step. Capture the image of your pet on canvas at the monthly Paint-Your-Pet session, where your favorite pet photo…

 

rsvp micky photo

…becomes a piece of art.

 

rsvp micky

Painters of all ages are welcome during designated times, such as “Saturday Family Paint” and “Walk-In Wednesdays.” 420 South Main Street

 

Art in Joplin is thriving right now, thanks in large part to one organization whose mission it is to create awareness of cultural arts in the community: Connect2Culture.

 

Each week, Connect2Culture sends out a newsletter containing a comprehensive list of upcoming classes and events in the Joplin arts community; I highly recommend subscribing to it!

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Girls’ Weekend in Joplin: The Great Outdoors

There are times when the planets align and miraculous things happen.

 

For me, that was last weekend.

 

My husband went out of town to visit a college friend, and my girls were spending quality time with their grandparents, so I had the house all to myself.

 

My family sure knows what to get me as an early Mother’s Day gift. I love them so.

 

For weeks prior to the Miraculous Weekend, I thought and thought about how I would spend my time. I knew I wanted to do something with my girlfriends, but what would we do?

 

An idea came to me as I was driving around town doing my routine activities. I noticed that more vibrant green leaves had grown on the trees, confirming the fact that spring had definitely arrived. I rolled down the car window to catch a breeze of the changing air, air which promised warm, carefree days ahead.

 

That’s when I caught spring fever – and suddenly I knew what I wanted to do on my Miraculous Weekend: I wanted to be outside and embrace the season which I’d longed for throughout the cold winter.

 

And I wanted to celebrate it with my friends.

 

waters-edge-girls-float-selfie

 

 

Friday

“Enjoy having the house to yourself,” said my teenager (with more than a bit of jealousy, I might add) as she and her younger siblings marched out the front door and into their grandmother’s car, which looked as magical as Cinderella’s glass carriage to me at that moment.

 

Since my husband had already left on his trip, I was free – yes, free – to kick off my Miraculous Spring Fever Weekend, so as soon as the glass carriage exited the driveway, I hopped in my car and drove to meet my friend Shanon.

 

Shanon and I meet occasionally on Friday afternoons to celebrate the end of the work week with a different kind of Happy Hour. Instead of going to a bar and sipping a cocktail (don’t get me wrong – we sometimes do that, too) we’ll meet in the heart of the city at the Frisco Greenway Trail for a stress-relieving walk through through the woods.

 

girilfriend-trails-canopy

On this spring afternoon, Shanon was waiting for me in the parking lot. “You escaped!” she said, giving me a warm hug.

 

We escaped,” I said, our footsteps falling in sync as our shoes crunched the fine gravel beneath our feet. I felt like a kid at recess, catching up with my friend while enjoying a slice of freedom from our schoolwork.

 

After our walk, we wanted to keep up the health-conscious theme we had going, so we decided to get ourselves some nutritious smoothies at Joplin Avenue Coffee Company, a hip downtown Joplin coffee house that also serves tea, sweet treats, and healthy food options from a delivery service called Fit Foods.

 

coffee-menu

Shanon ordered the Dirty Monkey Smoothie, made with peanut butter, banana, and mocha, as well as a ready-made Turkey Hummus Wrap to take home with her for lunch the next day. I ordered the Berry Vanilla Detox Smoothie; packed with fresh fruit, protein and chia seeds, it felt like a nutrient infusion, and filled me up to the point to where I decided to just count that as my dinner that night. Yay! No cooking for me.

 

I went home afterward and lit some candles, put on soft music, and sank into a cloud of bubbles and warm water in the bathtub – a sublime way to end the first day of my Miraculous Weekend.

 

 

Saturday

Another day, another hug from a friend whom I hadn’t seen in months. Johanna had driven in from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and was now at my front door. “Are you ready?” she asked.

 

“I just need to grab my yoga mat and I will be,” I said. We were headed to a Yoga in Nature class at Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center. During this mild time of the year, the yoga class is held just outside the center under a pavilion.

 

We unrolled our mats and faced in the direction of Shoal Creek.

 

wildcat-creek-springtime

The area between us and the creek was the chert glade, a rare, desert-like ecosystem that exists right here in southwest Missouri. As we saluted the sun, colorful butterflies danced around the blooming bushes just outside the pavilion, joyously welcoming in the season of renewal.

 

Instead of hiking the trails at Wildcat that day – which we did the last time Johanna was in town – we decided to walk the trails at George Washington Carver National Monument. But first, we needed to get a bite to eat.

 

On the way from Wildcat to the restaurant, we passed Grand Falls. “Do you mind if we stopped?” Johanna asked. “I haven’t seen the Falls in a while.”

 

falls-mist

As the largest continuously running waterfall in the state of Missouri, Grand Falls is one of the prettiest natural attractions in the area, and visitors stop here throughout the year. As Johanna and I navigated our way among the chert (more chert!) outcroppings to get closer to the falls, we noticed that we weren’t the only ones enjoying the view that morning; there were a few men fishing in the creek, and some kids splashing in the shallow pools.

 

From Grand Falls, we took the scenic roads to Sandstone Gardens, a 50,000-square-foot home interior showroom housed inside a stately French chateau. In addition to offering shoppers a one-of-a-kind experience, it also offered us somewhere to eat.

 

Located in the east side of the building is the Bistro, a warm and welcoming place for lunch. I had the Chicken Salad, made with fresh, crunchy grapes, and Johanna ordered the Reuben, which is one of the restaurant’s specialties.

 

bistro-dessert

Since the desserts at the Bistro are made from scratch on site, I felt it would be disrespectful not to order one, so Johanna and I split a piece of heavenly German Chocolate Cake.

 

Then, we were off to George Washington Carver National Monument, located twenty minutes south of Joplin in Diamond. We arrived there just in time to catch the end of the lab demonstration where participants were invited to make peanut milk, so we got to join along.

 

gwc-mortar

George Washington Carver was an educator and scientist who discovered multiple uses for peanuts and other crops, and he was born in a cabin on the land on which the monument sits. The center houses exhibits which detail Carver’s life, and the trail outside offers a glimpse of the world that Carver saw as a boy meandering through the thick woods and across the blooming prairie.

 

gwc-carver-statue-with-butterfly

After hiking the trail, we started back toward Joplin, my appetite growing bigger with every mile we passed. “How about grabbing dinner at the Eagle?” I asked.

 

“You know it’s one of my favorite restaurants,” Johanna said. “Do they still have the Bison Burger?”

 

“They do. They also have killer Jalapeno Margaritas, if you are up for some spice.”

 

We lingered at the Eagle Drive-In, eating burgers and sipping margaritas until the sun dipped behind the horizon, completing a perfect day.

 

 

Sunday

This was it. This was the day I was going big, putting the final dot on the exclamation point of the Miraculous Spring Fever Weekend! My friend Julie and I were going up a creek – with two paddles, on a Shoal Creek float trip.

 

But first, we needed to fuel up. I picked up Julie and we went to Club 1201 for brunch. I ordered my favorite dish, Eggs Benedict, and Julie tried the Artisan French Toast. We celebrated Float Trip Day by toasting our drink glasses which we customized at the Bloody Mary Bar.

 

club-1201-brunch-bmb1

 

After brunch, we drove just south of Joplin to Water’s Edge, where we got set up with our canoe. For several hours, it was just me, Julie, and the rhythmic sounds of our paddles pushing through the water. Oh, and an occasional turtle.

 

waters-edge-girls-float-creek

With just the two of us – no distractions – we were able to discuss all of the things that we had on our mental checklists to talk to each other about whenever we had the chance. And today, we had that chance.

 

Now we were good for a few more months.

 

I relished my Miraculous Weekend at home – alone, and I cherished the time I spent with my friends as we explored the great outdoors, reveling in the warmth of the spring air. I felt refreshed and alive, and ready to jump back into my responsibilities as a mom.

 

Yet, even though I had a phenomenal time with my friends, nothing from that weekend compared to the unbridled joy I felt when I saw my daughters walk through the door Sunday night.

 

That is, until ten minutes later when they started to bicker…

 

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.