Joplin Holiday Experience

(The following is my family’s holiday itinerary from last year. While some of the same events will be held again this year, there are new events in Joplin that I’m itching to experience, and I list those at the end of this post. My hope is that, by reading this, you will be inspired to participate in the holiday festivities around town and to make special memories with your own families.)

 

Fahoo Fores. Dahoo Dores.

Welcome, Christmas. Come this way.

Fahoo Fores. Dahoo Dores.

Welcome, Christmas, Christmas day!

 

The chorus of the imaginary Whoville townsfolk resounded in my mind as my family and I joined our fellow Joplin citizens gathered in downtown’s Spiva Park.

 

holiday ex whoville

On this particular night, the park’s center fountain was silent, its pool drained for the season; in its place stood a towering Christmas tree, made from strings of Christmas lights which were not yet illuminated.

 

This is why we had come – to share the experience of welcoming Christmas with our neighbors and friends.

 

And with this snowy fellow.

 

holiday ex snowman

This was the annual Spiva Park Tree Lighting, which is held every year at the end of November.

 

“Look! Cotton candy!” said my daughter, as a vendor balanced fluffy pink and blue clouds of the sweet confection while he navigated through the crowd. “Can I get some?” she asked.

 

“Sure!” I said, caught up in the spirit of the Whos. Why not buy her cotton candy to accompany the hot chocolate and cookies which were being handed out at the event? There’s no such thing as too many sweets in Whoville!

 

Finally, the time came for the lighting of the tree. We Whos stood around in anticipation of the lights that would serve as a beacon, welcoming the holiday season to our town.

 

With the click of a button, the park was bathed in brilliance as the lights of the tree danced along to Christmas music. The magic of the holidays entered the park, swirling through the crowd.

 

holiday ex spiva tree

There have been few times during the Christmas season that I, as an adult, have felt as full of wonder and bliss as I did when I was a kid. This was one of those times. I know it sounds corny. Believe me, I was completely surprised by my emotional response, but there it was.

 

My heart grew three sizes that night, and I understood how the Grinch felt as he witnessed the joy of the townsfolk in Whoville.

 

I made a mental note to bring my parents to Spiva Park the following week when they would be visiting from Chicago. I had a jam-packed schedule for them, full of shopping, eating, and attending Christmas events. I wanted to show them the full Joplin Holiday Experience.

 

 

Thursday

My parents arrived in town late Thursday afternoon. We took them for an early dinner to Mythos, a Mediterranean restaurant that was designed for celebration – and being with my parents during the holiday season was certainly a reason to celebrate!

 

Mythos serves traditional Greek dishes like Moussaka, as well as excellent beef dishes like the Blackberry Filet. We ordered the Kasseri Saganaki, a Greek cheese, and watched in amazement as our server pan seared it tableside, finishing it off with a touch of brandy which caused it to flame in a dramatic presentation. 

 

holiday ex mythos

Warmed up by the delicious food, we were ready to go to our first holiday event: Journey to Bethlehem. Located about ten minutes south of Joplin at Racine Christian Church, Journey to Bethlehem is a free annual production that offers a Christmas stage show indoors, as well as an outdoor walk-through living nativity. A cast of over 200 people, as well as live animals, makes this a one-of-a-kind experience.

 

As we walked along the path outdoors, angels appeared to us to deliver the news that the Messiah would soon be born. I’ll never forget how awed my daughter was by this wondrous scene.

 

Driving back home from Journey to Bethlehem, my girls shared their favorite moments from the evening, and talked about how they couldn’t wait to go again next year. It looks like we have a Christmas tradition in the making!

 

 

Friday

Everyone awoke hungry, possibly due to having dreams of sugarplums dancing in our heads all night. After getting the kids off to school, I took my parents to The Bruncheonette, a farm-to-table restaurant housed in a tiny brick building in downtown Joplin.

 

holiday ex brunch

The Garden Bennie

 

Breakfast, brunch, and lunch are served here, and the daily specials are as much fun to read as they are to eat, like the Shiver Me Tenders, an English muffin topped with beef tenderloin, sauteed onions, Gruyere cheese, poached eggs, and mustard daze.

 

Our next stop took us just a few blocks away to the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts. Here we viewed the latest exhibits in the three galleries, then browsed through the center’s gift shop, where we found items crafted by local artisans, like this necklace (which my mom bought for my sister).

 

holiday ex spiva necklace

My mom checked off many people from her gift-buying list over the next few hours as we focused our shopping in downtown Joplin. “You have such unique stores here,” she said to me. “They sell things that you can’t find in Chicago.”

 

I was glad to see that my mom recognized what I had known for a while now: Joplin has distinctive local shops that make holiday gift-buying a pleasurable experience rather than just another thing that you have to do over the holidays.

 

holiday ex downtown shopping

Blue Moon Boutique

 

We finished shopping just in time to pick up the kids from school, then we brought the entire family back downtown for an early dinner at Red Onion Cafe, a casual, urban restaurant that has made its home in Joplin since 1995.

 

We ordered the popular Smoked Chicken Dip as an appetizer, and the dishes that my family chose for dinner ranged from the Chicken Walnut Salad (served with Red Onion Cafe’s house sweet vinaigrette), to the Love Me Tender beef sandwich, and to the Penne from Heaven, bathed in a creamy sauce.

 

Since we were pressed for time, we passed up the Red Onion Cafe’s homemade desserts, eliciting groans from my kids who love the sweets here. But we had tickets for an evening performance at Ozark Christian College, just north of downtown, and we didn’t want to be late.

 

Every year, OCC presents a holiday production, and this year OCC partnered with Stained Glass Theatre and College Heights Christian Church to present the musical version of the holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

 

holiday ex occ wonderful life

We settled into our balcony seats inside the packed auditorium, feeling a bit sleepy from our ample dinner. But when the orchestra began playing, we sat up straight, captivated by the sound of live music so grand that it seemed to consume every inch of space in that cavernous room.

 

Being next to those who mean the most to me while watching a play which delivered the message of gratitude made me thankful for my very own wonderful life.

 

Saturday

My girls were not thrilled to wake up early on a Saturday, but the idea of biscuits and gravy, generously stuffed omelets, and fluffy pancakes (Minnie Mouse ones for the youngest) served as a reward for their lost shut-eye.

 

I’m talking about the homestyle breakfasts at Granny Schaffer’s. We all enjoyed our hearty breakfasts, and my mom raved about the coffee, which is micro-roasted every day in small batches to bring out its aroma and flavor.

 

We stopped at Northpark Mall next. My youngest was giddy with excitement because she got the chance to tell the big guy in red what was on her Christmas list this year. After snapping a picture of her on Santa’s lap, my dad walked the kids to the Tilt Studio, an entertainment mecca located inside the mall, while my mom and I did some serious Christmas shopping for the kids.

 

holiday ex tilt

Later, we met at the mall’s food court for a bite to eat before hitting Kohl’s and Target (great for stocking stuffers!), located just across from Northpark Mall in the North Park Crossing Shopping Center.

 

By the time we had finished shopping, the sun had dipped beyond the horizon, and everyone’s energy was waning, so I thought some fresh air would revive us. I wanted to share Spiva Park’s Whoville experience with my parents, and we were lucky to catch the beginning of the light show, which begins on the half hour. I felt just as joyful watching the lights then as I did at the tree lighting the week before.

 

Magic never gets old.

 

We walked a few blocks down Main Street to check out the decorations in the store windows, which can get pretty elaborate since the business here compete for the title of best display. My dad, a major history buff, chose the turn-of-the-century display at the Newman Building as his favorite.

 

holiday ex window 2

My girls liked the snowman display the best.

 

holiday ex window 1

Our walk had led us to our dinner destination that night: Club 609. My parents, husband, and I ordered Club 609’s signature Key Lime Martinis while we looked through the extensive menu. My favorites here include the Thai Chicken Salad, Chicken Bijan, and any of their burgers.

 

By the end of dinner, you could have stuck a fork in us – we were done. It had been a long, busy day, but it was a good busy. We created lasting memories with my parents while they were in town visiting, and we had the chance to introduce them to the Joplin Holiday Experience

 

holiday ex newman santa

 

For 2017, here’s a possible weekend itinerary for a Joplin Holiday Experience:

 
Thursday, December 7

The Calmus Vocal Ensemble from Leipzig, Germany, will be performing at Central Christian Center (410 S. Virginia Ave.). No tickets are required for this performance, although donations are accepted. This event is presented by Pro Musica (you can read more about this organization and my experience at one of its previous events here).

 

I’d suggest arriving early, as I’m sure that the 1000 seats in the theater will fill up quickly, especially with the MSSU Chamber Singers performing at 6:30 p.m.

 

Friday, December 8

Time for the grown-ups! Historic Murphysburg Preservation, Inc. is hosting a one-of-a-kind event:  a bourbon tasting. This event will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the historic Scottish Rite Cathedral (505 S. Byers), and guests will also be able to tour this beautiful building. Tickets are $50 per person and include food pairings. If you’re not a fan of bourbon but still want to attend, you can purchase a non-tasting ticket for $25.

 

Historic Murphysburg Preservation, Inc. holds events which connect the community to Joplin’s rich history. If you’d like to read about what it’s like to attend one of these events, click here.

 

Saturday, December 9

Thanks, once again, to Historic Murphysburg Preservation, Inc. we can peek inside seven homes in the historic Murphysburg District in during the Holiday Homes Tour. Tickets are $20 in advance (you can purchase them here) or $25 on the day of the event at First United Methodist Church (501 W. 4th St.).

 

If you’re not too worn out from home touring, you can catch the 7 p.m. performance of Stained Glass Theatre’s A Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas (2101 Annie Baxter). I read every single Laura Ingalls Wilder book when I was a little girl, and sharing my beloved heroine with my own girls would be a memorable experience, especially at Stained Glass Theatre, which is such a gem in our community. If you’re too tired to see the Saturday night performance, you can see the Sunday matinee at 2:30 p.m.

 

Sunday, December 10

The MSSU Choral Society will perform its annual Christmas Concert 3 p.m. at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church (2423 W. 26th St.). The concert will open with George Handel’s Praise the Lord, and will be followed by the lighthearted The Nutcracker Jingles. The major work performed will be Invitation to a Miracle, which includes familiar carols and traditional readings. This is a free event, and donations are accepted. For more information, contact Wally Bloss at 417-208-9654 0r wbloss@gmail.com.

Now that’s a packed weekend! To learn about events happening in Joplin during the rest of the month, click here.

 

Happy holidays!

 

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

Enlight Inn

We all could use some pampering every now and then, taking a time-out from the stressors in our fast-paced lives in order to catch our breath. This pampering may involve a massage or pedicure at the spa, allowing others to take care of us for a few hours so we can relax before being thrust back into our normal routines again.

 

But what if there were a place where you could not only get pampered, but you could also be inspired to live a life of wellness and self-care?

 

I discovered such a place, right here in Joplin, called Enlight Inn. I spent two days sampling the many services offered here (rough, huh?), and the experience not only left me feeling amazing, but it also introduced me to news ways of approaching self-care and stress reduction. It was like my reset button had been pressed, prompting me to become more mindful in my everyday habits.

 

enlight inn sign

Located in a complex of quaint white cottages that once comprised a Route 66 motor inn decades ago, Enlight Inn is the brainchild of Joplinite Christa Tullis. With over 20 years of experience in the wellness industry, Christa wanted to create a center where she could share the tools that she found most beneficial in the journey to restore her own health (which you can read about in her book). In 2017, Christa opened the doors of Enlight Inn, ushering in a novel approach to wellness in the Joplin area.

 

enlight inn cottages

The Enlight Inn complex reminds me of a college campus (but one where you get to attend your favorite classes and automatically pass just for showing up). There are the “classrooms” of experiential learning, which are the spa rooms where you learn about new techniques while getting pampered (a total win); the drive-through “cafeteria” which offers smoothies and healthy snacks; and the “dorms,” whimsical individual cottages where you can spend the night (which is a good idea if you feel like jelly after the spa services, like I did).

 

SPA SERVICES

Here’s an overview of the services I received:

 

Whole body vibration

Far infrared sauna session

Mind spa

Flotation therapy

Fascia blasting

Halotherapy

 

I really didn’t know what to expect from any of these since they were all new to me. Now that I’ve experienced them, I’ll describe what they’re like.

 

Whole Body Vibration

When I first saw the Zaaz machine, I panicked.

 

enlight inn zaaz

Did they want me to exercise? Thankfully, no. All I had to do was stand on the machine and it started vibrating. Before long, I was shaking like J.Lo (or was it jello?), and the unexpected sensation made me giddy. Why make your body shake like a leaf? To increase metabolism and improve lymphatic flow (which helps the body detox).

 

Far Infrared Sauna

My idea of a sauna used to be a small wooden room filled with heat so dry and hot that it’s nearly impossible to breathe. But there are new types of saunas, like this far infrared sauna which heats the body from inside a zippered dome, leaving your head exposed to (blessedly cool) room-temperature air.

 

enlight inn sauna

Before you climb inside, you’ll need to strip down to your birthday suit. Then, you perch your hiney on the towel-covered chair, place your feet on the designated cool plates, set the timer, then zip up the dome from the inside. There are openings for your hands so that you can read, or use your phone, or turn on the portable fan when your body starts getting toasty (I was so grateful for that little fan).

 

enlight inn chris sauna

It’s getting hot in here!

By the end of my session, I was as as soggy as a swamp monster, which is a good thing because the sauna aids your body in detoxifying and improving circulation. Bonus: My skin felt so supple afterward and my daughter even said that it was glowing hours later.

 

Mind Spa

This one really surprised me – in a good way. The mental vacation created by the combination of tools used in the mind spa was downright psychedelic, and it was one vacation from which I didn’t want to return.

 

enlight inn osaki chair

First, I got settled in the zero-gravity Osaki massage chair (aka my new best friend), then I put on brainwave entrainment glasses, which use pulsing lights to stimulate the brain to align to the same frequency as a certain stimulus (faster pulsing to elevate your mood, or slower pulsing for relaxation). Your eyes remain closed while the wearing the glasses so you don’t look directly at the light.

 

enlight inn meditations

Finally, I chose a meditation which would guide me to a twilight state in which I would receive positive suggestions for an area that I wanted to work on. When these three tools were set up, my session began. (Don’t worry, you won’t have to figure all of this out on your own. Someone from Enlight Inn will be there to walk you through the process and get you settled.)

 

Now, I’ve sat in massage chairs before, but they were nothing like this Osaki, which used a variety of techniques to knead my tight muscles. When the arm compartment activated, it felt like someone was giving me a warm hug. The rhythmic kneading of the chair, combined with the pulsating lights and soothing meditation made me feel like I was in a cocoon. I never wanted to emerge.

 

Across the room from the Osaki chair is an area where you can put on a headset and try out a virtual reality meditation, which will make you feel as though you are physically immersed in whichever setting you choose. This is a fun way for beginners to ease into the practice of meditation.

 

Flotation Therapy

What happens when you enter a tub filled with 1000 pounds of Epsom salt? You float. Why is that a good thing? When you float, stress melts away and the magnesium sulfite in the water eases muscle aches and pains.

 

The first part of my session in the private flotation therapy room involved taking a pre-float rinse in the shower to help make sure that the tank’s Epsom salt water stays as free as possible from outside contaminants (you float without clothes on, as well). I also grabbed a pair of earplugs to keep the water out, a neck pillow, and a washcloth to wipe off the salt water that would inevitably sting my eyes when I touched my face (which happened several times).

 

Here’s what it looks like going into the tank:

 

enlight inn tank door

enlight inn tank opening
enlight inn tank tub sky 2

 

enlight inn tank tub

 

enlight inn tank starry sky

The tank itself was bigger than I expected. There are three buttons on the wall to the right that control the starry lights on the ceiling, the tub lights, and the music.

 

enlight inn tank buttons

Next to those is an intercom button. Once I was settled into the tank, I pressed this to let the person at the front desk know that I was ready for my session to begin (I could also press this at any time during the session if I needed anything).

 

For the first few minutes, I played around with the buttons to experience the different sensory options. I quickly decided that I preferred to float in silence, and in complete darkness.

 

The most difficult part of floating for me was trying to quiet my monkey mind. But I think this is something that will get easier with each float; the more I get accustomed to the experience, the more I’ll be able to let go.

 

For those of you who may be anxious about staying in a tank for an extended period of time, I want to point out that I was able to get out at any time to take a break or use the restroom. I knew my session was over when I heard the water pumps turn on. I then showered to rinse off the salt residue (shampoo, conditioner, and body wash are provided).

 

I felt deeply relaxed after my flotation therapy session, and I desperately wanted to check into one of the cottages and sleep the rest of the afternoon, but reality dictated that I must pick up my children from school. Knowing that I’d be back the following day for more spa services made the transition easier.

 

Fascia Blasting

The following day I returned for a fascia blasting session. Fascia blasting is a technique developed by Ashley Black which uses hard-noduled plastic tools to help break up the connective tissue (fascia) that surrounds our muscles which can sometimes become so tight that muscle movement is restricted.

 

enlight inn fascia tools

Breaking up the fascia allows for ease of movement, reduced pain, and – bonus – a smoother appearance of the skin (see you later, cellulite!).

 

Because fascia is more malleable when it’s warm, each blasting session at Enlight Inn begins with a 15-minute sit in the far infrared sauna. After that, it’s time for blasting on the massage table.

 

enlight inn massage room

Fascia blasting involves moving the plastic tools vigorously across the skin, applying more pressure as needed in areas that are more bound. I wouldn’t say this is a relaxing technique, but it certainly is an effective one. Think of it like deep tissue massage work: it hurts so good (but never to the point of pain).

 

I was so intrigued by this technique that I immediately booked a second session and then went on Amazon and bought a fascia blasting tool to use at home for maintenance. Using it has helped loosen my neck and hip – the areas where I tend to hold tension.

 

Halotherapy

A few friends of mine joined me in the afternoon for a halotherapy session. This service uses a halogenerator to dispense a fine aerosol of salt particles throughout the room in order to recreate the climate of natural salt caves. (The halogenerator is located behind this door.)

 

enlight inn halotherapy

When inhaled, the particles act like a gentle brush, moving mucus and bacteria through the airways and improving respiration.

 

enlight inn halotherapy group

What I liked about our halotherapy session is that I got to catch up with my friends in a relaxing environment while doing something beneficial for my body.

 

THE CAFE

After our session, we stopped at the Cafe and I ordered a Bulletproof Coffee (made with Bulletproof beans, MCT oil, and grass-fed butter), and my friend Carrie ordered snacks which included veggies and Zummus (hummus made with zucchini), and Vanilla Chia Seed Pudding.

 

enlight inn food

Christa’s experience as a raw foodist has influenced the selection of healthy menu items, which also includes a variety of smoothies.

 

enlight inn drive through

With Enlight Inn’s convenient drive-through window, it’s easy to eat clean while on the go.

 

PRIVATE COTTAGES

These cozy cottages provide a convenient crash pad when you’ve had a day filled with spa services and don’t want to drive anywhere. They’re also a unique option for out-of-towners who can take advantage of Enlight Inn’s services while visiting Joplin (overnight guests receive discounts on spa services, too).

 

enlight inn guest room

The beds in each cottage are also equipped with grounding mats, which have a negative charge. As we go throughout our day, we build up a positive charge in our bodies, and having contact with a grounding mat can even out this positive charge and return our bodies to a neutral state. When you sleep at Enlight Inn, your body is restored in more ways than one!

 

Not only did I receive pampering during my visit to Enlighten Inn, but I also earned my degree in self-care. I learned that the things that I do for self-care shouldn’t be departures from my daily routine; they’re essential to the foundation of a life lived to the fullest.

 

I guess you could say I’ve become enlightened.

 

Enlight Inn is located at 3817 North Main Street in Joplin. Click here to visit its website, or click here to follow it on Facebook. Christa Tullis is also an instructor at Precision Pilates.

 

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

Joplin Avenue Coffee Company

Friends was a popular TV show when I was in college, and I’ve always wanted to hang out with my own friends at a place as cool as Central Perk.

 

I recently found that place, and it’s called Joplin Avenue Coffee Company.

 

The second I stepped inside this coffee shop, I felt hip. The interior is an eclectic mix of local art, festive twinkling lights, and whimsical vintage items (like coffee pots and a retro TV – you know, the kind where you have to change the channel manually).

 

coffee jac front

The place was abuzz with activity, yet it was still quiet inside. People were either working on their laptops or talking to each other in hushed tones.

 

JACC’s extensive menu is written in colored chalk on a board behind the counter; there’s a variety of latte drinks with playful names like the Lucky Leprechaun, as well as non-espresso drinks (great treats for kids), smoothies, teas, and regular old joe.

 

coffee menu

I ordered the Marilyn, one of JACC’s most popular lattes. The combination of white mocha and sweet caramel went down smoothly, and instantly warmed me up. I also enjoyed crunching on the chocolate-covered espresso bean that was served with my drink – what a fun treat with my coffee.

 

I ordered a chai tea latte for my husband (he doesn’t drink coffee – weird, right?), and it had a nice balance of cream and spice.

 

After fueling up at the counter, JACC customers can find a spot to plug in and enjoy free wi-fi. There are tables in the sunny front room, plus this single table in this incredible nook.

 

coffee nook

There’s also a large room in the back that has lounge seating (perfect for conversing), and high tables near electrical outlets (perfect for studying and working).

 

coffee wifi

The focal point in the back room is this bar – a curious site in a coffee shop.

 

coffee bar

Apparently, this back room is used when JACC hosts private parties and concerts (click here to see what’s happening on JACC’s Facebook page).

 

With its hip, relaxed atmosphere and steady flow of regular customers, JACC is Joplin’s Central Perk.

 

 

Joplin Avenue Coffee Company is located at 506 S. Joplin Avenue. Click here to see its Facebook page.

 

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

Crabby’s Seafood Bar & Grill

It’s laughable, really.

 

To think that you could have one of the finest seafood meals you’ve ever tasted inside a plain building next to a Sav-A-Lot grocery store, which is located in a landlocked town that’s situated over 1,000 miles from both the West Coast and the East Coast seems, well, preposterous.

 

But don’t let the absurdity of this idea keep you from seeing for yourself, because if you did, you’d miss out on dining at one of the best restaurants in Joplin.

 

And that’s no laughing matter.

 

Like a beacon in a sea of meat-and-potato cuisine, Crabby’s Seafood Bar & Grill beckons those who yearn for the taste of fresh seafood in Ozarks. It’s one of the restaurants where I take people who are visiting Joplin because I want to impress them. After all, just because our city is small doesn’t mean it doesn’t have gourmet restaurants.

 

At the helm of Crabby’s is owner Chef Damien Tiregol, who received the honor of Chef of the Year in 2017 from Feast Magazine, a publication that covers the culinary scene in Missouri and southern Illinois. I’m glad to see that Chef Damien’s creativity and talent are being recognized by someone other than his loyal patrons because he’s an incredibly skilled chef.

 

My husband Travis and I recently dined at Crabby’s, and I’m still thinking about the meal (which is making my stomach growl as I’m typing this). Actually, it’s not just the meal that was memorable – it was the experience.

 

crabbys exterior (1)

The restaurant’s simple, windowless exterior belies the sophisticated urban atmosphere inside.

 

crabbys interior

The small, softly lit dining area is separated by a full-service bar, which you can sit at if you need to wait for a table (reservations are recommended during the weekend).

 

crabbys artwork

The work of a local artist Josie Mai currently adorns the walls, creating a unique wallscape which changes regularly to feature different artists (the pieces are for sale, too). The feeling inside is cozy, but still busy enough to make you feel like you are out and about in a big city.

 

For an appetizer, we ordered the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes.

 

crabbys crab cakes

This signature Crabby’s dish was served with a smoky roasted red pepper ragout, and the refreshing sauvignon blanc I was drinking provided a nice contrast to the dish. Crabby’s drink menu offers a variety of wines to pair with your meal, as well as cocktails to sip on while you socialize (the Raspberry Lemon Drop Martini is my favorite).

 

Our entrees came with the choice of soup or salad.

 

crabbys salad

I normally choose the House Salad with Crabby’s light and refreshing Honey-Lavender Vinaigrette, but since the Butternut Squash Bisque had just returned to the menu for the fall season, I felt conflicted. In the end, I made the right decision: I chose the salad with a cup of the bisque.

 

crabbys butternut

The creamy bisque was slightly spiced, and lightly sweetened with a touch of brown sugar and molasses. This dish says, “Welcome, Fall,” and is a treat that I look forward to each year.

 

Travis chose an item that’s on the menu year-round: Seafood Chowder. The hearty chowder’s richness was accented by a dash of spice and smoky bacon.

 

Steak, pork, chicken, and duck dishes are alternative entrée options for those who want to order something besides seafood. However, Travis and I ordered seafood dishes because when in Rome…

 

crabbys sea bass

I ordered the melt-in-your-mouth Pan Seared Chilean Sea Bass, which was topped with mirin sauce and served on a bed of wasabi mashed potatoes, along with grilled asparagus. The combination of Asian-inspired flavors in this artfully plated dish make it a popular menu item.

 

crabbys shrimp

Travis ordered the Grilled Scallops and Jumbo Shrimp, a Cajun-influenced dish served with smoked Gouda grits and bits of spicy andouille sausage. This is another one of my favorite dishes here, as it reminds me of the food I enjoyed when I lived in New Orleans.

 

You would think that we’d be stuffed to the gills by this point – and you’d be correct. But I felt that it was my duty to order dessert so that I could do a thorough job of describing the Crabby’s experience to those of you reading this. What a sacrifice, right?

 

We ordered the Signature Bread Pudding and the Creme Brulee, which were both delicious in their own ways. The hearty bread pudding was buttery and boozy, and a favorite of Crabby’s customers.

 

crabbys bread pudding

The fruit-topped Creme Brulee made an elegant dessert, with its dense custard contrasting nicely with the layer of crisp, caramelized sugar.

 

crabbys creme brulee

Crabby’s is a restaurant to visit when you want more than a meal. It’s where you come when you want an experience. And tasting Chef Damien’s creative fresh seafood dishes in landlocked Joplin, Missouri, makes that experience one of a kind.

 

Crabby’s serves lunch and dinner, plus Sunday brunch. It is located at 815 West 7th Street in Joplin. Click here to visit its website, and here to see its Facebook page.

 

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

Candy House Gourmet

One of my favorite houses in Joplin is located downtown. However, a family doesn’t live there.

 

Chocolate does.

 

candy house facade

This is Candy House Gourmet, where handcrafted treats are made using recipes that locals have craved for decades.

 

Candy-House-Historic

The original location of this candy store opened in 1970 in an old rock tavern on Redings Mill Road, just south of Joplin. Back then, it was called Richardson’s Candy House, and was owned by Don and Peggy Richardson. I sampled a chocolate from here the very first time I visited Joplin in 1992, and it was love at first bite.

 

Over the years, ownership of the Candy House has changed, with the business actually closing for a period of time, causing sadness among its loyal customers and local chocoholics. Thankfully, it came back to life in December 2016 as Candy House Gourmet when Cara and Wayne Adolphsen (who also own Joplin’s Mizzou Aviation) purchased the business. The Adolphsens also hired its former employees, which was a smart move, considering they knew their way around the candy kitchen and were already familiar to the customers.

 

What are the specialties of Candy House Gourmet? The original-recipe treats include toffee, caramel pecan treats (turtles), brittle, fudge, divinity, pecan logs, and sea salt caramels – the dark chocolate ones are my favorites. Unfortunately, my kids like them, too, so I have to share (but only if they catch me before I can stash the caramels in my secret hiding place).

 

Candy-House-Case (1)

In addition to producing local classics, the Adolphsens have fun experimenting in the test kitchen, and have already added some new candies, including the Banana Split Cream, which is half banana, half strawberry, and topped with chopped peanuts.

 

In the spring, Candy House Gourmet offers chocolate-dipped strawberries and, in the fall, chocolate-covered caramel apples. These aren’t just any chocolate-covered apples; they are both inventive and HUGE!

 

candy house apples

Until this year, my favorite apple has been the Deluxe, which is drizzled with three types of chocolate, and then sprinkled with pecans. The Adolphsens have now introduced the Apple Pie flavor, as well as the Sea Salt Caramel one. Can you can guess which one is my new favorite?

 

Candy House Gourmet also makes gourmet popcorn in traditional flavors like Sweet Caramel Nut Corn, and new flavors like spicy Cinnamon Corn. You can buy the popcorn individually, or try a few flavors (plus some chocolates) by purchasing one of the mixed baskets from the Candy House Gourmet’s gift guide. The guide also includes customizable chocolate bars, which make fun one-of-a-kind gifts.

 

candy house interior

Do you want to see how all of these sweet treats are made? You can! Candy House Gourmet offers tours of the facility which you can arrange by calling 877-623-7171. Tours are generally available during the week, but during the busy winter holiday months the candy elves are busy filling orders, so please call before you visit.

 

Here are some highlights from my own group tour of Candy House Gourmet:

 

The first thing we saw was the Peppy Pumper, a machine that spurts out chocolate from a faucet which is used to fill different shaped molds, such as eggs at Easter and the very popular “brain” mold sold at Halloween time.

 

Candy-House-Peppy-1

Next we saw the enrober, where items such as Oreos get bathed in chocolate and then take a slow ride down a conveyor belt through an air-cooled tunnel where they emerge cloaked in hardened chocolate 13 minutes later.
 
Candy-House-Enrober-out

We saw an actual dried cocoa pod,

 

Candy-House-Pod

Cocoa pod

 

as well as cocoa beans and powder, plus a crate of ten-pound chocolate bars that they melt and use in their recipes. Each crate holds 2000 pounds of chocolate!

 

Candy-House-Bar

The kitchen is where all of the candy centers (such as caramel) are made. When production was at the Redings Mill location, a granite-slab table was used in the caramel-making process, but they were making so much of it that the granite wasn’t getting time to cool and the caramel was sticking to it. Now, they use these fancy water-jacketed tables, where cool water below the table surface keeps the caramel from sticking.

 

Candy-House-Caramel tableA table of caramel – I want this in my dining room!

 

Are you salivating yet? Me, too.

 

I know I speak for many Joplinites when I say how grateful I am to the Adolphsens for resurrecting this Joplin institution – for bringing back our favorite candies and for introducing us to new favorites.

 

Candy House Gourmet is located at 510 S. Kentucky in Joplin. Click here to visit the Candy House website, and click here to visit it on Facebook.

 

*For people with food allergies, please be aware that Candy House Gourmet is filled with food allergens, such as nuts and dairy, and all of their items are labeled accordingly. If you have a peanut allergy, you might appreciate knowing that, while all of the products share the same equipment, all of the peanut products are run at the very end of the day and the equipment is cleaned immediately afterwards, which reduces the risk of contact.

 

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

The Eagle Drive-In

With its sleek black-and-red trim, mirrored windows, and retro sign, The Eagle Drive-In looks like a typical American burger joint from the 1950s. In fact, burgers are served here – they’re just not the kind you expect at a typical drive-in.

 

eagle facade

Take the Salted Caramel Bacon Burger or the Buffalo Bill Burger (a bison burger topped with a blueberry barbecue sauce): it’s like Julia Child waltzed into a Wendy’s and fused its basic menu with her epicurean sophistication. It’s an unlikely scenario to imagine, but it does exist right here in Joplin.

 

Except in Joplin, Jason Miller is our Julia Child. A hometown boy and New York-trained chef, Miller is the owner of The Eagle Drive-In, as well as Instant Karma, a restaurant in downtown Joplin where gourmet hot dogs are the stars. Miller brings ingenuity and worldliness to the menus at both restaurants, and his novel dishes have created a loyal and wide following among area diners.

 

My friend Carrie and I are two of those loyal diners, and we recently met for lunch at The Eagle Drive-In. While the restaurant no longer functions as a drive-in, it retains its nostalgic charm – and size. So if you arrive during the busy lunch or dinner rush, be prepared to wait, as there are only about 10 tables inside. But I promise that your patience will pay off.

 

eagle interior

On the day Carrie and I visited, I ordered a water to drink (it was a work day for me), but The Eagle Drive-In’s Jalapeno Margarita occupied my mind.

 

eagle jalapeno margarita

This spicy, refreshing drink has made my eyes water each time I’ve ordered it, but I don’t let that little inconvenience stop me from sipping this tasty libation. Other adult beverage options here include 10 beers on tap (which change regularly), Bloody Marys (regular and spicy), as well as a full bar.

 

eagle tap

For an appetizer, I ordered Joplin’s Spiciest Shrimp Cocktail, made with plump jumbo shrimp and house-made spicy horseradish sauce.

 

eagle shrimp

The shrimp were so huge that I only ate two and took the rest home for my incredibly appreciative husband Travis. More adventurous eaters can choose from appetizers like mussels, bone marrow, calamari, and chicken-fried escargot.

 

For my entree, I ordered the classic Eagle Burger, a ⅓-pound beef patty topped with Cheddar and Swiss cheeses, mixed greens, tomato, onion, pickle, and – here’s the twist – a fried quail egg and Eagle sauce (a creamy red sauce with a touch of smoke and spice).

 

eagle burger

A fluffy brioche bun added another story to this architectural creation, and I felt sorry for Carrie who had to watch me try to stuff this monstrous burger into my mouth.

 

Then again, Carrie had a similar challenge with the huge Falafel Sub, which is a great menu option for vegetarians; it’s also easily modified for vegans, like Carrie, by omitting the feta and tzatziki sauce.

 

eagle falafel

The Eagle Drive-In also offers other unique burgers made from lamb, elk, or salmon, as well as a variety of sandwiches, salads, and main entrees like Ahi tuna and beef tips. You can also abandon the menu and go with the flow by ordering the chef’s creation of the day.

 

If you order a burger or a sandwich, you get to choose one side dish, and both Carrie and I picked the hand-cut fries which come with the choice of two dipping sauces. With over a dozen sauces to choose from, this was a difficult decision, but I finally went with the Curry Aioli (subtle and creamy) and the Wasabi Aioli (lively, yet not overpowering).

 

If the temperatures outside had been warmer, we would have eaten at one of The Eagle Drive-In’s picnic tables. I like seeing Joplin restaurants adding outdoor dining spaces. We have a pretty nice climate here (compared to Chicago, where I grew up), and I always look for places where I can be outside while I eat.

 

eagle sign

The Eagle Drive-In may look like a typical retro drive-in, but it will surprise you with its creative gourmet menu items. It just might become your new regular hangout.

 

The Eagle Drive-In is located at 4224 Hearnes Boulevard in Joplin. Click here to visit its website, and click here to find out what the daily special is on its Facebook page.

 

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

Spiva Membership Show

Admit it.

 

You do it.

 

I do it.

 

At one point every single one of us is guilty of plugging into mass-produced cultural entertainment of – let’s face it – marginal quality in our recreational time.

 

Why?

 

Because it’s easy. It requires very little effort on our part. Just log in to Netflix and zone away.

 

While doing so has its place in the hierarchy of destressing modes, we often forget that there are other ways in which we can unwind while simultaneously enriching our lives.

 

But that takes planning, and travel time, and money, you say. (Geez, you sound like my children!)

 

If your mission is to travel to Kansas City, or Tulsa, or northwest Arkansas to visit the revered cultural institutions there, then, yes, it will take some effort and planning.

 

But I’m here to tell you that there is another way. You can forgo that hassle and refill your cultural well right here in Joplin with very little planning or travel time.

 

And you can do it for free.

 

spiva membership dream

Perchance to Dream by Paula Giltner

 

On a recent Saturday, I announced to my brood that we would be going to the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts that afternoon to view the annual membership show. My declaration was met with belabored groans and steely glares that silently cursed me.

 

Who did I think I was trying to enrich their lives?

 

Afternoon came, and after thirty minutes of gently reminding my family that we would soon be leaving and barely receiving a grunt in response, I began turning off and unplugging various devices. You can guess how well that went over.

 

We finally piled into the minivan, along with a variety of Oscar-caliber whining and complaining. During the ten-minute drive to Spiva, I tuned out the back-seat grumbling and focused on my breathing, silently repeating this mantra: I will expose them to culture. I will expose them to culture. I will expose them to culture.

 

And they’ll like it, by golly. That’s the censored version of my thought, anyway.

 

Once inside the exhibit at Spiva, it only took a few minutes before I noticed a change in my kids. At times, they were actually getting lost in their thoughts while studying the artwork, and at other times they were enjoying the playful side of artistic expression.

 

 

spiva membership geese

My littlest chick posing by Ruth Millers Under the Feather

 

This exhibit was the Spiva Membership Show, which takes place at the end of every year. Admission to the exhibit is free, although donations are always welcome.

 

This annual exhibit showcases the work of around 100 area artists; we have some incredibly talented artists in the Joplin area, I might add.

 

The Membership Show was juried, and there were cash prizes totaling $2,400 awarded in the adult category, and prizes totaling $600 in the youth category.

 

spiva membership sunflowerShy Sunflower by Darla Hare

 

There were ceramics, watercolors, oil paintings, photographs, sculptures, and mixed media pieces.

 

 

spiva membership flightThe Dream of Flight by Jeffrey Jones

 

Not only was I excited to surround myself and my family with high-quality art, I was surprised to discover that I had met at least half of the artists whose works were on exhibit. I don’t say that to give you the impression that I frequent art galleries all the time, dahling. Actually, most of my time is spent running kids to their various activities, so on the rare occasion that I meet a local artist whose talent blows me away, it makes quite an impression on me.

 

It just so happens that there are some big players making their rounds in the arts community here in the Ozarks, and they’ve got my attention.

 

spiva membership wisemanPrincess and the Pea by Natalie Wiseman

 

An added bonus of the Membership Show is that many of the pieces were for sale; the pieces that I liked the most ranged in price from $100 to $3,200.

 

Dear Family: Read this post carefully for gift ideas for Christmas and/or my birthday, and/or just because you love me for exposing you to real-life culture. In addition to the pieces in the exhibit, there’s also some incredible jewelry in Spiva’s gift gallery that caught my eye. Oh, and a gift certificate to a Spiva art class would make a nice present, too – remember that funglass tray I made at a class there?

 

spiva membership doerrBirth of a Black Hole by Steve Doerr

 

When we were finished exploring the exhibit, I asked my family which pieces were their favorites. Here were their responses:

 

spiva membership danteTeenager’s favorite: Dave’s Pain by Kevin Myers. Is she trying to tell me something?

 

spiva membership eclipseMiddle child’s favorite: Eclipse by Josie Mai

 

spiva membership birdYoungest child’s favorite was Refugio: Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, by Brenda Sageng

 

spiva membership dogHusband’s favorite: Mama’s Little Angel by Robyn Cook

 

spiva membership ameliaMy favorite: St. Amelia – Patron Saint of Amassment and Collection by Michele DeSutter

 

As we were leaving Spiva’s parking lot, I asked my family, “Who had a good time?”

 

Every single one of those former complainers immediately answered, “I did!”

 

Ha!

 

Take that, Netflix. You don’t own us. We have the power to break free from our electronic trances and expose ourselves to real-life culture.

 

And we can fill up our cultural well right here in Joplin.

 

spiva membership circusLife is a Circus by Debbie Reed

 

 

Spiva is located at 222 West Third Street in Joplin.

 

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

Stone’s Throw Dinner Theatre

“The GPS is telling me to turn here,” said my husband Travis. “Is this it?”

 

I’d been so busy selecting songs on my phone to play on the drive from Joplin to Carthage that I’d neglected my duties as navigator. Thank goodness Google Maps had been paying attention.

 

I glanced up to see a light brown building on top of a hill, nestled among several pine trees. A sign by the street read “Stone’s Throw Dinner Theatre.”

 

stones throw sign

“This is it,” I said.

 

We had tickets for the Saturday evening performance of Mind Over Matt, a play by Scott Haan. The doors opened at 6:00 p.m., with dinner at 6:30 p.m. and the performance at 7:30 p.m. Travis and I arrived shortly before dinner and, honestly, I was wondering how we would pass an entire hour before the play started. After all, we didn’t know anyone there.

 

Getting Seated

We handed our tickets to the usher who led us to our table. We were seated with six other people; half of them had been coming there for years, and the other half were newbies, just like us. I thought it might be awkward being seated at a table of strangers, but conversation came easily – and even lead to a serendipitous moment.

 

stones throw tables

About ten minutes after we were seated, a man sat down between Travis and the “regular” couple, whom he was meeting there. He looked familiar to me, and I mentally tried to place him. When that didn’t work (thanks a lot, memory), I started asking him questions to figure out where our paths might have crossed.

 

It finally dawned on me that I’d seen him at Joplin’s Stained Glass Theatre. His name is Karl Wendt, and he and his wife Shannon had performed songs at a children’s theater production (which they also directed) that we’d taken our daughter to see. When I told Karl I’d written a blog post about our experience at that performance, he said he knew that because he had just been reading that very post earlier that day. How cool is that?

 

Serendipitous.

 

Shortly after that aha! moment, a server came by with our first course, and Karl introduced us to her; she was his wife Shannon who was volunteering as a server at Stone’s Throw that evening. Up until that point, I wasn’t aware that the theater is a not-for-profit organization run completely by volunteers. As I observed the volunteers that night, I could tell that they were passionate about their cause by the way they attentively and enthusiastically served the guests; they genuinely wanted everyone to have a great time.

 

 

Dinner

Dinner service began with a Caesar salad, topped with fresh Parmesan cheese.

 

stones throw salad

The home-style entree was Salisbury Steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, whiskey glazed carrots, and a flaky dinner roll. It was simple and delicious.

 

stones throw salisbury steak

If you have any allergies or dietary restrictions, you can let them know when you make your reservations and they will accommodate your needs.

 

Wine and beer tokens are available at the box office for those who are interested, and guests can purchase up to two tokens each.

 

 

The Performance

Before I knew it, the dinner hour was over and the play began. Even though our table was near the back, we could still see and hear everything, thanks to the intimate size of the theater.

 

The production’s engaging cast consisted of local actors who put their all into their roles and played them with an energy equal to that of the theater’s volunteers.

 

stones throw stage

The actors in Mind Over Matt portrayed different aspects of the main character Matt’s personality, kind of like the animated movie Inside Out. It was witty and quick-paced.

 

At intermission, dessert was served: warm peach cobbler bathed in cinnamon ice cream. It was dreamy.

 

stones throw peach cobbler

It was a great night; give me good food and quality entertainment and I’m one happy lady.

 

Considering that the theater charges just $26 per adult* for a fun and unique Saturday night, I think that Stone’s Throw is a hidden gem in our area.

 

But, thankfully, my GPS can find it.

 

 

Stone’s Throw Dinner Theatre is located at 2466 West Old 66 Boulevard in Carthage. Click here to visit its website, and here to see its Facebook page.

*Stone’s Throw pricing as of 10/17:  Adults (19-54) $26.00; Seniors (55 and up) $23.00; Student (w/ID)  $22.00; Youth (13-18) $21.00;  Children (6-12) $12.00; Children (under 5) free.

 

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

 

Jorge Leyva: Joplin’s World-Class Artist

It’s a unique sight to see in Joplin: the expansive green lawn in front of Jorge Leyva’s home dotted with a handful of large metal sculptures. Some of them are brightly colored, while others stand gray and raw, awaiting the time when they, too, will be painted into life.

 

leyva red sculpture

Like flowers in a garden, these exquisite sculptures bloom in their own time, in their own way. “I believe in beauty and in beautifying the place where I exist,” says Jorge.

 

And he doesn’t want to keep this beauty to himself. He wants others to see, feel, and experience the art themselves, which is why he’s opened his sculpture garden to the public – for free.

 

leyva blue sculpture

There aren’t many parks or other public spaces in town where people can go to see artistic pieces like fountains and sculptures. But that is beginning to change, and Jorge is playing a big part of the public art movement in Joplin.

 

His mission is to educate his town about “the importance of having something visual where people can participate and feel alive.” He recently dedicated a piece that he created for the Joplin Public Library called “Revering the Phoenix Effect,” which represents how Joplin rose from the dust after the tornado.

 

leyva library

At its dedication ceremony, Jorge watched as a little girl walked up to the sculpture and began playing with one of the houses on it like it was a Lego. “She was encountering herself with art,” says Jorge, and that’s the kind of experience that he hopes everyone who comes across his art will have.

 

A wise – and extremely humble – man, Jorge has worked as an artist for 25 years. Originally from Peru, he came to Missouri to study engineering, but a close friend helped him see that his true talent was expressing himself through art. He graduated from Missouri Southern State University with a BA, from Pittsburg State University with an MA, and then from California College of the Arts with an MFA.

 

He’s artwork has been sold worldwide, and his sculptures are carried by Nuart Gallery in Santa Fe. His work is valuable, but not necessarily affordable. For his private clients, he creates “luxury,” but for those of us living in Joplin, he creates accessibility. We get the chance to see his work at Joplin Public Library, Spiva Center for the Arts, as well as at Jorge’s own home.

 

Spiva-sculpture

Sculpture at Spiva Center for the Arts

 
It’s refreshing to see that an artist of Jorge’s caliber genuinely cares about his hometown and strives to contribute to his community in many ways. Not only does he share his artwork in public spaces, but he also collaborates with local people in finishing his metal sculptures, like by using a local sandblaster/painter who adds the vibrant color to his creations.

 

Visiting Jorge’s sculpture garden is a fulfilling experience, made even more so if you have the chance to interact with the artist himself. Talking to Jorge is like salve for the soul: he’s funny and comforting; charming and insightful. In order to visit, you’ll need to call ahead (417-623-8085): the gates are closed at night and on the weekends unless he’s at home working.

 

While you’re there, ask to see his indoor studio. While I was there, he was working on paintings with “cocoon clouds,” clouds filled with depth that represent metamorphosis.

 

leyva cloud coccoons

Who knew that so much could be represented in clouds?

 

Jorge did.

 

While his work has changed over time, one theme that has remained constant, in both his work and his life, is gratitude – gratitude for his creativity, for the people who interact with his work, and for the people who support it. “Joplin has embraced me beautifully. Nothing is equal to having my own town and its people embrace me so well.”

 

leyva scales of nature

“Weighing in on the Scales of Nature” represents the rebuilding of Joplin after the tornado. “People in Joplin are resilient,” says Jorge. “They are about home.”

 

To visit Jorge Leyva’s sculpture garden at 1305 East Vandalia Street, call 417-623-8085. Click here to see Jorge’s website.

 

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

 

The Top 5 Picnic Spots in Joplin

My husband Travis and I have a tradition where we plan a weekday picnic lunch date once our kids are back in school, then again in early May before the kids get out for summer break. It’s our way to relax, reconnect, and secretly gloat that we get recess while our kids are busy learning.

 

There are some perks to being a grown-up.

 

picnic mcindoe bench

Our favorite spot.

 

Last week, we finally had the chance to have our back-to-school picnic, and while we were resting on our blanket looking up at the blue September sky at our favorite picnic spot, I began to wonder where else in Joplin other magical picnic spots might exist – ones where we might even bring the children to on a nice weekend day.

 

So, I hopped in my car to do some field research. For a picnic spot to be ideal, it had to be naturally shaded – in other words, not in a shelter or pavilion. If I’m going to be eating outside, I want to be able to see the sky above me. (If you’re a pavilion-seeking picnic person, don’t worry; I’ve included some options for you, too.)

 

I found five outstanding picnic spots, which I’ve detailed below. At the end of each description, I’ve listed a summary of amenities, including nearby restaurants where you can pick up food for your picnic instead of having to make it yourself.

 

THE TOP 5 PICNIC SPOTS IN JOPLIN

 

  1. McIndoe Park (Glendale Road and Jackson Avenue)

When I told my friend where Travis and I had our back-to-school picnic, she said, “McIndoe Park? Never heard of it.” Not many people know the name of this park, which is perched on the banks of sparkling Shoal Creek. Most people assume that this park is an extension of Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center just to the south, but it’s a Joplin city park.

 

Travis and I found a spot just to the south of the historic one-lane low-water bridge, built in 1919. Driving over this bridge is a mind-bending experience; since you can’t see the pavement next to you, it feels like you’re gliding across the creek in a boat.

 

picnic mcindoe creek

McIndoe Park is our favorite Joplin picnic spot because here we can eat at a shaded picnic table while enjoying a creekside view, then rest on a blanket in the nearby grass.

 

picnic mcindoe t

So sorry the kids couldn’t be here. Hee, hee.

Sometimes we play cards, and sometimes we watch the wildlife. Last week, we saw a stealthy blue heron perched on a log across the creek, scanning the water for his lunch, as well as several vibrant bluebirds singing their cheerful songs.

 

Natural shade: Yes

Pavilions: No

Playground: No

Restrooms: No

Nearby restaurants: Eagle Drive-In (1.5 miles)

 

 

  1. McClelland Park (4568 McClelland Park Road)

This large, wooded park is located on a hilltop on Joplin’s southwest side. There are parking lots near the entrance, which is where I found this cute green picnic table. It’s located right next to the playground, making it a great spot for a family picnic.

 

picnic mcclelland park

If you’re seeking solitude and tranquility away from the busy playground and shelter area, follow McClelland Park Road along the eastern edge of the park.

 

picnic mcclelland course

Here you’ll find several pull-off areas leading to secluded picnic tables surrounded by trees on one side and the 18-hole disc golf course on the other.

 

Natural shade: Yes

Pavilions: 2

Playground: Yes

Restrooms: Yes

Nearby restaurants: Sakura Sushi & Grill Japanese Restaurant, Del Rio Grill & Cantina, Subway (all 1.5 miles)

 

 

  1. Leonard Park (4th Street and Turk Avenue)

This is my go-to park if I’m shopping on North Range Line Road and need a quick nature fix. Located just west of North Point Shopping Center (the one with Toys ‘R’ Us), Leonard Park was one of my favorite parks to take my kids when they were little. In addition to a playground, there’s a little creek that runs through the park, making it a magical place for kids to explore.

 

While there are a few picnic tables outside of the pavilion here, none are shaded, so my favorite place to picnic here is on the grass right next to the creek.

 

picnic leonard

Looks like a scene from a fairy tale, doesn’t it?

 

Natural shade: Yes

Pavilions: 1

Playground: Yes

Restrooms: Yes

Nearby restaurants: A variety of fast-food options on Range Line Road, plus Habaneros Mexican Grill and Lalo’s Taqueria (both .4 miles).

 

 

  1. Cunningham Park (26th Street and Maiden Lane)

Our family has known this park through its two incarnations: as a shaded park where my little ones pointed excitedly when they spied the medical helicopter taking off from the hospital across the street (pre-tornado), and as a spacious, open park with areas for quiet reflection (post-tornado).

 

Cunningham Park’s landscape may have changed since May 22, 2001, but its popularity hasn’t. It’s beautiful in a new way now, and the colorful blooming plants and tranquil water features in the Butterfly Garden exemplify this.

 

picnic cunningham pagoda

That’s the bench under a pergola in the background.

While there are picnic tables in other areas of Cunningham Park, there aren’t any in the garden. However, there are a couple of benches (one is partially shaded by a pergola) that are situated on either side of the “Hope” water feature which traces the path of the Joplin tornado. Either one provides a peaceful for enjoying a meal.

 

picnic cunningham angled bench

Natural shade: No (but the tranquility of the Butterfly Garden makes it worth visiting)

Pavilions: 3

Playground: Yes

Restrooms: Yes

Nearby restaurants: A Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market is just across the street from the park (on the west side) if you want to pick up a deli meal; Tropicana Bar & Grill, and El Vaquero (both 1 mile).

 

 

  1. Bluff Trail (see below for the slightly complicated directions, but I promise it’s totally worth visiting)

To enjoy a picnic with the best view in Joplin, be prepared to take a short hike through the woods (by short, I mean all of two minutes; the trail is somewhat rocky and steep so don’t wear stilettos).

 

There are two picnic tables just off Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center’s Bluff Trail (see map here), which runs along the bluff above the west side of Shoal Creek and offers breathtaking views. While hiking up from creek level is an option (a strenuous one), so is parking your car on Castle Drive and walking down to the tables (much easier).

 

However, the easier option is also the trickier one, as the trail from Castle Drive to the tables is not marked. In fact, after looking around for 15 minutes by myself, I had Travis come help me (he found it right away, of course, which was a bit infuriating). So, we decided to drive from each direction and record the distance, so that we (okay, I) could find it easily next time.

 

Here’s what we found. If you’re coming from Main Street (Highway 86), turn west on Castle Drive and follow it for one mile. If you’re coming from McIndoe Park, take the low-water bridge across to the south side of Shoal Creek and turn east on Murphy Boulevard (which becomes Castle Drive) and drive for .7 miles.

 

At this point you will be on top of a hill and there will be gravel parking areas on either side of the road. Park here and walk on the east side of the road (just south of the gravel parking area – confused yet?) and you will see this trail head.

 

picnic bluff trail entrance

This will take you to the closest picnic table (the other one is farther south), and to this amazing view.

 

picnic bluff trail

See that dark thing in the sky? That’s actually a leaf falling from a tree on the first day of autumn. So poetic.

Please, please, please do me a favor and bring a bag for trash, as there are no trash cans nearby and you’ll need to carry it out with you. This is probably also a good time to mention using the restroom before your picnic, too.

 

Natural shade: Yes

Pavilions: No

Playground: No

Restrooms: No

Nearby restaurants: All Aboard Ice Cream (and burgers!) (1 mile).

 

 

Honorable Mention: Garvin Park (28th Street & Virginia Avenue)

This tiny park may not offer any natural shade, but its location is fundamental to its appeal. It’s situated right next to McDonald’s, causing me to often wonder why people would eat inside the restaurant (or even in their cars, for that matter) when this pretty outdoor space is literally just a few feet away.

 

picnic garvin 1 (1)

The building in the background on the right (behind the lion) is McDonald’s.

 

Having a picnic at this park offers a double win: kids can eat their Happy Meals and then run around the playground, giving parents a good 30-60 minutes of quiet time.

 

picnic garvin 2

Bonus: The lion water fountain. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve seen in Joplin. I guess it doesn’t take much to impress me.

 

Natural shade: No, but letting mommy have some quiet time is worth the sacrifice.

Pavilions: 2

Playground: Yes

Restrooms: No, but use the restrooms in McDonald’s when you’re buying the Happy Meals.

Nearby restaurants: Obviously, you’re aware that McDonald’s is literally a few steps away; Tropicana Bar & Grill, and El Vaquero (both .3 miles).

 

So, now that you know where the best picnic spots are in Joplin, grab your lunch and head outdoors.

 

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