I begin to relax as I press my back into the solid wooden booth seat, enjoying the privacy provided by the booth’s towering heights and the restaurant’s dim lighting. From my clandestine spot, I can see a portion of the long, inviting bar, well-stocked with neat rows of alcohol bottles waiting to be mixed into classic cocktails like Sidecars or Singapore Slings.
The atmosphere reminds me of the kind of cool and sophisticated place where members of the Rat Pack once frequented. I picture them sitting at one of the tables up front, surrounded by friends for a night of celebration, or, conversely, ducking into one of the high-backed booths to enjoy a meal without the constant attention of adoring fans. As I sip the last drop of my martini, I swear I see Ol’ Blue Eyes himself appear in front of me.
I snap to and realize that it’s actually my Blue Eyes, my husband Travis. This place has a way of tricking the mind, of making you think that you’ve traveled back in time to the golden age of restaurants, when dining out was more than just grabbing a quick bite to eat: it was an event.
This time-frozen place is Wilder’s Steakhouse, a casual, fine-dining establishment that has served diners in Joplin since 1929. Located on Main Street in the downtown district, Wilder’s continues its decades-old tradition of offering some of the best steaks in town. These days that includes hand-cut, hormone-free, and antibiotic-free cuts of Black Angus beef.
So, when Travis and I were recently craving some steak, we pointed the car toward Wilder’s. Street parking is available in front, but we opted to park in the lot behind the building. Entering through the rear brought us through a hallway peppered with vintage ads and menus, serving as a time tunnel connecting us from the modern world outside to the restaurant’s classic interior.
After settling in with some cocktails, we ordered appetizers: Shrimp Cocktail for Travis (served with four plump jumbo shrimp),
and The Wilder’s Wedge for me because I wanted a crisp, fresh salad to balance out the upcoming hearty meal.
But with an ample amount of lettuce, locally grown tomatoes, smoked Applewood bacon, and house-made bleu cheese dressing, I could have eaten The Wilder’s Wedge as a meal by itself.Through sheer will, I forced myself to stop so I could leave room for my entree.
Although Wilder’s is a steakhouse, the menu here is not limited to steak; you’ll find entrees to suit any appetite, such as Chilean Sea Bass, Pesto Roast Chicken, and Vegetarian Sauté. But that night we had come for the steak. Each steak entree comes with the choice of one side. Travis ordered Wilder’s Mignons: two juicy tenderloin medallions topped with rich Asiago cream sauce and some more of that tasty crumbled Applewood bacon, with a side of tender grilled asparagus.
I ordered the fancy-sounding Filet Dupont, a melt-in-your-mouth, six-ounce center cut tenderloin topped with mushrooms, caramelized onions, and Gruyere – flavors which complemented one another nicely.
For my side, I ordered something based on the recommendation of my friends: Wilder’s Signature Truffled Macaroni & Cheese. I’m not a big mac-and-cheese fan, so I thought I’d just have a taste and bring the rest home to my kids. Well, the kids never even saw it because I ate every bite (except the one I let Travis taste).
This wasn’t your typical powdered Kraft mac-and-cheese; the pasta here was tossed with earthy truffle oil and topped with real cheese. This dish totally broadened my view of mac-and-cheese: it can be a gourmet item.
As we were settling up the bill, our server asked us if we’d seen the recently restored Wilder’s sign on top of the building. Installed in 1950, the neon hadn’t worked for the past 20 years, which was the length of time that I’ve lived in Joplin, so I’d never had the chance to see it illuminated. Naturally, I had to check it out.
All the sign’s arrows ARE working. I just happened to catch this one mid-flash.
While this street-level picture doesn’t do it justice (a drone would’ve captured a more impressive photo), seeing the kitschy sign with its flashing neon-orange arrows pointing to the Wilder’s name made me feel, once again, that I’d stepped back to a time when dining out wasn’t just a convenience, but a special occasion.
To read about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.