Wilder’s Steakhouse

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.

 

wilders bar

 

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.

 

wilders blue eyes

 

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.

 

wilders vintage sign wall

wilders vintage sign

wilders vintage menu

 

After settling in with some cocktails, we ordered appetizers: Shrimp Cocktail for Travis (served with four plump jumbo shrimp),

 

wilders shrimp

 

and The Wilder’s Wedge for me because I wanted a crisp, fresh salad to balance out the upcoming hearty meal.

 

wilders wedge

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.

 

wilders mignons

wilders 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.

 

wilders filet du pont

 

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).

 

wilders mac and cheese

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.

 

wilders restored sign

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.

 

Wilder’s Steakhouse is located at 1216 South Main Street. To visit its website, click here, and to follow Wilder’s on Facebook, click here.

 

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

I Am Joplin: George Michalopoulos

Noble columns and graceful stone statues resembling ancient Greek deities create elegant touches to the exterior of this building. Its appearance is unexpected – an oasis of stateliness in a sea of homogeneous commercial buildings.

 

george mythos 1

 

But while it may look like a palace, to one Joplin man, it’s simply home.

 

This home is Mythos, and its owner is George Michalopoulos, a man with boundless energy who spends the majority of his day at this restaurant. While he does have an actual house, along with a wife and two children, to go to at the end of the day, his passion for – and dedication to – his business has expanded his clan, creating a family of employees and customers who find comfort, celebration, and community within the walls of Mythos.

 

George-in-Training

Being a restaurateur is a far cry from George’s youthful dream of being an anesthesiologist, but the restaurant business is in his blood. His parents, Andrew and Vickie Michalopoulos, came from Greece to Missouri in the 1970s, and opened up restaurants. Eventually, they branched out into the full-service hotel industry and purchased the Ramada Inn (now LaQuinta Inn) in Joplin, where George oversaw the restaurant, bar, and guest rooms.

 

When it came time for George’s parents to sell the hotel, he had to figure out what he wanted to do next. With anesthesiology now off the table, he decided to honor his roots and his genuine enthusiasm for the restaurant industry by opening his own establishment. I know I’m not alone when I say that I’m extremely glad that he did.

 

George the Restaurateur

George opened Mythos in 2004 with the help of his wife Jaime, who also hails from a family of restaurateurs. But while everyone else in George’s family had operated steak houses and buffet restaurants, George and Jaime wanted to do something different, something upscale. Something Greek.

 

Over the years, the menu has evolved. Although it remains Greek-influenced with items like the Tour of Mythos (a sample platter of traditional Greek food including gyro meat, pita slices, and spanakopita – which is one of my favorite dishes here), the menu also includes other fare such as steaks (like the Blackberry Filet) and seafood (like the Vermouth Bass). “Joplin’s food tastes are growing,” says George. “The younger generation is seeing a lot more (TV) food shows and getting a lot more of a food education, which is allowing us to mature a lot more quickly than we used to.”

 

Plus, Mythos was using fresh ingredients before using locally sourced ingredients became trendy. “That’s a lot of the Mediterranean culture,” says George. “It was instilled in us as kids that you go to the garden to grab something fresh and it tastes so much better.”

 

george m

George at home, a.k.a. Mythos.

 

The scrumptious meals at Mythos are prepared by Chef Eugene Deal, who gets a special helper in the kitchen on Mondays. That’s when George dons his chef uniform and gets cooking. “It’s good for me to be in the kitchen because the employees see that, ‘Hey, this guy knows what he’s doing,’” says George. “I put orders in with them, I prep with them, I coach them, and I train them.” George believes that his presence in the kitchen has had a positive impact on the employee turnover rate at Mythos, which is low – a unique trait in the fickle restaurant industry. “I think it’s the fact that I’m in here working with them side-by-side, facing the same struggles that they face,” says George. “We’re problem-solving together.”

 

With his hands-on approach to managing the restaurant, it’s no surprise that he’s thrived as the sole owner/operator, despite the fact that he was only 30 when Mythos opened. Add in his incomparable customer recognition skills, which have earned the respect – and business – from customers over the years, and you have a solid recipe for success. He even recognizes people who come in once every year or two, much to their amazement. “I want to make sure that guests are happy and leave better than how they came in,” says George. “I try to make them feel at home.”

 

 

george mythos statue front

 

Practicing the Greek-influenced style of dining is another way that George and his employees make people feel at home at Mythos. “It’s not rushed. It’s very family-oriented. It’s sitting down. It’s talking. It’s enjoying. It’s not getting people in and out in 30 to 40 minutes, then getting the next table in.” While the servers do pick up the pace for the time-crunched lunch crowd, at dinner they move at the pace of the customers.

 

How was this leisurely European dining pace initially received by Joplin diners? “The first couple of years were an adjustment,” George admits. “Now people understand it. We had a table here last week with a 3:30 pm reservation and they were still here at 7 pm.”

 

George the Inventor

When George isn’t cooking or visiting with customers, he’s creating products and systems which make his business – and others in the industry – run more efficiently. Have you ever heard of the Dump Commander? (Go ahead and giggle like a 5th grader at the name – I did). Although it sounds funny, this product has had a serious impact on employees in the restaurant industry, winning the 2016 Kitchen Innovation Award at the National Restaurant Association.

 

What is the Dump Commander? George describes his invention as “a rechargeable unit that you take out to the dumpster, and instead of having to lift trash up over your head, you just hit a button and it dumps it for you.” You can read more about the Dump Commander here.

 

George the Dad

Being an inventor and restaurateur means long hours at Mythos, so George’s friends and family know that, in order to maximize their chances of seeing him, they should stop by the restaurant. Except in summer – that’s when Mythos closes for two weeks so that George can “devote 100%, 24/7” to his kids Andreas, 18, and Jasmine, 16, along with his wife Jaime.

 

George the Joplinite

After working in Joplin for more than two decades, George has come to appreciate living in this town, both for its “relaxed, lower pressure” lifestyle and for its family-friendly environment. “I like the fact that we know a lot of people even though it’s a fairly large-sized town.”

 

So where in Joplin does George take out-of-town visitors when they come to see him (besides Mythos, of course)? “I take our guests to a lot of the local restaurants,” says George. “When I worked in the hotel business, we would always direct guests to local restaurants because you can get a franchise anywhere in the country, but you pick the places that they don’t have in their hometowns and their cities. That way, they can experience something different and unique.”

 

George has been successful offering something different and unique at Mythos, and he does so with inexhaustible enthusiasm. “The time at the restaurant for me does not drag on,” says George. “I spend 12 to 16 hours a day here and I don’t feel like I’ve been here that long.” To George, Mythos isn’t just a workplace: “This is my home.”

 

Mythos is located at 1306 South Range Line Road. To visit its website here; to follow it on Facebook, click here; and if you’d like to read about my experience at Mythos, click here.

 

To read 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.