Nearly every weekend, I get the urge to get outside and hike. Because I crave variety, I like to switch up the types of hikes that I do, so before I put on my hiking shoes, I think about what type of nature adventure I’d like to have that day.
Do I want to take a walk through a shaded forest?
Do I want the challenge of navigating rocks that have been made slippery by cascading water?
Do I want to follow the banks of Shoal Creek, or do I want to wade and splash in its clear water?
Do I want to take a peaceful stroll through unique chert glades?
Do I want to climb a bluff and enjoy a breathtaking view?
The great thing is, all of these options are available to me in one convenient location right here in Joplin: Wildcat Park.
Up until 2018, when I said I was “going to Wildcat,” it either meant that I was going to walk the trails in the area known as Wildcat Park, or that I was going to visit the nature center called Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center.
Today, the center is no longer associated with the Audubon Society, and it no longer has the word “Wildcat” in its name. It’s now called Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center, operating under the direction of the Missouri Department of Conservation. So, now when I say I’m “going to Wildcat,” there’s no confusion: it means I’m going to Wildcat Park.
Are you still with me?
Good. Because this change is a work in progress. In fact, a new map of the trails in Wildcat Park is currently in development, so until that is complete, I’ll be referring to this map, which is from the Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Society days.
Enough of that. Now, let’s talk trails.
If Wildcat Park is your destination, I recommend stopping at the Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center before you hike. This nature center is a gem in this area, offering lots of information about the plants and animals that you might encounter on the trails in Wildcat Park.
Rotary Centennial Trail (.36 miles)
If you exit through the rear of the visitor center, you’ll find the hiking trail that takes you through the chert glades.
We are fortunate to have access to these rare chert glades right here in Joplin, making a hike along this trail a unique experience. The chert glades ecosystem is actually dry, so don’t be surprised when you spy a cactus sprouting from a rock, a lizard sunbathing, or a scorpion scurrying for cover as you walk along Centennial Trail.
After the glades, we usually turn left and head towards the bridge that crosses Silver Creek, a tributary of Shoal Creek. The change in scenery is dramatic: from dry, sunny glades to cool, shaded forest.
St. John’s Woodland Loop (.33 miles)
After the bridge, there’s a nice, flat, ADA-accessible loop trail that meanders through the forest, offering occasional views of Shoal Creek, as well as the tall bluffs that jut out from the sparkling water, demanding admiration.
St. John’s Creek Trail (.56 miles)
You can access this trail by turning left from the woodland loop, and it will take you along the banks of Shoal Creek, all the way to Redings Mill Bridge. There are several bluff overhangs to explore; you can even peek into a cave entrance on this path. We’ve also been lucky enough to spot a fox along here.
Bluff Trail (1.0 mile)
We usually access this trail from Castle Drive, which allows us to walk through the woods to access the creek before – or after – the steep climb to the bluff. When the water is low, we like to play in Shoal Creek, and to scan the creek bed for arrowheads.
We then make the climb to the bluff. The view from here is breathtaking! There are some picnic tables just off the trail where you can eat or rest . You can also park on the road above and walk down to the tables, which is a less strenuous way to go.
Continuing along the trail, you’ll come to one of the most iconic spots in Joplin: Mother Nature’s Gap (many locals replace Gap with Crack when referring to this spot).
If you’re not up for jumping over the crack to reach the other side, there’s a solid section that will take you there, as well.
Wildcat Glade Nature Trail (.2 miles)
In writing this post, I realized that this is one trail at Wildcat Park that I’ve never explored. What?! It’s next on my list.
To access the spring, simply drive to where the road dead-ends, and the spring will be just a few feet away. There are a few steps that lead down to the spring where the water is crystal clear.
Just past the spring, you’ll come across a faint path on the right which will take you to a rocky area. When there’s been enough rain, water will cascade down these rocks, creating a waterfall effect.
I often forget about this area because we usually spend our time on the other side of the park, but I think this may be my favorite spot because it reminds me of a fairytale forest.
With so many different types of landscapes in such a compact area, you can experience a new adventure each time you visit Wildcat Park.
Thousands of I-44 drivers zoom past it every day, unaware that they are so close to this one-of-a-kind attraction: Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center, and the globally unique chert glades that surround it.
Located just south of the busy interstate, this center has been one of my family’s favorite places ever since it opened in 2007 as Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center.
In 2018, the center closed after its partnership with the Audubon Society ended, prompting many mopey faces at our house. But the time has come to turn our frowns upside down as the center has reopened with a new name under the direction of the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center is situated in front of an area containing rare chert glades.
In Missouri the term “glade” is used to describe a place where underlying rock cuts through thin soil to develop its own unique ecosystem. In the area behind the center, 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 in the area.
The chert glade ecosystem is very dry, and plants that are native to arid climates can grow here (yes, that means prickly pear cacti in Missouri!). These plants also attract wildlife native to arid climates, such as lizards, tarantulas, and scorpions (eek!).
Inside the center, you can learn all about this ecosystem, as well as the wildlife found in nearby Shoal Creek. The center boasts a large aquarium divided into three sections which are designed to show visitors what types of plants and animals are found in various depths of Shoal Creek: the wetlands, riffle, and deep pool areas.
While the fish in the deep pool section seem a bit skittish, the turtles in the wetlands section love to work the crowd.
In addition to the aquarium, you’ll find habitats containing reptiles commonly found in the surrounding area, as well as interactive exhibits that educate and entertain kids and adults alike.
There are large windows at the rear of the center which look out toward the chert glades, providing a picturesque vantage point from which to watch area birds as they land at the many feeders.
The mission of Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center is twofold: to inform visitors about the area’s natural history and resources, and to educate people on how to care for it themselves. The variety of programming that the center provides each month in the classrooms helps to further that goal.
Some classes and events, like the Monarch Festival, are open to people of all ages, while other programs, like “Little Acorns: Terrific Trees” and “Reptiles of Missouri” are geared toward children (and sometimes include the opportunity for them to make cute crafts).
The center offers Hunter Education sessions, as well. Click here to see a list of upcoming programs.
Before you leave the building, sneak a peek inside the gift shop for further inspiration.
We usually pair a visit to the center with an outdoor activity, like eating a meal al fresco at one of the picnic tables,
exploring the native garden out front (and getting ideas on what we might like to plant in our own yard),
or walking on the trails that surround the center in the area known as Wildcat Park.
Having Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center nearby allows us to squeeze in bite-sized snacks of nature on a regular basis, and we always leave with our spirits full.
My dad’s the type of guy who devours books about history for fun. I think he’s read every David McCullough book out there, and he retains all that information. At age 86, he’s a walking encyclopedia (or is database a more relevant term now?) of historical facts.
When I was a kid, our summer vacations included stops at museums and important historical sites like Gettysburg and Vicksburg, where my siblings and I would pout because there we were, standing on empty battlefields instead of splashing in a hotel pool.
But, decades later, I find myself seeking stories of local places, and the people connected to them, and writing about these things for a living.
How’s that for karma?
With age comes wisdom, and while I might not read history books for pleasure like my dad does, I have acquired a healthy respect for it.
To demonstrate that (and to atone for my lousy adolescent attitude), I often take my dad to historical places in the Joplin area when he and my mom come to visit from Chicago (now via a direct flight from O’Hare to the Joplin Regional Airport – woohoo!).
Here’s what we did on their most recent trip to Joplin.
After a lazy morning, I rounded up the troops and we headed to the Joplin Museum Complex (JMC), a collection of museums which comprehensively covers the different aspects and eras of Joplin’s history.
Our first stop at the JMC was the Everett J. Ritchie Tri-State Mineral Museum, which details the extensive mining industry that put Joplin on the map. The entrance to the museum resembles a mine shaft, with numerous slabs of rocks and minerals on display. “Everything here is so sparkly!” said my youngest daughter, her eyes wide with amazement.
“Look at this,” my mom said, leading my daughter over to an exhibit. “Can you believe there once was a giant cave made of crystals right here in Joplin? They even held concerts inside!”
My daughter’s mind was blown.
My mom was referring to Crystal Cave, which was discovered in 1893. Comprised of calcite crystals, the cave was considered one of the world’s largest geodes, and was a popular tourist attraction in the early 20th century. But when the area mines closed, the water pumps that kept the cave dry were turned off, allowing groundwater to flood it. Today, an asphalt parking lot lies over the sealed off cave, with a small sign offering the only indication of the magnificent geological formation underfoot.
After learning about the industry that built our city, we walked to the south side of the museum complex to the Dorothea B. Hoover Historical Museum to see how mining impacted Joplin’s civic and cultural development. Here, artifacts are displayed from the most significant periods in Joplin’s history.
“Well, I’ll be,” I heard my dad say as he examined something in the collection. “That’s Bonnie Parker,” he said, pointing to a black-and-white photo of the woman who comprised one half of the infamous duo of Bonnie and Clyde.
“And that’s some of the jewelry that she wore,” I said, pointing to several colorful pieces of costume jewelry in the display case. “She left it behind when the apartment they were hiding in right here in Joplin was ambushed.”
“Is the building still here?” my dad asked.
“Actually, it’s the next stop on our list.”
We drove about four miles to 3347 ½ Oak Ridge Drive to the garage apartment that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, along with Buck and Blanche Barrow (Clyde’s brother and sister-in-law), and W.D. Jones (another member of the gang) stayed at in April 1933. They were there for nearly two weeks when, on April 13, several lawmen approached the building, having been tipped off that there might be some bootleggers holing up there. The gang immediately began firing on the lawmen, killing two of them, and then they fled in Clyde’s Ford-V8.
In the chaos of the ambush, they left behind guns, jewelry, and a roll of film that contained photos of the gang members, including the iconic photo of Bonnie posing with a cigar in her mouth and a gun at her side.
After my dad snapped photos of the gang’s hideout, he said, “I wonder what it looks like on the inside.”
“Well, if you want to spend the night in it, you can,” I told him. “It’s listed on AirBnB.”
He looked puzzled. “On what?”
“I’ll explain it over lunch,” I said, heading back to the car. We loaded up our gang – a much less scandalous one than Barrow’s – and headed a mile south to The Eagle Drive-In.
This small drive-in may feel like a typical burger joint, but one glance at the menu and you know that it is anything but. For example, the signature beef burger here is topped with a quail egg, and from there, the burger meat choices become more exotic: elk, bison, and lamb.
My oldest daughter ordered The #6 Burger, which was comprised of an elk patty with Malbec and clover honey, caramelized onions, and Swiss cheese. I went the meatless route and ordered the Falafel Burger, topped with onion, tomatoes, feta, and tzatziki sauce.
Portions are generous at The Eagle Drive-In, and after our meal, we were ready to head back to our house, change into some forgiving pants, and rest up for the next day of exploring.
“Rise and shine!” I summoned my inner Mary Poppins as I went from room to room, waking my children, who were reluctant to rise so early on a Saturday morning. When I knocked on my parents’ door, my dad answered, already dressed for the day. He was eager to start exploring.
I wanted to get to The Bruncheonette for breakfast early, as this tiny, yet popular, farm-to-table diner often fills up within minutes of opening. We lucked out and secured a position toward the front of the line. As my parents examined the menu at the counter, I explained that the “Benny” options were variations of traditional Eggs Benedict, which I knew was one of my mom’s favorite breakfast dishes.
“Oh, this is a hard decision,” she said. “But I think I’ll go with the Benny Harper.” This version was made with bacon and avocado in addition to the traditional elements, while I ordered the Garden Benny, made with asparagus, tomatoes, truffled arugula, and beet Hollandaise.
Other dishes that our group ordered ranged from the savory Darth Vato Tacos, filled with scrambled eggs and chorizo, to the sweet Crepes with Bananas and Nutella.
After breakfast, we drove just a few blocks to the historic Murphysburg district, the very first residential area of Joplin where the founding fathers of the city built stately homes over a century ago. “This reminds me of the Garden District in New Orleans,” said my mom, taking in the sight of full, mature trees, and the variety of intricate and graceful architectural styles.
“That’s what I’ve always thought,” I agreed.
In 1871, Patrick Murphy purchased 41 acres of land near what is now downtown Joplin and named this area Murphysburg. In 1873, it merged with Joplin City to become Joplin.
Historic Murphysburg Preservation, the organization that promotes that preservation of this residential district, has created a tour of Murphysburg that can be found online. While this tour can be done by car, my family was itching to explore it on foot.
We strolled along the shaded sidewalks, careful to sidestep the areas where the strong tree roots had pushed the concrete out their way in a show of dominance. I’d picked up a history guide and a brochure of the different architectural styles of Murphysburg from the Joplin Convention & Visitors Bureau to provide some additional historical details to my family during our tour.
“Ooh, that one is my favorite!” my youngest daughter said, pointing to a graceful Queen Anne home painted the color of sunshine. “Yellow is my favorite color,” she explained to my parents.
“That’s the Dr. Albert Winchester House,” I said. “Dr. Winchester reportedly delivered over 2,500 babies in Joplin.”
We saw a few more homes on that block and then headed north, pausing at the intersection of 4th and Sergeant. “That house reminds me of a castle,” my middle daughter said, referring to the imposing Romanesque style of the Charles Schifferdecker House.
“That’s because it was built to look like a castle from Germany, which is where Charles Schifferdecker was from.” One of the most important figures in Joplin’s history, Schifferdecker had come to the area at age 18 and opened a brewery, and later work in the mining industry. A successful businessman, he became one of the greatest philanthropists of our city.
At the end of the tour, the group was ready to rest and refuel before seeing more downtown sights, so we drove to Main Street to have lunch at M&M Bistro. Owned by Mehrdad Alvandi (the host with the kind smile) and his wife Minoo (the talented chef), this restaurant brings Mediterranean fare such as spanakopita, moussaka, and gyro sandwiches to the Joplin area.
The portions here are generous, but that didn’t stop us from ordering a piece of the sweet and flaky baklava for dessert. I think it might be encoded in my family’s DNA that we physically cannot resist an opportunity to eat dessert.
As we left the restaurant, I asked “Who’s ready to learn about Route 66 and how this important highway impacted Joplin?” My Baby Boomer parents enthusiastically said, “We are!” while my children tried unsuccessfully to stifle their yawns.
Their bored expressions reminded me of how I must have looked to my parents on those road trips decades ago. But despite my desire to be swimming instead of reading placards at a historical battlefield and other such places, I actually did learn things, and I did form memories that have spanned the years. Someday my kids will say the same about our travel experiences, too.
“You all know that we are standing on Main Street right now,” I began, “but did you know that this was part of the original Route 66, too? And across the street is a park dedicated to just that.”
Route 66 Mural Park is an urban space that features an oversized 45-record imprint of the iconic song (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66, plus two murals: Cruisin’ into Joplin, and below that, The American Ribbon, which traces Route 66 from beginning to end, and has a curious object in front of it – a bifurcated red 1964 Corvette (which happens to make a great backdrop for photos).
After seeing the car, my dad turned to me and said, “Remember my ‘51 Chevy?”
How could I not? He had bought that car when I was a teen, and I remember him puffing on a fat Macanudo cigar in the front seat, blissfully unaware of my discomfort in the back, the itchy wool seats and lack of air conditioning making me long for the modern comforts of our ‘80s station wagon.
But seeing the wistful look in his eyes, I didn’t dare crush his spirit by telling him how exactly I remembered his Chevy, so I simply said, “Yes.”
“Now, that was a great cruising car.” There was something about the way he said that that shifted something in me. Instead of using my teenager eyes and viewing that old car as an annoyance, I finally saw it through my dad’s eyes: as a virtual time machine, transporting him back to the carefree times of his youth.
I got it now.
“Want to see what Joplin looked like in the heyday of the Route 66 era?” I asked. We walked across the street to Joplin City Hall, which is located in the historic Newman Building, a building which housed a thriving department store during most of the last century.
Inside, I led them to the mural called Route 66, Joplin, Missouri, painted by Anthony Benton Gude. It’s filled with classic ‘50s images of soda fountains and classic cars cruising down Main Street. My dad’s ‘51 Chevy would have fit right in.
“The next mural depicts Joplin right after the mines started booming,” I said, leading them to Joplin at the Turn of the Century, 1896-1906, which was painted by Gude’s famous uncle Thomas Hart Benton. In it, symbols of possibility and success are juxtaposed with those of the corruption and debauchery common in old mining towns.
I pointed to the bottom of the painting. “See those men gambling? They’re doing so in the House of Lords. That’s the famous saloon that was once here.”
“I remember seeing the roulette wheel from House of Lords at the museum,” said my dad.
“That’s right. And, if you want to learn more about the different objects that Benton chose for this mural there’s an exhibit upstairs called Evolution of a Mural where you can read about it.”
I could tell that my kids were in need of a break by that point, so I sent my husband Travis (who is, ironically, also a history buff) with my dad to learn more about the mural, and I led my mom and my daughters back out to Main Street to do some shopping, popping in at their favorite local stores: Sophie, Blush Boutique, and Blue Moon Boutique.
We met back at the car a little after 5 p.m. because I wanted to make one last stop before dinner. No trip to Joplin is complete without a visit to Candy House Gourmet – definitely not for my family members!
This confectionery has been making original recipe treats for decades, including toffee, turtles, brittle, fudge, and caramels. I let each family member pick out a treat with the promise that there would be no eating – not even one nibble – until after dinner.
Five minutes later, we entered the nearby Red Onion Cafe, a casual, urban restaurant that has been serving quality American food for over twenty years. There’s something on the menu here to make everyone happy, making it the perfect place to bring the whole family.
We ordered Red Onion’s famous creamy and spicy Smoked Chicken Dip as an appetizer, which is served with tortilla chips for dipping. The entrees ordered by our group ranged from the refreshing ROC Chicken Salad Sandwich, to the popular Dave’s Fried Chicken Salad Sandwich (made with coconut-breaded chicken), to the elegant Chicken Tuscany.
And, believe it or not, my kids convinced me to let them order dessert, despite the fact that we had a carload of treats from Candy House Gourmet: “The candy will keep a few days, Mom, but we don’t get to have the Caramel Fudge Pecan Cake very often.”
How could I argue with that logic?
Since we’d been running hard with a packed schedule all weekend, I thought I’d make Sunday all about relaxation: a slow-paced breakfast, an easy stroll through the woods, and a leisurely Sunday drive south of Joplin.
Our first destination was Undercliff Bar & Grill, in an area close to Shoal Creek known as Tipton Ford. You might think this an odd choice for a Sunday morning, but this establishment transforms from a typical bar-and-grill to a breakfast spot from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. And, did I say it was typical? I misspoke. The Undercliff has a rich history spanning over a century, plus it’s built right into the side of a cliff.
“There used to be a general store here,” I explained to my parents. “People used to travel between Joplin and Neosho by rail,” I said, pointing to the train tracks built just in front of the building, “and they would often stop here.”
“Unfortunately, this was also the site of one of the deadliest train accidents in American history,” I said. I went on to tell them that on the night of August 5, 1914, two trains collided and a number of people lost their lives, many of them on their way back to Neosho after participating in Joplin’s Emancipation Park Day event.
“Well, you sure know how to be a Debbie Downer,” my oldest daughter said, rolling her eyes.
“Okay, okay,” I laughed. “Enough of that. Let’s order some food!”
From sweet, fluffy pancakes, to savory omelets, to the popular Round Barn Breakfast (consisting of two eggs, your choice of meat, toast, and a pancake), there was something on the menu that appealed to everyone.
We wrapped up breakfast, then drove less than ten miles to George Washington Carver National Monument, the first site in the National Park Service dedicated to an African American. It consists of an education center, plus an outdoor loop trail for exploring the nature of Carver’s world.
Nature was, in fact, the driving force behind Carver’s education, laboratory experiments, and lasting contributions to society. All of this is detailed in the biographical exhibit inside the Carver education center.
“I didn’t realize he faced so many health challenges,” my mom commented as we walked through the exhibit. Carver had been born into slavery to a couple owned by Moses Carver, but was such a sickly child that he wasn’t able to do chores like the other slaves. Instead, he spent his time walking around the forest and prairie surrounding the Carver homestead. In doing so, he observed and learned the properties of many plants, and demonstrated an innate ability to care for them, earning him the nickname “The Plant Doctor.”
“This sign says that he’s also known as the Peanut Man,” said my middle daughter. “I guess I should thank him for inventing the peanut butter in my Reese’s cups,” she laughed.
“Actually, he didn’t invent peanut butter,” I said. “But he did discover over 300 uses for peanuts, plus uses for other things, like sweet potatoes.”
“I read that he chose not to patent any of his inventions,” my dad added. “Apparently he wasn’t interested in money; he just wanted his contributions to help others.”
My daughters ruminated on that concept as we walked outside on the paved hiking trail that led us through the woods, over a crystal-clear creek, past the old Carver homestead, and out to the prairie, which was speckled with purple and yellow wildflowers. I watched them study different plants with interest, perhaps imagining how they could experiment with those plants to create something impactful for the community.
I hope they’d been inspired.
On the drive back to Joplin, I asked each person to tell me one interesting thing that they’d learned during our history weekend. I was pleasantly surprised to hear my daughters each come up with something different. They had been paying attention!
Then I looked over at my dad and asked, “What did you learn?”
His warm chocolate eyes filled with pride. “I learned that my daughter likes history after all.”
In just two short years, Deanna Marroquin has taken her business El Taco Loco from a humble food truck to an area favorite.
I like to think that I helped contribute to that success with my frequent (okay, sometimes weekly) visits. After all, once I tried the authentic, flavorful Mexican food served at El Taco Loco, I was hooked.
For instance, to break up a day of writing at home, I’ll say to my hubby Travis (who also works at home), “Let’s go to El Taco Loco for lunch.” Or, if it’s 4 p.m. and I realize I’ve forgotten to start the crockpot and now have to come up with an alternative for dinner, I’ll get El Taco Loco delivered.
I’m become such a fan of El Taco Loco that I usually suggest eating here whenever I meet a friend for lunch. Heck, I’ve stopped short of taking perfect strangers to El Taco Loco, just so I could see their reactions when they take their first bites of the savory goodness served here and say, “See? I told you it would be awesome!”
I think the reason why I, and all of the other El Taco Loco fans, appreciate the food here is because of its freshness and authenticity. There’s no need for heavy sauces to stretch the value of a bland meal (like many Americanized Mexican restaurants often do). The specially seasoned meats and the tender, homemade tortillas are the stars at El Taco Loco, and they shine on their own.
The menu at El Taco Loco is simple, and if you compare it to the voluminous menus at typical Mexican restaurants found in the US, you might think that it seems limited. But here’s the thing: when a restaurant focuses on a few things and does them well, there’s no need to complicate matters. People don’t feel the need to have more options because they are more than satisfied with what’s already offered to them.
El Taco Loco is probably best known for its street tacos. I like to order the 3-Taco Special, which comes with a steak taco, a chicken taco, and a marinated pork taco, all sprinkled with fresh onions and cilantro.
Each time I get this meal, I play a little taste-test game and try to determine which taco I like best. Each time, my brain screams at me, “Don’t make me pick a favorite! I like them all, just in different ways!”
Kind of like my own children.
The 3-Taco Special comes with homemade red salsa, which has a kick to it, and a milder homemade green salsa. Sometimes I add the salsa to the tacos, and sometimes I eat them plain. Either way, they’re delicious.
The 3-Taco Special fills me up, but if you’re looking for a meal that includes traditional rice and beans, you can try the Taco Plate, which comes with just two tacos, along with the rice and beans.
Other menu items include quesadillas, tortas (sandwiches served on Mexican-style baguettes), and burritos. We recently picked up lunch to bring home and Travis ordered a Burrito Original, which came stuffed (and I mean stuffed) with his choice of meat, rice, refried beans, sour cream, and guacamole.
It’s a dense meal, for sure.
When I handed it to him, I used two hands and presented it to him like it was a newborn.
And if the Burrito Original is like a newborn, then the Burrito Loco is like a toddler. This monster of a burrito serves 4 to 5 people. Of course, you’re welcome to eat it all on your own. In fact, El Taco Loco offers the Burrito Loco Challenge: if you eat the 6-pound Burrito Loco in under 10 minutes, then you get it for free, and get the burrito named after you.
On Cinco de Mayo in 2019, a competitive eater named Randy Santel took on El Taco Loco’s Burrito Challenge – and won! You can see the video of it here. So now I guess the Burrito Loco is officially named the Randy Santel Burrito, until someone comes along and beats his record.
You can dine in at El Taco Loco, pick up your food at the drive-through window, or have your meal delivered via Bite Squad.
If you’re up in Webb City, pop into El Taco Loco’s location there, and if you’re out and about in town, keep an eye out for the food truck that started this business, because it still travels to different events, bringing authentic Mexican food to the region.
Wherever and however you choose to try El Taco Loco, do it soon. Your taste buds will be forever changed. Not only do the flavors of the food here dance on your tongue, they do so like nobody’s watching.
El Taco Loco is located at 1221 W. 7th Street in Joplin (see its Facebook page here), and at 202 E. Daugherty St. in Webb City (see its Facebook page here). Delivery orders can be placed through Bite Squad.
Unique on the inside, relaxed on the outside, Undercliff Grill & Bar is a solid hangout choice any time of the year.
What makes Undercliff so special? First of all, it’s built into the side of a cliff, making the back wall of the restaurant solid rock. So, imagine that you’re sitting there enjoying a bite of your burger, when you look up and see the rock wall behind you, and it dawns on you: You’re eating a meal while sitting partially inside the earth.
Well, at least it feels that way – and that’s kind of cool.
The man-made portion of the restaurant once operated as a general store here in the small community of Tipton Ford, located near Shoal Creek. It was a popular stop for people traveling between Neosho and Joplin – first by horse and buggy, and eventually on the railway that runs just in front of the building.
The original building burned down, and was rebuilt to serve as a restaurant from 1995 to 2015, when it closed. Local resident Brad Ezell, who used to come to the restaurant as a child, purchased the building, made some renovations (which included adding a new, large parking lot), and reopened Undercliff in December 2018.
Brad’s decision to breathe new life into Undercliff has made many area residents happy. Now they have their hangout back.
I remember coming here for breakfast after my first ride-along motorcycle trip (read about it here). Undercliff is a regular favorite among bikers who like exploring the windy, rural roads of southwest Missouri, and there’s a good chance you’ll see a bike or two – or 20 – parked in front when the weather is nice.
Case in point.
This summer, I’ve already been to Undercliff twice with my husband Travis. The menu here has a little bit of everything: sandwiches, salads, and hearty entrees like meatloaf and fried chicken.
The first time we ate here, Travis ordered the Buffalo wings as an appetizer. I don’t eat buffalo wings (weird, right?), but Travis said they were tasty and had lots of meat on them.
While we waited for our entrees, we sipped on some refreshing draft beer. Undercliff offers several beers on tap, including some local options from Neosho-based Indian Springs Brewing Company.
The beer was a nice complement to my sizable Reuben sandwich, which was piled high with corned beef and sauerkraut. The broccoli that I’d chosen for my side was perfectly tender.
Travis ordered the Hobo Grilled Cheese, which was like paradise for any grilled-cheese lover. Here, Parmesan toast is stuffed with Swiss, American and cheddar cheeses, as well as grilled tomato and hickory-smoked bacon.
Chef Tom Ales told me that this is one of the most popular dishes, and I can understand why. It’s so uniquely yummy, especially with that Parmesan crust.
The second time we ate here, we ordered burgers: the double-patty Miner’s Pick Burger for Travis, and the Black Bean Burger for me. Both were delicious. This time, we ordered onion rings as a side; they were light and delicate and I ate way too many.
It was during our second visit that the patio was open, so we sat out there for a bit (check before you go, as it’s open dependent on the weather).
Drinks and bar food items, like Frito Pie, are served outside. If you want to order off the regular menu, plan on eating inside.
But the patio…ahh. This is what summertime is all about, my friends. Hanging out with your people in the warm summer air and enjoying great conversations is simply the best.
Oh, and if you’re at Undercliff on Thursdays, you get half-price drafts every time a train passes.
Another fun summertime activity is playing in the creek, which you can do just down the road from Undercliff at The Water’s Edge Campground (read about it here). Spend the day fishing, swimming, or floating, then meander over to Undercliff for a satisfying meal.
Undercliff’s good food and one-of-a-kind atmosphere make it a place where people choose to spend an lazy afternoon, forging friendships and creating memories.
Undercliff Grill & Bar is located at 6385 Old Highway 71 (the address lists it as being in Joplin, but the area is also known as Tipton Ford). Breakfast is served on Saturdays and Sundays, 9 am to 11 am, and the regular menu is offered the rest of the time. It is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Click here for contact information and hours. Click here to see Undercliff’s Facebook Page.
A historical note: It was on the railway near Tipton Ford that, on the night of August 5, 1914, two trains collided and many people lost their lives (read more about it here). In 2014, a stone was erected at Undercliff to honor the victims of the tragedy.
Over the past year, I’d seen my friends post on Facebook about places where you could throw axes for fun and I thought, “Is this for real? People are actually allowed to throw sharp objects in public?”
I was intrigued.
Certainly, there had to be rules and procedures established in order to make this safe, right? I was curious to see for myself how this axe-throwing thing worked, but the closest place to throw axes was over an hour away at the time. But in February of this year, I came across a post in my Facebook feed announcing that axe throwing had arrived in Joplin!
Alex Menejias is the savvy businessman who seized the opportunity to add this activity at El Guapo’s Cigar & Pipe Lounge, making his establishment the only cigar lounge in the area that offers axe throwing.
El Guapo’s House of Axe is a new arm of the enterprise that Menejias created in 2016 when he introduced his cigar lounge to the area. I admit that I’d avoided checking out the cigar lounge because, as a nonsmoker, I didn’t think there wasn’t a reason for me to go.
Then came axe throwing.
El Guapo’s House of Axe
I’m glad that my curiosity about this unique activity got me in the door at El Guapo’s because I discovered that this establishment has definitely been operating under the radar. There are so many activities here that it feels like a playland for adults – but with a chill, loungy vibe.
Let’s begin with axe throwing. My husband Travis and I arrived at El Guapo’s on a Friday night, ready to de-stress from our busy week by hurling sharp objects through the air at a wooden target. It’s better than throwing things at each other, right?
When we entered El Guapo’s, Alex, the owner, greeted us from behind the bar. We told him we were interested in axe throwing and he asked if we had a reservation. We didn’t, but luckily we’d gotten there early enough in the evening that there was a spot available. If you’re interested in axe throwing, call ahead for a reservation because, according to Alex, “Lots of people like to get out their aggressions on a Saturday night.”
Or, in our case, on a Friday night.
El Guapo’s House of Axe is located on the second floor of this historic downtown building, right above the cigar lounge.
The cost for axe throwing for one hour is $20 per person. After paying for our session, signing waivers, and grabbing a couple of beers, we went upstairs to the cages. A floor monitor reviewed the rules with us (there’s a maximum of 3 drinks per person – smart rule), then walked us through the throwing process, which reminded me a lot of bowling in that you are assigned to a lane, then you take turns walking up to a line and hurling a heavy object.
I didn’t realize how heavy the axe would feel until I finally held it. I had imagined throwing the axe with the fierceness and precision of a warrior, but now I wasn’t too sure of myself. At three pounds, the axe wasn’t nearly as heavy as a bowling ball, but it felt weighty. Frankly, I was a bit intimidated.
But with gentle prodding from Travis and the floor monitor, I stepped up to the line. It was then that I realized that a pair of flip flops was not my best footwear choice, but I had stubbed my toe earlier that day and it was too swollen to fit into any other type of shoe. I blinked away thoughts of one of my little piggies being permanently severed from the rest of its family, focused on the target in front of me, and threw the axe.
I may have closed my eyes, which I’m 100% sure is a safety no-no. Nonetheless, my throw actually embedded the axe into the wood.
True, it was close to embedding in the wood floor – but it didn’t!
Travis, who’s always analyzing and strategizing (which is awesome if he’s on your team, and downright annoying if he’s your opponent) was up next.
He practiced the throwing positions, asking the floor monitor pertinent questions about hand placement and trajectory and blah, blah, blah. Finally, he threw the axe.
A bull’s eye on the first try?
It was my turn again. I tried to summon that warrior energy that I’d envisioned earlier. I focused intently on the target.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have focused so strongly because the target started to resemble the face of a sweet little inchworm caterpillar.
How could I hurl an axe at that?
Not very well, according to my throw…
Travis must not have seen the caterpillar’s face because he scored a couple more bull’s eyes (or sweet caterpillar noses, if you saw it through my eyes).
Our hour flew by and groups began arriving to take our place in the lane, so we moved on to the corn hole game area.
I was pretty pumped because I’m fairly adept at playing the corn hole toss. Thanks to the numerous trips we’ve taken to pumpkin patches with the kids over the years, where the corn hole toss seems to be a staple venues, I’m well-practiced.
Or so I thought.
Travis went first.
Guess what happened? His first toss went right in.
Did I mention that his cousin is a corn hole champion from southern Illinois (she’s been on ESPN playing this sport), so he might have some corn-hole-tossing skills in his DNA?
El Guapo’s Cigar & Pipe Lounge
We then went down to the first floor and did some activities at which I was more genetically compatible to Travis: pinball, shuffleboard, and billiards.
One thing that we didn’t try was El Guapo’s indoor golf simulator – the only one in the Joplin area.
It was fun to play all of these things in a relaxed atmosphere, and we agreed that this would be a fun place to come with our friends – we could socialize while we played. I also learned that El Guapo’s hosts monthly events like Comedy Night and Poker Night, giving us yet even more reasons to come back.
As far as purchasing refreshments goes, you can choose from wine and beer (there are more than 20 domestic and craft beer options) on the first floor of El Guapo’s; if you need more sustenance, there are snacks like chips and hot dogs to keep you going.
Well, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t mention the cigar lounge. You can begin your cigar-smoking experience by stepping into the walk-in humidor and browsing through over 100 cigar facings and selecting the perfect cigar just for you.
After that you can settle in to smoke in the first floor bar area, or if you’re interested in purchasing a membership, you can enjoy your cigar in this classy members-only lounge.
With a relaxed, lounge-like atmosphere and lots of activities for you and your friends to enjoy, El Guapo’s is a unique addition to Joplin’s nightlife scene.
El Guapo’s Cigar & Pipe Lounge is located at 532 South Joplin Avenue. If you’re interested in axe throwing, call 417-825-7700 to make a reservation. Click here to follow El Guapo’s on Facebook.
One Sunday last fall, my husband Travis and I found ourselves with some free time (what?) and without kids (thanks, Grandma), so we decided to celebrate by eating out.
“There’s a place I’ve been following on Facebook called Finn’s that looks intriguing,” I said. “Let’s try that.”
Always eager for a new experience (and also really, really hungry), we hopped into the car and followed the directions on the GPS, which led us to what appeared to be a former supermarket. We paused in front of the building, seeing signs for Precision Pilates and The Emerson, but not Finn’s. “The GPS says it’s supposed to be here,” I insisted, seemingly forgetting the multiple times that Google Maps had previously led me astray.
“Let’s check out what’s on the side of the building,” suggested Travis.
We rounded the corner, and there it was: the entrance to Finn’s.
Inside, there was a spacious dining room with crystal chandeliers to our left (which we learned is part of The Emerson Event Center), and a small room which operates as a restaurant and bar to our right (which is Finn’s).
With its stone fireplace, paneled walls, and substantial chairs made from rich wood and leather, the room feels like a library in a traditional English manor, and reminds me of an atmosphere often found in upscale restaurants in big cities.
I felt like we’d driven all the way to Kansas City instead of just 10 minutes down 32nd Street!
The crackling fire felt cozy and inviting on that chilly day, and we were glad that there was a table available right next to it so that we could enjoy its warmth. I’d been craving Eggs Benedict, so that’s what I ordered, crossing my fingers that Finn’s would deliver a satisfying version of my favorite brunch dish.
And they did.
Served on a hearty split English muffin, the savory bourbon-glazed ham complimented the delicate poached egg and creamy Hollandaise sauce, and made my mouth so happy. The seasoned home fries that were served with the dish were addicting – and filling. I reached a point where I could eat no more, and took the remainder of my meal home to feast on later.
Since we were eating around one o’clock, Travis was more in the mood for lunch, so he ordered the inventive Hangover Burger, a smash burger topped with pepper jack cheese, chorizo, a fried egg, and avocado. It delivered a mouthful of smoky, spicy flavors.
Other intriguing brunch menu items at Finn’s include Honey Chicken and Biscuits, Raspberry Cream Stuffed French Toast, and Clark’s Cheesecake Omelet. There are also a variety of salads, sandwiches, and tacos to satisfy any palate. And you can sip on a mimosa or a Bloody Mary to make your leisurely brunch experience complete.
Once we discovered Finn’s, we couldn’t get enough of it. Within the next few weeks, we returned to Finn’s for brunch and lunch with friends and family, and then for dinner on our date night when we, once again, sat next to the crackling fire (so romantic!).
We started with drinks and appetizers. Travis ordered The Emerson, which is a Moscow Mule served with basil and cucumber.
I ordered The 32nd Street, which was made with bourbon, simple syrup, fresh blackberries, and mint.
I like how the drinks are named after people and places connected with the restaurant and Joplin. It’s a nice touch.
Travis ordered the shrimp cocktail, which came with a generous number of plump shrimp.
I ordered bruschetta, which is a popular appetizer here, according to our server.
A departure from traditional tomato-topped appetizer served on French or Italian bread, Finn’s version features toasted flatbread triangles drizzled with a balsamic glaze and served with delicious herbed cream cheese.
While we were eating our appetizers, the seats at the bar filled up, and I overheard a man say that Finn’s was his favorite place in town to get drinks. I can understand why. Not only does it offer a relaxing place to enjoy cocktails, you can do so for half price during Happy Hour, which runs Monday through Thursday, 4 pm to 7 pm, and includes beer, house wine, well drinks, and appetizers.
Travis and I each ordered a glass of wine with dinner, and we joked about the circus-sized glasses that the wine was served in.
However, we certainly didn’t mind the substantial amount of liquid those glasses could hold.
For his dinner entrée, Travis ordered the special of the day, which was a version Finn’s hand-cut tenderloin; it was truly fork tender.
I took our server’s advice and ordered Clark’s Chop, an apple-brined French pork chop topped with a sweet and smoky bourbon glaze, and served with mashed potatoes and bacon bourbon green beans.
I can’t remember when I’d last eaten a pork chop, as it isn’t typically a cut of meat that I prefer. But tasting Finn’s flavorful and tender (there’s that word again) chop has quite possibly converted me.
Finn’s also offers a variety of other menu options, including seafood dishes, salads (like caprese avocado – yum!), and soup (like house-made gumbo).
After that hearty meal, I needed to stand up and stretch (dining is such a challenging sport), so I got up and wandered around. I decided to check out the restrooms. You can tell a lot about a restaurant from its restrooms, and the ladies’ restroom at Finn’s is simply stunning.
Its elegance is fitting, since it is utilized not only by diners at Finn’s, but also by guests who attend special events (like wedding receptions) at The Emerson.
I returned to the table to discover a piece of chocolate cake waiting for me, and groaned.
“I can’t take another bite,” I said, as I picked up my fork and took yet another bite. I mean, I had to at least try a bite of that scrumptiousness, right?
Just then, the restaurant owner Chef Mickel Clark, came to our table to see how we were enjoying our meal. It was nice to see him engaging with, and getting feedback from, his customers. He told us about some exciting things that he and his partner Chef Red Morris (the barbeque master) had been working on, such as expanding the hours at Finn’s to seven days a week, and introducing Clark’s Cuisine on the Scene, a traveling food truck that features a limited menu.
How do they do all of that plus operate Clark’s Cuisine, the catering business for The Emerson (as well as for off-site events)? These men have found many creative ways to showcase their culinary talent, and the Joplin community is lucky to benefit from their efforts.
A Few Things to Note
Featuring a combination of steakhouse items, comfort food, and Southern flair, Finn’s offers a unique, elevated dining experience in Joplin. Here are some things to know before you go:
Finn’s is located at 2707 E. 32nd Street. It sits back from the street, so you may drive past it the first time, but definitely turn back! It’s so worth the trip.
Finn’s is open daily; dinner only on Saturday, brunch only on Sunday, and both lunch and dinner served the rest of the week. Click here for reservations.
Finn’s offers outdoor dining! Enjoy your food on the patio in nice weather.
Follow Finn’s on Facebook for information on special events and live music (like Saxophone Saturday).
For information on booking The Emerson or for off-site catering, click here.
This is Finn. Look for the photo of him near the bar at the restaurant.
Have you ever experienced such outstanding customer service that you feel like you’ve stepped into an alternate reality?
Like when you’re greeted by someone who flashes a warm smile, makes direct eye contact, and engages with you in such a familiar way that you begin to think that perhaps that person has mistaken you for someone else – like a regular customer, or the boss’ sister?
But after a quick glance around, you realize that you’re the only person standing in line.
So… you must be the recipient of this VIP treatment.
It’s somewhat discombobulating, but yet oh-so-wonderful, to be regarded more like a human being than just a customer, isn’t it?
In addition to its exceptional customer service, The Coffee Shop also offers quality local products (including coffee, of course), inventive menu items, and lots of greenery (hello, nature!), making it one of my favorite places to go to meet with friends or to get some writing done.
Opened in September 2018, The Coffee House shares a building with Joplin Greenhouse, and is located in front of the Food for Less store on 32nd Street.
The interior of the shop looks like the work of HGTV’s Joanna Gaines, with its stained concrete floors, exposed ductwork, corrugated metal focal walls, black and white tiles, and, yes, shiplap.
This industrial look is softened by a multitude of plants (courtesy of Joplin Greenhouse) that are spaced throughout the shop, and on a living wall – in front of which there is a selfie station that my daughter and I had fun using (see our Instagram boomerang at the end of this post).
Feel like you’re outdoors while you sip your coffee at one of the tables next to the koi pond created by Inside Out Designs.
Or, when the weather is warm enough, physically go outdoors and sit at one of The Coffee Shop’s covered tables.
In addition to the regular beverage menu, there are special drinks each month, like the festive Eggnog Shooter, or refreshing iced Ozark Stinger, sweetened with local honey.
Over the winter, I got hooked on the Dark Chocolate Cortado drink special, made with Bearded Lady espresso, Ozark Mountain Creamery chocolate milk, and dark chocolate pieces (finding the chocolate at the bottom of the cup is like discovering a treasure!).
Even though the Dark Chocolate Cortado is not on the regular menu, the staff will gladly make it upon request – another sign of excellent customer service.
To go with your coffee, try The Coffee Shop’s unique offering: the puffle, a soft, lightly sweet puffed waffle. Fill it with ice cream for a sweet treat, or choose the savory Breakfast Puffle any time of the day; it’s filled with bacon, egg, cheese, guacamole, Sriracha sauce, and maple syrup, and delivers a salty, sweet, savory mixture of flavors.
I’ve also tried the Avocado Toast special here, which is served with tangy feta cheese crumbles, and fiery Sriracha sauce.
If you’re hankering for some baked goods, sample a macaron, cupcake, or cookie made by local baker Maggie Brown of Willis Baking. Always committed to encouraging local entrepreneurs, The Coffee Shop has opened its kitchen for Maggie to use so that she can access the resources she needs in order to grow her business.
This movement to support local businesses is not new to Curt Carr, the owner of Joplin Greenhouse. Prior to opening The Coffee Shop, he operated The Marketplace in the same space, carrying local and organic produce, meats, and other goods (read about it here). He continues that tradition by selling local goods at The Coffee Shop.
Curt hit the jackpot when he hired Adam Lopardo, and his wife Ivy – both former Starbucks employees – to run The Coffee Shop. Prior to working at The Coffee Shop, Adam honed his barista skills by completing the Starbuck’s Coffee Master program, but it was his time at Best Buy that taught him something equally valuable. There, he worked in the Geek Squad, hiring employees who demonstrated good customer service skills first, and then training them on information technology.
Adam has applied that same model at The Coffee Shop. He does not hire baristas; rather, he hires people who radiate hospitality, and then he trains them in the art of coffee-making.
Because you can teach employees to make a good cup of coffee, but you can’t teach them to care about the customers.
Lucky for us, at The Coffee Shop, they do both.
The Coffee Shop at Joplin Greenhouse is located at 2820 E. 32nd Street. Click here to visit its website, and here to follow it on Facebook.
A few years ago, when I first heard a friend throw out the term “Third Thursday,” I thought she was merely referring to a day that was near the weekend, and near the end of the month – kind of a weekend wannabe. I had no idea that she was talking about an actual organized event held in downtown Joplin.
But times have changed.
These days, most everyone I talk to in Joplin has either heard of – or been to – Third Thursday. This event’s popularity has grown, along with its number of vendors and attendees.
But if you’ve never been to a Third Thursday and are wondering what all of the excitement is about, here’s what you can expect.
There’s art, music, dancing, food, shopping, giveaways, a car show, activities for kids – you name it. It’s a day when the spotlight is on downtown Joplin, highlighting the unique businesses, restaurants and cultural amenities that make our city vibrant.
On the third Thursday of each month from March through October, Main Street is blocked off from car traffic and transforms into a pedestrian area between First and Seventh Streets, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Performance stages, vendor tents and food trucks are set up on the street, and downtown buildings open their doors to feature art displays.
One thing that really impressed me on a recent Third Thursday was the multitude of food trucks and vendors that now participate in the event.
Tip: If the you see the Pineapple Bliss truck at Third Thursday, get in line immediately!
We initially walked past it when there was a handful of people anxiously anticipating their fruity soft serve treats, and we thought we’d come back when the line went down. Ha ha! Later on, the line was snaking halfway down the street.
In addition to the food trucks, downtown restaurants are open during Third Thursday, and several of them offer extended patio areas that spill out into the streets, like this one from the hip lounge and restaurant Infuxn.
When we were done grazing through the food vendors, we walked around and checked out the artists on display. Here are some that caught my eye:
Barrel Werks’ home furnishings are made from retired wine barrels.
If seeing this artwork awakens the inner artist in you, there are several downtown studios open during Third Thursday to accommodate your burning desire, including Firehouse Pottery, RSVPaint, and Local Color Art Gallery(a few blocks south on Main Street).
Art is not only something to appreciate visually; sometimes we drink and eat it. Some of the Third Thursday artisans offering ingestible art were:
I think Granny sold out of her dog treats within the first hour due to the incredibly high number of canine attendees that night. Hey, doesn’t everyone – and every dog (on a leash, of course) – deserve to have fun night out?
Going to Third Thursday also gives me the chance to browse through my two favorite downtown boutiques, since they keep their doors open during the event: Sophie and Blue Moon Boutique. For people who are into fitness, a downtown store worth visiting is Runaround Running & Lifestyle Co., which has an experienced and helpful staff that can help with your running/walking needs.
So with looking at artwork and browsing through stores, it sounds like kids would be bored stiff at Third Thursday, right? Wrong! There were bounce houses, interactive booths, a man making animals out of balloons, and the Art Feeds’ bus which is there each month with a fun art project for the kids to do.
Another Third Thursday tradition is having your picture taken in 9Art Photography’s themed photo booth. Can you guess what the theme was for our session?
My facial expression might lead you to think that it’s “I just bit into a sour lemon” day, but the theme was actually “Windy Day.”
Another fun Third Thursday photo op is having your picture taken in this ginormous rocking chair in front of the former Joplin Public Library.
For vintage and muscle car buffs, there’s a section near First Street that’s reserved for displaying cars. It was also a big hit for people whose favorite color is orange.
She loves orange!
While walking between exhibits, we passed several performance stages where local dancers and musicians were entertaining the crowd.
When I first heard that Bookhouse Cinema, a micro theater, was opening in Joplin, I was excited that we’d have a venue in town where we’d be able to see independent, artsy movies – the kind of films that we’d normally have to drive to Kansas City for if we wanted to see them on a big screen.
I’ve now seen several films at Bookhouse since Holly and Brad Crane opened the theater in April 2018. Each time I go, I discover some new aspect about this place. In addition to the theater itself, there’s a kitchen, a pub, and a community space.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that Bookhouse isn’t just a spot where you can watch cool movies; it’s a gathering place.
To give you an idea of what a visit to Bookhouse is like, let me tell you about a Sunday afternoon that I spent here with my friend Carrie.
An East Town Gem
Bookhouse occupies several historic buildings on Broadway Street, which was once the iconic Route 66, right in the heart of Joplin’s East Town.
Parking is available along the street, or in lots on the west and east ends of the property. I parked in the west lot, across from the captivating East Town mural, Belonging to All the Hands Who Build, which depicts the history and culture of this Joplin neighborhood.
The west parking lot is adjacent to an ornately fenced-in green space, which the Cranes plan to develop into a usable outdoor space for the Bookhouse complex in the near future.
I’d purchased our movie tickets online a few days earlier, so Carrie and I checked in at the box office, got our paper tickets, then made our way to the concession area. This area is anchored by a show-stopping counter that runs along the back wall.
This counter, which once resided on Main Street at Criterion Bar over a century ago, now brings a hefty dose of charm to the concession area at Bookhouse. That’s something you don’t see at your everyday multiplex.
Bookhouse offers traditional snacks like candy and popcorn, although the topping choices for the popcorn are anything but traditional.
We planned on eating lunch after the movie, so we skipped the snacks and just got some water. Had I been in the mood for a more grown-up drink, I would have been welcome to enjoy it during the movie. Bookhouse is the only place in Joplin that allows patrons to bring drinks like beer, wine, and cocktails into the theater with them.
Carrie and I found some seats in the comfy 45-seat theater and settled in.
The movie showing that day was Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a documentary about Fred Rogers, whose groundbreaking children’s show we both had grown up watching. I totally wasn’t prepared for the emotional ending. I’m glad Carrie brought tissues…
Afterward, we emerged from the dark theater into the cozy community space.
With its warm wooden ceiling beams, textured walls, and rustic brick floors, it looks like an Old-World pub, and with groups of people talking, eating, and drinking, it feels like an Old-World pub, too. Again, a gathering place.
At first, Carrie and I were quiet, each of us processing the final scenes of the Mr. Rogers’ movie. But it only took a few minutes looking at the goodies at the food counter to bring us back to reality. Food has a wonderful grounding quality to it, doesn’t it?
The sweets caught our attention first. That afternoon, they were featuring brownie batter cheesecake bars, blueberry pie fudge, apple butter snickerdoodles, vegan cookies, and an electric green Grinch cake (a timely choice for the Christmas holiday). I ordered a piece of this festive, checkered cake to take home for my family to feast on.
Then we focused on ordering lunch. The menu at Bookhouse offers a variety of shareable plates, salads, tacos, and sandwiches. Plus, there are options for vegetarians, vegans, and even for those following a keto diet. Nothing here is ever frozen; everything is made from scratch by Chef Matt Richardson.
We placed our orders, then walked around to look at the work of Bookhouse’s current featured artist hanging on the walls. (To see whose art is on display right now, click here).
I love that the Cranes offer space at their business for local artists to gain exposure, and I love being surrounded by such creativity while I eat.
It’s a win-win.
Our food arrived, and we started out with the crunchy beer-battered cauliflower, one of the shareable plates on the menu.
Then I moved on to my tender lamb sliders, which I’d ordered with a side of crunchy beet chips.
Carrie, a vegan, opted for the veggie sliders with a side of pasta salad.
The sliders consisted of a zucchini falafel topped with greens, tomatoes, and feta, and it came with tzatziki sauce. To make this vegetarian dish vegan, Carrie omitted the feta and asked for a vegan substitute for the sauce.
We’d ordered the drink specials to go with our lunch. I tried a glass of mead from Leaky Roof Meadery, located in Buffalo, Missouri. Made with wildflower honey, it tasted light and refreshing; a perfect accompaniment to my hearty lamb sliders.
Carrie ordered a cup of vegan hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps, a great way to warm up on a cold winter’s afternoon.
Check out that steam!
To find out when the kitchen at Bookhouse is open, click here. And if you’re craving something from Bookhouse but just can’t muster the energy to leave your house, just place an order with Bite Squad, and your food will be delivered to you.
But by eating at home, you’d be missing out on an essential component of the Bookhouse experience: community. There’s a palpable energy here, with people coming in for many different purposes: to watch a movie, eat a meal, grab drinks with a friend, or meet with a special group, like Joplin Board Games Meetup, or The Bookhouse Book Club.
Or, like me, to find a comfortable spot to write.
The reasons that people are drawn to Bookhouse may be diverse, but the outcome is always the same: connection.
Kudos to the Cranes for creating an inviting space – a gathering place – for the Joplin community.
Bookhouse Cinema is located at 715 East Broadway Street. To view its website, click here, and to follow it on Facebook, click here.