El Taco Loco

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.

 

Dinner on our deck – it tastes so much better when I don’t have to cook!

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.

 

Pretty profound.

 

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.

 

El Taco Loco’s drive-though window.

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.

 

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

Undercliff Grill & Bar

Unique on the inside, relaxed on the outside, Undercliff Grill & Bar is a solid hangout choice any time of the year.

 undercliff exterior street sign

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. 

 

undercliff interior2

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. 

 undercliff exterior3The 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.

 undercliff bar

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.

 undercliff motorcycles

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.

 undercliff wings

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.

 undercliff history wallThe 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.

 undercliff reuben

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.

 

undercliff grilled cheese

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.

 

undercliff burger

 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).

 

undercliff patio side

Drinks and bar food items, like Frito Pie, are served outside. If you want to order off the regular menu, plan on eating inside.

 

undercliff patio close

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.

 

undercliff patio wide

Oh, and if you’re at Undercliff on Thursdays, you get half-price drafts every time a train passes.

 

undercliff beer on patio

 

Choo-choo!

 

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.

 

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

Finn’s

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.

 

finns building

“Let’s check out what’s on the side of the building,” suggested Travis.

 

finns front entrance

We rounded the corner, and there it was: the entrance to Finn’s.

 

finns emersons room

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).

 

finns doorway

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.

 

finns dining room 2I felt like we’d driven all the way to Kansas City instead of just 10 minutes down 32nd Street!

 

Brunch

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.

 

finns eggs benedict

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.

 

finns burger

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.

 

Dinner

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.

 

finns emerson drink

I ordered The 32nd Street, which was made with bourbon, simple syrup, fresh blackberries, and mint.

 

finns 32nd street drink

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.

 

finns shrimp cocktail

I ordered bruschetta, which is a popular appetizer here, according to our server.

 

finns bruschetta

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.

 

finns bar people 2

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.

 

finns chris wine

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.

 

finns beef

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.

 

finns pork

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.

 

finns bathrooms

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.

 

finns chocolate cake

“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.

 

finns dog

This is Finn. Look for the photo of him near the bar at the restaurant.

 

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

The Coffee Shop at Joplin Greenhouse

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?

 

This is what it feels like every time I go to The Coffee Shop at Joplin Greenhouse.

 

greenhouse entrance

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.

 

greenhouse facade

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.

 

greenhouse counter

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.

 

greenhouse sign and counter

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).

 

greenhouse photo booth

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.

 

greenhouse inside out

Or, when the weather is warm enough, physically go outdoors and sit at one of The Coffee Shop’s covered tables.

 

greenhouse outside

Local is the focus here, and The Coffee Shop proudly serves coffee from Bearded Lady Coffee Roasters and Cottage Small Coffee Roasters, as well as Kansas City’s Hugo Tea Co. products.

 

greenhouse menu

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.

 

greenhouse monthly menu

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!).

 

greenhouse cortado

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.

 

greenhouse puffle

I’ve also tried the Avocado Toast special here, which is served with tangy feta cheese crumbles, and fiery Sriracha sauce.

 

greenhouse avocado

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.

 

greenhouse pastries

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.

 

greenhouse local goods

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.

 

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

Bookhouse Cinema

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.

 

bookhouse projector

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.

 

bookhouse exterior

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.

 

murals-belonging-full-mural (1)

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.

 

bookhouse patio

 

Cinema

 

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. 

 

bookhouse counter1

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 popcorn (1)

Bookhouse offers traditional snacks like candy and popcorn, although the topping choices for the popcorn are anything but traditional.

 

bookhouse toppings

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.

 

bookhouse theater seats

Carrie and I found some seats in the comfy 45-seat theater and settled in.

 

bookhouse screen dark

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…

 

Dining

 

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.

 

bookhouse entrance

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.

 

bookhouse cake

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).

 

bookhouse art

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.

 

bookhouse cauli

Then I moved on to my tender lamb sliders, which I’d ordered with a side of crunchy beet chips.

 

bookhouse lamb

Carrie, a vegan, opted for the veggie sliders with a side of pasta salad.

 

bookhouse veggie

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.

 

bookhouse mead

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!

 

bookhouse hot choc

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.

 

Community

 

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.

 

To create.

 

To be.

 

bookhouse restaurant interior

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.

 

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

Social BTB

It’s Friday night, and the first floor of Joplin’s historic Gryphon building is buzzing with activity. Groups of friends and families gather at tables and booths, catching up on each other’s day over a shared meal.

 

This concept, this idea of a gathering place, is a simple one. But it works.

 

social btb gryphon

This gathering place is called Social BTB. Although I consistently – and mistakenly – call it Social TBT (because I’ve been so deeply programmed by Throwback Thursday posts on social media), the BTB here standing for Burgers, Tenders, and Beer, the three things that this restaurant specializes in. Just like the concept, the menu is also simple. And it works.

 

social btb logo

It works because the wizard behind Social BTB is none other than successful local restaurateur George Michalopoulos. George introduced Joplin to his Mediterranean-inspired recipes when he opened Mythos in 2004, a restaurant which continues to be a favorite among local diners as well as visitors.  When I heard that George was opening a new restaurant, I knew I had to try it, and I knew it would be good.

 

And it was.

 

 

Ordering

The first thing you’ll see when you walk into Social BTB is the menu counter. Actually, you’ll probably zero in on your favorite sports teams playing on one of the 16 flat screen TVs hanging in the restaurant, but walk past those and proceed to the menu counter to place your food order. I promise there will be time to watch the games once you’re seated.

 

social btb menu

The menu features burgers, chicken tenders, salads, and sandwiches (including vegetarian options like the Grilled Cheese, and the Veggie, a black bean chipotle patty. There aren’t a gazillion choices on the menu, and that’s refreshing. Again, simple is what works here.

 

social btb interior

Once you place your food and soft drink order, you’ll get a number to take with you to a table or booth of your choice in the dining room. At your booth or table, you’ll notice this magical button.

 

social btb buzz bar

If you’d like something stronger than a soft drink, all you do is press this button, and someone will appear at your table to take your order.

 

In addition to a fully stocked bar, Social BTB offers over 30 types of bottled beers and over a dozen beers on tap.

 

social btb beer

I opted for this refreshing Hefeweizen from KC while my husband Travis chose a draft beer.

 

 

The Food

Sticking with the BTB theme, Travis ordered a burger and I ordered tenders. We also ordered the house-made Onion Strings. I could have eaten those tasty seasoned strings all by themselves!

 

The Onion Strings arrived with Travis’ dinner. He’d also ordered a side of House Fries with his burger (which he’d customized to his liking). The beef patties here are fresh, not frozen, which makes for juicy burgers.

 

social btb burger

I ordered the BTB (3pc) Plate (you can also choose a 4- or a 5-piece plate), which comes with hand-breaded tenders, garlic house toast, and one dipping sauce.

 

social btb tenders meal

Because I like to try different flavors, I added two more sauces for a small charge, which allowed me to sample the Bleu cheese, garlic Parmesan, and BTB house (a sweet-and-sour Polynesian-type sauce). There are about five more sauces that I want to try the next time I order tenders here.

 

Let me take a moment and focus on the tenders.

 

social btb tenders

These babies are huge and plump and perfectly seasoned. They filled me up so much that I only had room to try a couple of the yummy Sweet Potato Fries I’d ordered as a side before boxing them up to bring home. (Social BTB also offers Salt & Vinegar Fries, which I want to try next time).

 

 

The Gathering Place

After eating, Travis and I walked around to see the rest of Social BTB, which is more like a complex than a restaurant. In addition to the dining room, where we’d eaten, there’s also a bar…

 

social btb bar

…and a couch lounge.

 

social btb lounge 1

 

social btb lounge 2

The couch lounge is a great place to watch football games with friends. Visit on Wristband Sunday when you can buy a wristband for $3, choose a team, and every time that team scores, you get a free bar favor.

 

Throughout Social TBT, you’ll find murals of animals with cheeky sayings painted above them. For example, take this animal exchange (which reminds me of the Chick-fil-A cow/chicken rivalry):

 

social btb cow

 

social btb chicken

Another feature that Social TBT offers is outdoor seating.

 

social btb outdoor view

I love eating outdoors whenever possible, and I’m always searching for restaurants that have this option.

 

social btb outdoor seating

Not only can you eat outside, but you can also play games! Spend a balmy summer night hanging out on the patio with friends or family (or both) while playing corn hole, jumbo Jenga, jumbo cup pong, or outdoor bowling.

 

social btb corn hole

Afterwards, treat yourself to some ice cream at Caroline’s, located just down the hall from Social BTB, on the Main Street side of the Gryphon Building.

 

Open seven days a week, Social BTB offers good food, plentiful drinks, and a casual space where people of all ages can gather together to socialize.

 

 

Social BTB is located at 1027 South Main Street, inside the Gryphon Building. 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.

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.

Caroline’s

Pirate’s Plunder.

 

Superman.

 

Tizzy Lizzy.

 

These sound like names of amusement park rides that would make your belly flop.

 

But last week, these names carried a different meaning for us. These are the names of ice creams and sweet treats at Caroline’s, and they made our bellies full, not flop.

 

My daughters and I kicked off the first week of summer break by engaging in our yearly ritual of celebrating the no-school season by going out for ice cream. This year, my girls picked Caroline’s, an ice cream, candy, and coffee shop in Joplin’s downtown district.

 

sweet carolines facade2

Located on the main floor of the historic Gryphon building, this ice cream parlor opened in June 2014. Owner Michael Joseph named it after his daughter, Caroline (the shop was initially called Sweet Caroline’s but is now simply Caroline’s – although it is still sweet).

 

sweet carolines counter1

The focus of Caroline’s is to offer an old-fashioned parlor experience, and to do so they serve Ice Cream Club ice cream, a premium parlor ice cream from Florida. There are 32 Ice Cream Club flavors that rotate at Caroline’s.

 

My youngest daughter was immediately attracted to the vibrant red, yellow, and blue flavor called Superman (which actually has a vanilla flavor).

 

sweet carolines superman1

While I was busy ordering for my other girls, she went to town on her cone, and the next time I saw her she looked like this.

 

sweet carolines superman2

My oldest daughter created an eclectic combination of triple-rich Captain’s Chocolate and Rainbow Sherbet, which is swirled with fruity orange, raspberry, and lime flavors.

 

sweet carolines choc sherbet

My middle daughter – the chocolate addict of the bunch – chose a scoop of Pirate’s Plunder, a chocolate ice cream with chocolate-covered pecans and mini caramel cups swirled together with thick caramel. She topped that off with a scoop of Stellar Coffee (the only kind of coffee I allow her to have), which is a coffee ice cream that contains mini dark chocolate-covered coffee cups and a rich fudge.

 

sweet carolines plunder coffee

I didn’t hear from her for quite a while as she worked her way through her iced confectionery tower. Meanwhile, I ordered an espresso to give me the energy to keep up with my kids (and their impending sugar highs) for the rest of the day.

 

Caroline’s serves Onyx Coffee, a gourmet roaster located in northwest Arkansas.

 

carolines onyx

The 3 bags on the left have black Onyx logos on them, which apparently don’t photograph well…

 

If you like adding milk to your coffee, Caroline’s offers a variety of options; traditional dairy products like milk, half-and-half, and heavy whipping cream; coconut milk, almond milk, and soy milk.

 

While my espresso was brewing, I browsed through the candy case to find some treats to bring home to my husband (I’m kidding – they were for my private stash). I chose a dark chocolate sea salt caramel, a RumChata truffle, Kahlua truffle, and some candy bark called Tizzy Lizzy.

 

sweet carolines chocolate

If chocolate isn’t your thing (well, I guess we can’t be friends, then), there are many other types of candy to choose from, like fudge…

…gummies…

 

…Jelly Belly candies…

 

…and a variety of confections that you can mix and match.

 

And if sugar isn’t your thing because of dietary restrictions, no worries. Caroline’s has something for you, too.

 

carolines keto

Each week, local baker Desserts First supplies the shop with a variety of keto-friendly treats that taste so good, you’ll feel like you’re eating the real sugar-and-carb-loaded things. Do yourself a favor and try the lemon cupcake – your taste buds will be wowed.

 

sweet carolines painting

Caroline’s also offers birthday parties in the shop, and provides off-site catering. Plus, it’s open daily, so my ice cream, coffee, chocolate, and candy cravings can be satisfied seven days a week.

 

Sweet.

 

 

Caroline’s is located at 1027 South Main Street in downtown Joplin. Click here to visit its website.

 

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

Sakura Sushi & Grill

The main road running east to west across the south side of Joplin is officially known by a number: 32nd Street. But, with the influx of popular sushi restaurants dotted along this thoroughfare, it might as well be called Sushi Street.

 

Anchored on the east side is Ichiban Sushi, with Han the Sushi Man located about midway, and the newest addition, Sakura Sushi & Grill, serving the west end.

 

For a city in the Ozarks, that’s pretty amazing.

 

sakura facade

Today I’d like to introduce you to the newest kid on Sushi Street: Sakura Sushi & Grill. Located in a strip mall just west of the Freeman Hospital complex, Sakura’s regular patrons include medical professionals and residents from the surrounding neighborhoods.

 

sakura bar

Inside, there’s a dining area with tables and booths, as well as a bar area (one of the waitresses here makes the best Lemon Drop Martini I’ve ever sipped).

 

I recently met my friend Carrie here for lunch, and ordered some hot tea.

 

sakura tea

For those of you looking for something stronger, Sakura serves sake, too (you can even order it cold, which sounds like an interesting drink on a hot summer day).

 

For an appetizer, we ordered edamame, a dish made from steamed young soybeans still in their pods.

 

sakura edamame

Sprinkled with salt, edamame becomes a highly addictive treat. Plus, it’s kind fun to pop the beans out of the pods, too.

 

I noticed that several people in the restaurant had ordered bento boxes for lunch. Here’s an example of one from Sakura’s menu.

 

sakura bento box

 

Bento boxes include a choice of one or two sushi rolls or stir-fried dishes, miso soup, a house salad, steamed rice, and edamame. It’s a lot a food for a reasonable price. Sakura offers dinner bento boxes, as well.

 

For my entree, I ordered the Green Goddess roll, which is a baked sushi roll that marries flavors from Japan and Mexico.

 

sakura green goddess

It’s filled with tempura shrimp, then topped with guacamole and tempura flakes. It sounds unusual, but it’s delicious!

 

Carrie, who is vegan, ordered the Vegetable Roll for her entrée. It was made with fresh cucumbers, avocados, and crunchy Japanese pickles.

 

sakura veggie roll

Look at that pretty roll.

 

At Sakura, there’s a variety of sushi rolls, either fresh or baked, to choose from. And for you purists out there who want to ditch the seaweed and other accompaniments that come in sushi rolls, there are many sashimi and nigiri options. Sashimi consists solely of pieces of fish or seafood, and nigiri is the same except the pieces of fish or seafood are served atop small mounds of rice.

 

But you don’t have to be a seafood lover to enjoy a meal at Sakura. Landlubbers can try entrees like Orange Chicken, BBQ Short Ribs, or Beef Teriyaki (Tofu Teriyaki, if you’re a vegetarian). And if you don’t have time to dine in at Sakura, you can order your food to go.

 

sakura logo

 

You’ll find first-rate, flavorful food and attentive service at Sakura. With the addition of this restaurant – the third quality sushi spot on this road – people might just start believing that 32nd Street (aka Sushi Street) leads directly to the ocean.

 

Sakura Sushi & Grill is located at 1802 W. 32nd Street, Suite K. Click here to follow Sakura on Facebook.

 

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

M&M Bistro

You know the feeling you get when the underdog that you’ve been rooting for wins the race? That’s the same feeling I get when I step inside M&M’s Bistro’s new – and more spacious – locale on Main Street in downtown Joplin.

 

The original restaurant was opened in April 2013 by the Alvandi family: Mehrdad, his wife Minoo (the chef), and their son Sia. Over the years, the Alvandis have built a loyal following, and that’s no small feat for a family-run business. Local mom-and-pop restaurants are typically underdogs in the fickle restaurant industry where they’re competing with national chains.

 

But with high-quality Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, along with pleasant service, M&M Bistro has proven it has staying power in the Joplin market.

 

My husband Travis and I often come to M&M Bistro for lunch during the week, but our most recent visit was the first time we’d been to the restaurant’s new location.

 

mm bistro back

We had two options for parking: along Main Street in front of the building, or in the public lot at the rear of the building. We chose the lot.

 

mm bistro interior

Inside, the first thing I noticed was the festive twinkle lights and cozy atmosphere. Mehrdad, the owner, greeted us with a soft smile and led us to our table. On our way there, we passed the restaurant’s bar area.

 

mm bistro bar

Yes, M&M Bistro now has a liquor license!

 

Since it was a chilly day out, we ordered hot tea. The teapot and cup were presented on a dainty scalloped white platter with gold trim.

 

mm bistro teapot and cup

The teacup itself was served in a copper and glass cup, and was unlike anything I’d seen before.

 

mm bistro tea

We ordered dolmades as an appetizer: tender grape leaves stuffed with a mixture of rice, toasted pine nuts, and spices. The creamy Florentine sauce served on top contrasted nicely with the subtle tang of the grape leaves.

 

mm bistro dolmades

My entree came with a Mediterranean salad, and it was one of the freshest and crispiest salads I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant. The vegetables tasted like they’d just been plucked from the garden – even though it was the middle of winter.

 

mm bistro salad

The salad was crowned with a hearty scoop of crunchy tabbouleh, a bulgur salad mixed with parsley, mint, onion, tomatoes, and seasoned with salt, olive oil, and lemon juice.

 

Travis ordered the Mediterranean platter as his entree.

 

mm bistro gyro platter

The base of the platter included everything that was in my salad, plus slices of tender and savory gyro meat, cool and refreshing Tzatziki sauce, homemade hummus, warm pieces of pita, and sliced, seasoned potatoes.

 

The Mediterranean platter is what I usually order, but I thought I’d try something new in honor of M&M Bistro’s new location. I took Mehrdad’s suggestion and ordered spanakopita. I’ve always thought of this traditional Greek dish as a finger food; the kinds I’ve bought in the freezer section at the grocery store are always presented as such, but the one I had at M&M Bistro was different.

 

mm bistro spanikopita

Here, the phyllo dough pastry was stuffed with spinach, mushrooms, and cheese, then topped with a creamy Florentine sauce. Hearty and dense, it was definitely fork food.

 

While dessert was the furthest thing from my mind, I’d heard that the baklava here was outstanding and I wanted to give it a try, so I ordered it to go. Honestly, I hadn’t had baklava in years and, from what I remembered, I thought it was just okay.

 

mm bistro baklava

Well, that was before I tasted M&M Bistro’s version. The combination of mixed nuts, brown sugar, cardamom, and cinnamon made it taste somewhat like a snickerdoodle cookie but with a different texture, thanks to layers of flaky phyllo dough. I guess I’ll be ordering this every time I go now.

 

Another thing that I wanted to mention about M&M Bistro was the use of this symbol throughout the restaurant.

 

mm bistro faravahar

It reads: “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds. There is but one path in the world – the path of honesty.”

 

This symbol also appears in the logo for M&M Bistro, so I asked Mehrdad about its meaning. He explained that it was the Faravahar figure, a common symbol in his country of origin: Iran. And what does the M&M in the logo stand for? Mehrdad and Minoo.

 

Knowing the meaning behind M&M Bistro’s logo adds yet another layer of appreciation for this family-run business. Not only do the Alvandis offer a taste of their country through their food, but they proudly display symbols of their culture throughout the restaurant, offering those of us who have never been to their homeland a glimpse into the world outside of the Ozarks.

 

Authenticity, pleasant service, fresh food, and pride in family, culture, and business are the qualities that make the Alvandi’s M&M Bistro one of the top dogs in the Joplin dining scene.

 

M&M Bistro is located at 612 S. Main Street. Click here to visit its website, and click here to follow M&M Bistro on Facebook.

 

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