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.

All Aboard Ice Cream

There are restaurants you stop at to fill your belly, and then there are restaurants you visit to fill the pages in your family’s book of memories.

 

All Aboard Ice Cream is one of those memory-making restaurant destinations.

 

Location

All Aboard Ice Cream is located on Highway 86, just south of Joplin. It’s right across the street from Shoal Creek and some of Wildcat Park’s scenic hiking trails. Take advantage of this great location by enjoying a nature walk before or after your visit to All Aboard.

 

 

The Appeal

The Kansas City Southern postal car that sits in the front of the property attracts curious visitors to All Aboard, but the old-fashioned ice cream and hamburgers are the gustatory draws (more about those later).

 

all aboard rr car

 

When my daughter and I visited All Aboard, the first thing she did was run to the rail car to begin exploring.

 

This was once a postal car, and I found it interesting looking at the names of the towns listed on the mail slots in the center of the car.

 

all aboard mail

 

Back in the day, it might take days or weeks for messages to be delivered. Explaining this process to email-savvy young ones makes for a unique history lesson.

 

all aboard car interior

 

You can also eat inside the air-conditioned rail car at one of the dining booths.

 

By the way, All Aboard offers birthday party packages in the rail car. Talk about a one-of-a-kind location!

 

Whisler’s

After exploring the rail car, we headed over to the train depot to order our food.

 

 

all aboard depot

 

The counter is divided between All Aboard’s dessert orders on the left and Whisler’s Old-Fashioned Hamburgers on the right.

 

Burgers? Wasn’t this supposed to be about ice cream?

 

I promise I’ll get to the ice cream, but first let me tell you about Whisler’s.

 

Lunch before dessert, you know.

 

People who grew up in southwest Missouri have heard of the original Whisler’s in Carthage that has been perfecting its hamburgers since the 1950s.

 

all aboard grill

 

Well, I didn’t grow up around here so I’d never heard about Whisler’s until it opened at the All Aboard location.

 

Whisler’s is the type of all-American restaurant that you envision when you think of the wholesome 1950s, when burgers and ice cream were regarded with much more reverence than those served in today’s fast-food chain restaurants.

 

That’s because everything was made from scratch back then – and with quality ingredients.

 

Whisler’s old-time burgers are made to order on a busy, sizzling grill in the open kitchen. If you come at peak lunch time, be patient. There’s only so much room on the grill, so strike up a conversation with your neighbor in line while you wait for your juicy beauties to be ready.

 

all aboard burger

 

I ordered a single cheeseburger, which is slightly larger than a slider. Made with fresh, local beef, this burger was dressed with mustard, onions, pickles, and cheese, and topped off with a fluffy bun.

 

If you’re craving more meat, you can order double and triple burgers, or you can choose burgers topped with other types of meat, such as the “Pig and Bull” (with ham), “Sow and Cow” (with bacon), and the “Farm” (with ham and bacon).

 

My daughter doesn’t like burgers (what?!), so she ordered a hot dog.

 

all aboard picnic 2

 

She was obviously happy with her choice.

 

 

Finally, the Ice Cream!

A good old-fashioned slider meal begs to be topped off with a rich, creamy treat. All Aboard makes it easy to satisfy that craving by presenting a variety of ice cream flavors at the counter adjacent to Whisler’s.

 

all-aboard-ice-cream small

 

I confess that I’ve eaten All Aboard Ice Cream countless times in the past — but it was known as Anderson’s Ice Cream back then.

 

Let me explain.

 

Anderson’s Ice Cream satisfied the collective sweet tooth of the Joplin community for many years. Carl and Freda Anderson founded the original ice cream company in 1936 in downtown Joplin, and it was operated by family members until 1999.

 

In 2012, Billy Garrigan answered the prayers of many Joplinites and opened up Anderson’s Ice Cream inside the Candy House Gourmet Chocolates building.

 

Treating my kids to Anderson’s Ice Cream to kick off the first day of summer vacation became our family tradition.

 

When Garrigan moved his business in 2015, he also changed its name to All Aboard because a company in the Northeast had trademarked the name Anderson’s. While it would’ve been nice to carry on the Anderson’s name, I think All Aboard suits this train-themed business perfectly.

 

Drew Evans is the owner of All Aboard now, making premium ice cream in the Anderson’s tradition (its richness comes from 14% butterfat). I tried a scoop of caramelly Creme Brûlée (which is hard to see in the photo because it was such an incredibly bright day), and it was creamy perfection.

 

all aboard dessert

 

Family Friendly

When Garrigan opened All Aboard, his goal was to make the business and location as family friendly as possible. He scored well with the high-quality (yet affordable) burgers and ice cream.

 

The train theme puts him over the top.

 

In addition to the rail car, there’s other railroad memorabilia to discover. My daughter had fun standing by the crossing sign (which looks like she’s standing just a few feet from an active track)…

 

all aboard rr crossing

 

…and ringing the bell in front of the train depot.

 

all aboard bell

 

Older kids can play in the picnic area out front, and young children can toddle around safely in the enclosed patio area where their parents can sit down and eat in peace. There’s also a sandbox and a mini train; tickets can be purchased for a ride around the picnic area.

 

all aboard mini train

 

All Aboard has gone to great lengths to create a destination where families can enjoy wholesome food and family fun.

 

And where lasting memories are made.

 

 

All Aboard is located at 102 Castle Drive. Visit its Facebook page here.

 

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

 

Tropicana Bar and Grill

In Sanskrit, buddha means “awakened one,” and that’s how I felt after tasting the Buddha Gouda burger at the Tropicana Bar and Grill.

 

Not that I had achieved enlightenment or anything – it was just that my taste buds had been jolted into a state of hyper-alertness.

 

This tender burger’s topped with sweet sauteed onions, smoky bacon and gouda cheese, plus a creamy sauce that’s amped up with a dash (or five) of Sriracha, a hot chili condiment. Sweet, smoky, and sassy, this burger is one of the most popular items on the menu here.

 

tropicana buddha

I’d describe the menu at the Tropicana as pub food with a twist. Take the Munchies (appetizers), for instance. You can choose from traditional fare like spinach artichoke dip, onion rings, or deep-fried mushrooms, or you can venture out and try the Killer Bill’s Fried Dills (pickle chips served with ranch dressing) or the Philly Rolls.

 

tropicana phillyA philly IN a roll – not ON a roll. 

 

The Philly Rolls are made with sliced beef, sauteed onions and bell peppers, plus swiss cheese all wrapped inside an egg roll and served with ranch dressing (who doesn’t love ranch?). These rolls are fabulous.

 

The rest of the menu contains something for every palate. There are salads like the Big Bleu, with fresh greens and grilled chicken topped with apples, blue cheese, and candied walnuts; sandwiches like Grilled Pimiento Cheese served on wheat berry bread (a vegetarian option); specialties like Fish Tacos, and a variety of inventive burgers.

 

My husband ordered one of specialties: Fish and Chips. These house-battered cod loins were mild and crunchy, and they were accompanied by a side of handmade chips.

 

The Tropicana has a full-service bar on the main floor and offers several beers on tap. Here’s a sample of the ever-changing beer menu.

 

tropicana on tap

We visited the Tropicana on a Friday night, and heard live music from a band playing on the second-story stage.

 

tropicana bandIt looks like this musician is shooting laser beams on innocent diners below… 

In addition to the stage, there’s also seating upstairs which consists of a long wraparound bar and stools overlooking the dining area below. We ate upstairs and enjoyed watching the hustle and bustle of the activity below.

 

We also had a clear view of this enormous octopus mural, which is a creative addition to the Tropicana’s nautical theme.

 

tropicana squidThis looks small, but it actually spans a good portion of the wall. 

 

The Tropicana also has several outdoor dining areas. This makes me giddy.

 

tropicana day

I love that more Joplin restaurants are adding this option. I look forward to chilling out on the Tropicana’s patio this summer, whether it’s for dinner or lunch (the Tropicana is open during the day, too; see its Facebook page for hours).

 

When we were done with our meal, we walked through the main floor and that’s when it dawned on me. We were there on a busy Friday night, yet something was missing.

 

Smoke.

 

That’s because the Tropicana is a smoke-free establishment. Woohoo!

 

But something that was there that captured our attention was this flashy contraption hanging on the wall.

 

tropicana juke This looks like an overgrown smartphone, doesn’t it?

 

Can you guess what it is?

 

It’s a juke box for the digital age.

 

The Tropicana has certainly succeeded in putting a contemporary spin on the traditional pub atmosphere, creating a modern and welcoming gathering place on Main Street.

 

The anchor’s been dropped – the Tropicana is here to stay.

 

tropicana anchorI couldn’t resist the nautical pun.

 

 

Tropicana Bar and Grill is located at 2402 South Main Street. Click here to visit its Facebook page.

 

tropicana patio t and c

Enjoying the patio in summer

 

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

Couple’s Weekend in Joplin

My husband Travis’ birthday is in January. This year, it fell on a Thursday, a day when our schedule forced us to divide and conquer, driving one child to dance class and picking up another from basketball practice.

 

Not the most fun way to spend a birthday, but Travis didn’t complain. He’s such a trooper.

 

Did I mention that I’m his number one fan?

 

couple's fun

 

Miraculously, the weekend following his birthday we had no obligations with the kids. I don’t know how this happened, but from the moment I realized it, the wheels in my head started to spin. We had an entire weekend of free time, and I wanted to plan special activities that I thought Travis would like, things that he normally doesn’t get to do in a household of all females.

 

You know, guy things.

 

I came up with a jam-packed itinerary, and thanks to offers from the grandparents to watch the kids for us, we were ready to kick off Travis’ Epic Birthday Weekend.

 

 

Friday

Sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures greeted us on this January morning. “Nice day,” Travis commented, looking longingly out the window of our home office.

 

I grabbed his shoes and placed them at his feet. “Put these on. We’ve got a tee-off time in 20 minutes,” I said.

 

He raised his eyebrows. “Really?” He looked at his computer screen, then out the window. Then he clicked the keyboard feverishly as he typed a message to his business partner, reached for his shoes and said, “Let’s go!”

 

All epic birthday weekends start off with playing hooky from work on Friday, right?

 

This one started off at Schifferdecker Golf Course. “It feels great to be outside,” said Travis, placing this ball on his tee. “Golfing was a great idea.”

 

“Aw, thanks,” I said. Then he swung his driver, whacking the ball and sending it straight down the fairway.

 

“Your turn,” he said, gesturing for me to tee off. I lined up my driver, took a deep breath, then swung. But the only thing that went flying through the air was a piece of turf. “I guess I’m a bit rusty,” I said tamping down the grass to fix the divot that I’d made in the ground.

 

Schiff-golf-map

Over the next couple of hours, my game didn’t improve, and on the eighth hole, Travis said, “Why don’t we stop after the next hole? I’m not feeling up to doing all 18 today.” 

 

I sighed in relief, grateful to him for granting me mercy.

 

We packed up our clubs and headed downtown for lunch at Instant Karma. Known for its gourmet hot dogs, inventive burgers, and wide selection of local and craft beers, this eclectic restaurant is a favorite lunch spot of ours. I ordered the vegetarian Bio Diesel, a meatless hot dog covered in homemade blue cheese slaw and Sriracha sauce.

 

instant karma bio

Travis polished off his Heavenly Donut, a juicy burger served with a glazed donut as a bun. “I’m ready for my nap now,” he said.

 

instant karma donut burger

 

“Let’s go home and rest up,” I told him. “You’ll need your ninja reflexes for laser tag this afternoon.”

 

A few hours later, we were refreshed and ready to do battle at Lazer Force. Placed on opposing teams, we mentally prepared for our game of indoor hide and seek with laser guns.

 

 

Lazer-labyrinth

The last time we’d played here, I scored over a hundred points more than Travis. Today, he beat me by 300 points. But that’s okay because he’s the birthday boy.

 

We emerged from the laser tag darkness and into the still-mild winter afternoon. “Let’s not let this gorgeous afternoon go to waste,” I said. “Let’s go to Tropicana.”

 

 

tropicana-day

Tropicana is a two-story bar and grill with outdoor seating and over 20 beers on tap. We sat on the patio and drank our beer until the sun disappeared behind the horizon and the air grew chilly.

 

We found a table inside near the warm fire and placed our dinner order: Fish tacos for Travis and the Buddha Gouda Burger (with Tropicana’s signature sauce) for me.

 

tropicana-buddha

 

While we waited for our food to arrive, we watched as a local band warmed up for a show. Tropicana often has live music on the weekends, and tonight happened to be one of those times.

 

It was great timing for us: dinner and entertainment. Today’s schedule had worked out well.

 

When the server brought us fresh drinks, I raised my glass. “Happy birthday, Travis.”

 

 

Saturday

With nowhere to be Saturday morning, we slept in. When we finally got up and dressed for the day, I told Travis that I needed to go to the mall to return a shirt.

 

Travis groaned. “I thought this was supposed to be a fun weekend.”

 

“It will be. I promise.”

 

I knew we’d be eating out the rest of the day so I got two breakfast bars out of the pantry for us to snack on during our drive to Northpark Mall. After we got out of the car at the mall, Travis looked at my empty hands and asked, “Where’s the shirt you need to return?”

 

“About that…” I began. By that time, we had made it to the entrance of Tilt Studio.

 

Then it hit him.

 

“You don’t have anything to return, do you?” he asked. “You just brought me here to challenge me at air hockey, didn’t you?” he asked.

 

I grinned sheepishly. “Come on!” I said, pulling on his arm. “It’ll be fun!”

 

He rolled his eyes. “You just can’t stand the fact that I beat you last time, can you?”

 

I hated to admit it, but the man was right.

 

tilt travis air hockey

 

We played two games of air hockey, each of us winning one.

 

Then came the tiebreaker.

 

Guess what?

 

I won.

 

And everything was right in the world again.

 

To prove that there were no hard feelings, I took Travis downtown to one of his favorite restaurants: Hackett’s Hot Wings.

 

hacketts wings

 

While I don’t care for chicken wings, I do love Hackett’s homemade sauce, so I ordered a salad with sauce-covered grilled chicken breast on top. It was like eating a boneless version of Hackett’s well-known wings.

 

Afterward, we wanted to get outdoors and enjoy yet another mild January day, so we drove a few blocks to the trailhead for the Frisco Trail to take a hike.

 

“Hey, let’s see if we can find a cache on the trail,” I suggested. Sometimes Travis and I like to combine our hikes with geocaching, which is like an outdoor scavenger hunt where you use GPS coordinates to find caches. There were several located on the Frisco Trail, and we ended up finding one close to the trail head.

 

Worn out from our day of play, we went home to rest for a few hours (this involved some Netflix binge watching, of course). Then we freshened up for our night out with friends.

 

We met two couples for dinner at Blackthorn Pizza & Pub, a cozy place to chill out with friends. Blackthorn offers a variety of beer on tap, and each of us ordered something different.

 

blackthorn beer on tap

And what tastes great with beer? Pizza. We ordered The Iconica, which was topped with blackened chicken, Italian sausage, bacon, garlic, and jalapenos. It was mildly spicy and very tasty.

 

blackthorn pizza

After an hour, I said, “Let’s head over to JB’s to get some good seats for the show.” We settled our bill, then walked a couple of blocks to JB’s Downtown Joplin to watch the dueling piano show.

 

The room was already crowded with people enjoying their pre-show drinks and conversation, but we were able to claim a table off to the side, which gave us a good view of both the pianos.

 

jbs-trio

Billy Joel’s crowd-pleasing “Piano Man” kicked off the show, with people joining in the chorus.

 

It was going to be a fun night.

 

A few songs into the show, I walked up to one of the piano players and requested a song.

 

“What did you request?” asked Travis when I came back to the table.

 

“You’ll see,” I said.

 

A few minutes later, one of the piano players leaned toward his microphone and asked, “Where’s Travis Smith?”

 

“Right here,” I said, pointing to my blindsighted husband.

 

“This song’s for you, man” said the piano player.

 

The familiar melody of the song “Happy Birthday” filled the room. I sang along, loud and proud, while Travis turned red and gave me the evil eye.

 

But secretly I knew he enjoyed the attention. At least, I hoped he did.

 

 

Sunday

After the late night out with our friends, we were moving rather slowly on Sunday morning. The rhythmic pounding of the rain on the roof didn’t exactly help motivate us get up, either. But once the grumbling from our stomachs started, we were dressed and out the door within ten minutes.

 

“The last meal of your birthday weekend,” I said wistfully, as we pulled up to the tiny brick building which houses The Bruncheonette. I had to admit that this weekend’s break from cooking was just as much a gift for me as eating out at his favorite restaurants was for Travis.

 

And eating at The Bruncheonette is always a treat. Serving breakfast, brunch, and lunch items, this restaurant combines locally sourced ingredients in wildly inventive ways. Today, both Travis and I ordered different variations of Eggs Benedict. Travis had the Cuban B, with tender pulled pork, ham, and gruyere, and I ordered the Garden Benny, topped with fresh asparagus, tomatoes, avocados, local micro greens beet Hollandaise.

 

 

holiday ex brunch

As I swirled the last bite of my poached egg in the creamy sauce, I looked out the window and saw people dashing from their cars to the door of The Bruncheonette with their coats over their heads, protecting themselves from the sudden torrential downpour. “We’ll have to take a raincheck on paintball today,” I said. Playing paintball had been our last activity in our birthday weekend schedule.

 

Travis pushed away his empty plate and leaned back in his chair. “That’s no big deal. I already had a great weekend,” he said.

 

“There’s just one bad thing about it though,” he added.

 

My heart dropped. “What?”

 

“I’m going to expect this much fun every birthday from now on,” he said playfully.

 

“Done,” I promised.

 

 

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