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.

Joplin Dines Out

A tour of the best local eateries

Grilled sea bass from Crabby’s,

the grand Tour of Mythos,

BBQ from Big R’s,

and Karma’s Bio Diesel.

Hackett’s award-winning, succulent wings,

These are a few of my favorite things.

 

You won’t see them near the exits of I-44, where nationally-recognized chain restaurants dominate the landscape.

 

But drive a couple minutes in from the interstate, and you’ll find them – the local restaurants that are raising the bar on culinary standards in southwest Missouri with creative menus and quality ingredients.

 

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Crabby’s

 

Starting off the day right
Don’t be fooled by the simple interior of the Bruncheonette; here, the focus is on the food. This downtown restaurant serves breakfast, brunch, and lunch items daily; one of my favorite items is the Benny Harper, a variation of traditional Eggs Benedict that tastes like a BLT thanks to the addition of sliced avocado and smoky bacon.

 

But I rarely order regular menu items here because the daily specials are simply irresistible. Take the “Foitomatic for the People,” a French toast stuffed with local foie gras, and topped with champagne-poached apple compote, spicy pickled raisins, and Hawaiian black lava salt.

 

Casual eateries with gourmet fare
With its whimsical decor and ever-changing local artwork on the walls, Club 609 wowed me with its big-city feel. This downtown restaurant is a solid choice for lunch with an extensive menu, and after work, it transforms into “the” bar in Joplin for Happy Hour and beyond. Classy bar bites include Sushi Sticks and Parmesan Portobello, and Happy Hour lasts until 10pm on some weeknights, making this a great place to relax with friends for an evening.

Standouts here are the Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich with creamy béchamel sauce, the Thai Asian Chicken Salad with spicy peanut sauce, and the inventive Tuna Bruschetta.

 

In south Joplin, Club 1201’s three personalities target different groups of diners. Meet here during the week for an impressive business lunch and try the Apricot Turkey Sandwich, with avocados, pecans, raisins, and apricot mayo. On the weekends, catch up with friends in the small and cozy part of the restaurant (called Uncorked) over Banana Rumaki or Bruschetta Steak Sliders (topped with prosciutto, herbed cheese, and a balsamic reduction). Linger over the Bloody Mary bar on Sundays while enjoying a leisurely brunch.

Not your typical burgers and dogs
With its bohemian decor, wide selection of local and craft beers, and eclectic menu including vegan and vegetarian items, InstantKarma Gourmet Hot Dogs is the hippest dog joint around.

 

crabbys (1)

Instant Karma

 

I love the Bio Diesel, a hot dog (beef or vegetarian) topped with creamy, tangy blue cheese slaw and spicy Sriracha sauce, and my daughter likes the Heavenly Donut, a juicy burger served with a glazed donut as the bun.

 

More burger options await at Eagle Drive-In, Instant Karma’s sister restaurant which is housed in a vintage drive-in in south Joplin. The Eagle’s version of a traditional burger comes topped with a quail egg, which sounds unusual but is truly delicious. Other burgers here are made from lamb, bison, and elk.

Vegetarians, don’t despair! Try the Black Bean or Falafel Burgers. And everyone should order a basket of fries to dip in specialty sauces like the garlic aioli or the wasabi mayo.

 

BBQ and wings that sing
People have been making special trips to Joplin for decades just to eat the tender, hickory-smoked meats at Big R’s BBQ. Top off your barbecue meal with a slice of one of Mrs. R’s out-of-this world pies, like Strawberry-Lemonade or Caramel Macchiato (vanilla coffee cream with ripples of caramel).

 

Hackett’s Hot Wings, made Memphis-style, are recognized as some of the best in the region. Choose from five dry rubs and eight sauces, or mix and match to create your own flavor (you can also buy bottled sauce to take home).

 

Dining with class
In addition to the more casual eateries, Joplin also has some wonderful fine-dining establishments that shouldn’t be missed.

 

With its dark, polished wood and art deco interior, I feel like I’m going to run into Al Capone in the dining room at Wilder’sSteakhouse. The atmosphere here implores you to order a Gin Rickey to sip on while you wait for your steak to be cooked to perfection – I love the Filet du Pont, a tender medallion topped with sweet caramelized onions, earthy mushrooms and sharp Gruyere.

 

crabbys (1)

Eagle Drive-In

 

Joplin also has an incredible seafood restaurant: Crabby’s. Concrete floors and crimson walls create a chic, urban vibe. Start your meal with the zesty crab cakes, then try the honey-lavender dressing on a crisp house salad, followed by the popular Pan-Seared Chilean Sea Bass, which is served on a bed of savory garlic mashed potatoes, and topped with sesame asparagus, wild mushrooms, and a mirin butter sauce.

Upscale meets international at Mythos Euro Greek Kuzina. With an elegant dining area that pays homage to its Greek roots, Mythos offers a taste of both Mediterranean and American fare.

 

Still in the mood for Greek? Order the Tour of Mythos, an appetizer designed for two: sliced gyro meat with tangy tzatziki, stuffed grape leaves, spanikopita, olives, and more. Want something closer to home? Try the walnut-crusted chicken or one of the incredibly tender hand-cut steaks. Leave some room for the Deconstructed Tiramisu, which offers all the creamy, coffee flavor of the traditional dessert without the usual soggy texture.

 

More international flavors
There are several excellent Thai restaurants in Joplin. Try the Thai Basil Chicken at Kinnaree, the Magic Mango Fried Rice atMagic Noodle, and the Pumpkin Curry at Thai Time.

 

For sushi, I like to visit the friendly and talented Han the Sushi Man. He is well-known in Joplin for fantastic, fresh sushi and an ever-changing menu to keep things interesting. Try his popular Preston Lacy Roll (named after the Joplin-born actor and daredevil), which is a spicy tuna roll topped with salmon and seafood sauce.

 

crabbys (1)

Kinaree

 

If you’re searching for authentic Mexican food, look no further than Lalo’s Taqueria. Small and unassuming, this restaurant serves a variety of tacos (including tripe and tongue), tortas (Mexican sandwiches), tostadas (the spicy chorizo is my favorite), and fresh guacamole. Come on the weekend to try a bowl of menudo, a traditional Mexican soup.

 

 

One more observation about the Joplin dining scene: Not only are inventive restaurateurs choosing to introduce this city to their unique cuisine, but they are encouraging others to do so, as well.

 

And this supportive restaurant community continues to grow – solidifying Joplin’s position as one of Missouri’s top destinations for gourmands.

 

Click to find Joplin’s best restaurants!

 

 

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