Joplin is nestled in the rolling hills of the Ozarks, right in the heart of America. This means that while we’re surrounded by miles of trails to explore, we’re also a long way from the crashing waves of the ocean. In fact, there are seven degrees of latitude that separate us from our closest ocean access point: The Gulf of Mexico.
While it’s not easy for us landlocked Ozarkians to physically travel to the beach to enjoy some rest and relaxation, we can feel like we’re there when we visit Turtleheads Raw Bar, located right here in Joplin.
The turquoise exterior of Turtleheads reminds me of the bright Gulf water, and it offers a hint of the carefree, beachy vibe cultivated inside. With kitschy nautical decorations and neon signs adorning the walls, this is a hangout where Jimmy Buffet would feel right at home.
Recently, my husband Travis and I ate at Turtleheads. Both of us went to college in the Gulf region; he in Pensacola, Florida, and I in New Orleans, so every once in a while, we crave the variety of seafood that we had access to when we lived there. Lucky for us, the menu at Turtleheads offers several items that satisfy those cravings.
There are some appetizer options here that you won’t find anywhere else in town, like fried gator tail and frog legs. There are also oysters, both fried and on the half-shell, which Travis ordered.
He was given the choice of Gulf or Blue Point oysters, and he chose the latter. It had been years since he’d eaten some, and he was excited to be able to do so here in Joplin.
I’ve never acquired the taste for oysters, so I ordered the coconut shrimp. Served with honey and citrus sauce, it had a nice tropical flavor.
As we enjoyed our appetizers, the languid beat of the reggae song Red, Red, Wine by UB40 played, transporting us back to the day that we met on a beach in Illinois in the summer of ‘87. Ah, yet another good time at the beach.
When it came time to order our entrees, I was torn between the po’ boy sandwich or the gumbo, two of my favorite Cajun foods. I ultimately went with the gumbo, which was packed with tomatoes, celery, shrimp, and spicy andouille sausage, served over Cajun rice.
My side dish of island slaw, subtly sweetened with coconut and grapes, was a nice complement to the fiery gumbo.
The Louisiana Pan Roast that Travis ordered also had a kick to it. Similar in consistency to the gumbo, his pan roast contained shrimp and crab, bathed in a creamy – yet spicy – tomato and clam sauce, and served over Cajun rice.
His side dish of jalapeno hush puppies, served with a remoulade-type sauce for dipping, was delicious.
In addition to its regular menu items, Turtleheads runs specials on different nights of the week, such as Crab Feast on Wednesdays (with all-you-can-eat crab legs), and Catfish Fry-Days.
But eating seafood is only part of the Gulf Coast lifestyle feeling at Turtleheads; the other part is listening to live music under twinkling lights on the outside patio.
The patio is open year-round, and there’s live music played there every Saturday night.
Outside, we sipped on our beer as the balmy breeze carried away our worries. We felt relaxed, like we’d been to the beach – yet we’d never left Joplin.
Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, like Jimmy Buffet sings.
On this night, we mentally changed latitudes with a virtual trip to the beach at Turtleheads.