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.

Mary Lee’s Cafe

Update June 2017: After decades of serving Joplin, Mary Lee’s Cafe has closed its doors.

 

When the sun peeks up from the horizon, and your stomach reminds you that it needs sustenance, you’ll find a wide selection of places where breakfast is served conveniently located just off the interstate on Range Line Road.

 

Familiar restaurants like Waffle House, Denny’s, IHOP, and Cracker Barrel offer hearty breakfasts to early morning risers, and with locations throughout the country, diners choose to eat at these restaurants knowing what to expect.

 

But while these restaurants offer familiarity, they don’t offer a true taste of Joplin. For those who are seeking satisfying meals served with a heaping side of hometown atmosphere, Mary Lee’s Cafe is “The Place to Be.”

 

mary lees the place to be1

See?

 

Located west of Main Street, about ten minutes from the interstate, Mary Lee’s small stone building is painted a peachy pink color, and is accented with weathered wood shingles, giving it a homey appearance. On its west side, a broad pine tree sprawls its branches, partially blocking the building from view and causing passersby (like me) to drive past without noticing it.

 

mary lees exterior3

Seeing the the crowded parking lot and folksy sign out front is what finally caused me to register the fact that I’d arrived at Mary Lee’s on a recent Saturday morning.

 

mary lees sign

I was there to meet a group with whom I was doing an area tourism bus tour, and we were kicking off the day at this local hangout which has been in business for over three decades.

 

As I walked to the entrance, I saw a big group of people leaving the restaurant, looking relaxed and satiated. That’s a good sign, I thought.

 

Once inside, I saw that there were only about ten tables inside the tiny dining room. If that group of people had not left, I don’t think there would have been room for our large party.

 

mary lees interior1

While I waited for the rest of my group to arrive, I asked the waitress some questions, starting with the most important one: Who is Mary Lee?

 

“This is Mary Lee,” she said, pointing to a framed photograph hanging on the wall near the cash register. “She passed away in 2010.”

 

mary lees mary lee

“This tells you more about Mary Lee and the restaurant,” she said, handing me a laminated page detailing the cafe’s history.

 

Mary Carlene Arnold and her mother Elda started the cafe in 1984, although theirs wasn’t the first cafe to operate in this building. In 1937, Jess and Elva Greenlee opened the Greenlee Cafe and chose this particular site because it was located next to the two hospitals in Joplin. At that time, the hospitals didn’t have cafeterias, so Greenlee Cafe’s strategic location made it popular in the neighborhood.

 

The cafe closed in 1964, and the building served other functions for the next two decades until Mary Lee and her mother breathed new life into it in the 1980s. Even though the neighborhood hospitals had closed their doors and constructed new buildings in the south part of Joplin, Mary Lee’s thrived.

 

With breakfast and lunch specialties like fluffy omelettes, German fried potatoes, biscuits with sausage gravy, tender chicken fried steak, potato salad, and hot beef sandwiches, Mary Lee’s was frequented by people who appreciated good home cooking.

 

mary lees interior2

After Mary Lee’s death, her sister Janice Tusinger wanted the cafe to continue operating, so she leased the space to longtime employee Helen Green and longtime customer Kenny Meistad, who continue to run the business today.

 

Fun Fact: Green and Meistad were married at the cafe in October 2010 by customer Dr. Andy Fritsch.

 

So much about that fact exemplifies dedication: to a person, to a business, and to a local gathering place that provides food and comfort.

 

Let’s start with the food. When our party was ordering, the waitress advised the man sitting across from me to get the small size of biscuits and gravy, and the customer seated behind us  – a regular – chimed in that she agreed.

 

When that happens, you know the portions are going to be huge.

 

And they were.

 

I ordered the Spanish omelette, a fluffy bed of eggs filled with spicy salsa and topped with gooey cheese, plus crispy hash browns and biscuits and gravy for sides. The moment the waitress put my food in front of me, I knew there was no way I was going to finish my meal.

 

I sure had fun trying, though.

 

mary lees omelette 1

The biscuit was a large pie-shaped version of this Southern staple. After tasting a bite of its flaky goodness, I put aside the rest to take it home to my daughter.

 

Later, when I delivered it to her, she thought I was the best mom in the world. She also said Mary Lee’s biscuits and gravy reminded her of the first time she was introduced to this dish; her grandmother from Georgia had made it, and it was love at first bite. It’s hard to top Grandma Dot’s biscuits and gravy, but it appears that Mary Lee’s has tied.

 

As I worked my way through my enormous meal, another customer came up and started talking to a woman in our party. Apparently, he was one of Mary Lee’s regulars who was striking up a conversation with a newcomer, just as long-time locals tend do at this cafe. Clearly, there are no strangers here.

 

When the waitress came to box up the remainder of my meal, I asked her how often the “regulars” come. “Oh, we have some here every day,” she said. “Some come to eat, some come to drink coffee; some come alone, and some come to meet friends.”

 

mary lees exterior2

More than just a cafe that serves good homestyle cooking, Mary Lee’s is a place that feeds the soul, and nourishes a sense of community.

 

Now I understand why Mary Lee’s loyal customers claim that it is “The Place to Be.”

 

*Note: Mary Lee’s Cafe accepts cash or check only. It is open every day of the week from 6:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and is located at 712 ½ West 20th Street. Click here to visit its Facebook page.

 

 

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.

Mythos

Opa!

 

Hearing that word reminds me of countless birthdays, holidays, and other life events that I’ve celebrated through the years.

 

Is it because I’m Greek?

 

No.

 

(Well, maybe? My maiden name is Sempetrean and we’re still unsure of its origins…)

 

But I digress.

 

I associate opa! with celebration because when there’s a special occasion to share with our family and friends, a meal at Joplin’s Mythos restaurant is usually part of the festivities.

 

And at Mythos, hearing opa! is part of the experience.

 

This tiny Greek word, heard at weddings and other celebrations in Greece (as well as in Greek restaurants in our country), is packed with enthusiasm and joy.

 

Just try saying it right now.

 

Opa!

 

I bet you’re smiling, right?

 

That’s the same feeling I have whenever I dine at Mythos.

 

mythos date nightDate Night = Opa!

 
The last time I was there, my husband Travis and I were celebrating Date Night (a two-hour break from parental duties is a BIG deal!).

 

Once inside, I was immediately transfixed by the cool light – as blue as the Aegean sea – emanating from the sleek bar located in the front of the restaurant. The bar’s modern sophistication offers an interesting contrast to the warm, classic Mediterranean decor of the main dining room and the banquet area.

 

mythos bar

Stately columns and graceful arches suggest an air of formality, but the welcoming tables with solid wooden chairs say, “Gather your friends and family to relax, enjoy, and celebrate!”

 

mythos table

Mythos’ welcoming atmosphere is a natural extension of the gregarious personality of its owner, George Michalopoulos.

 

With boundless energy and smiling eyes, George is a familiar presence in the dining room, talking to his guests and making them feel as welcome as family.

 

However, George happened to be overseeing an off-site holiday party when we arrived on our Date Night (yes, Mythos caters!), so our server guided us through the extensive menu.

 

Did we want something bold and zesty? Then we could choose Mediterranean-style dishes (including the traditional Greek ones passed down from George’s family recipes).

 

How about something milder? Entrees like the Walnut Chicken would satisfy us.

 

Did we follow a gluten-free diet? Then we could enjoy the Mango Salmon or one of the tender steaks.

 

Tough decisions.

 

We decided to start with the popular Spicy Feta Dip for an appetizer. Served with warm pita chips, the tangy feta cheese mixture punctuated (!!!) with bits of pepperoncini definitely awakened my taste buds.

 

mythos feta

The other appetizer we ordered was the Kasseri Saganaki (God, bless you!). Pan seared in olive oil, then finished with a squeeze of lemon, this aged Greek cheese arrived on a tray next to our table.

 

And then the show began.

 

Our server poured a touch of brandy on top of the cheese, then set it aflame while exclaiming – here it comes – opa!

 

People at another table ordered the same thing, and Travis snapped a photo.

 

mythos flamesThat poor woman looks somewhat concerned by the flames at her table…

 
Although I didn’t order it on Date Night, one of my favorite appetizers on the menu is the Tour of Mythos. This platter of Greek loveliness contains savory pita meat, spanikopita (phyllo dough filled with spinach and feta), dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), an assortment of olives, and more.

 

The Tour of Mythos comes with shots of ouzo, an aqua-colored Greek liquor that takes a bit like black licorice. When you drink it, it’s customary to exclaim – you got it – opa!

 

Our entrees came with a choice of soup or salad. Travis chose the Clam Chowder (he’s been on a quest to find a good clam chowder ever since living in the Northeast), and was pleased with his choice. I chose the special salad of the day: the Wedge (not a Mediterranean dish but I have a weakness for wedges).

 

mythos salad

See my knife in the photo? I started to dive into the salad before Travis could take a photo.

 

Seriously, if you saw those crisp greens topped with chopped hardboiled eggs, slices of fresh tomatoes, and bits of smokey bacon bathing in a creamy homemade blue cheese dressing in front of you, you’d be impatient, too.

 

For my entree, I traveled back to Greece with the Mythos Pickilia, a hearty sampler platter with fragrant aromas of cinnamon and nutmeg. First, I tasted the moussaka, a casserole made with layers of thinly-sliced eggplant, spiced meat (that’s where the cinnamon and nutmeg came in), and a creamy bechamel sauce.

 

mythos greekThis photo is blurry because I was moving the plate. Impatient, again!

 
Next, I sampled the pistichio (like a Greek lasagna), which is similar to the moussaka except that pasta noodles are used in place of eggplant, and when the dish is baked the noodles blend with the bechamel sauce to form a custard-like top.

 

I love how these two traditional Greek dishes (from George’s family’s recipes, in fact) combined savory flavors and sweet aromas. Unique and comforting, they’re unlike anything you’ll taste in Joplin.

 

Also on my mega-platter were several slices of tender gyro meat topped with tangy feta (like the meat in the Tour of Mythos). Even though I was stuffed at this point, my plate still weighed about five pounds! I decided to take the rest home and enjoy another Greek feast the next day.

 

Meanwhile, Travis was in heaven enjoying every last bite of his entree, a special that night which combined a beef filet and a lobster tail.

 

mythos lobster steak

When our waiter had assured us that Mythos serves some of the best steaks in town, he wasn’t kidding; Travis’ hand-trimmed black angus steak was melt-in-your-mouth tender.

 

A succulent lobster tail, a sizable baked potato, and a medley of fresh seasonal vegetables rounded out his dish.

 

Full and content (and too tired to talk), we leaned back in our chairs and looked around the dining room.

 

One couple was sharing an intimate meal in one of the cozy alcoves, a jovial family (with members young and old) was seated around an enormous round table, and a large group of friends at the table behind us gathered together for a surprise birthday party.

 

Could Date Night get any merrier?

 

Why, yes, it could. Just add some dessert, like the Deconstructed Tiramisu.

 

The what?

 

mythos tiramisu

The Mythos version of tiramisu breaks down the components of this layered Italian dessert; sweet mocha-flavored marscapone is whipped on top of a rich chocolate cup, with a crisp lady finger leaning against it, instead of on the bottom like in the traditional version (which makes it soggy).

 

So, at Mythos I was able to enjoy the coffee/chocolate flavors that I crave without having to endure biting into soggy lady fingers. Brilliant and delicious!

 

Someone came to our table just then, and asked if we had enjoyed our meal. At first, I was somewhat disappointed to be distracted from my tiramisu nirvana, but then I realized that it was GEORGE! Yes, this jovial man standing at our table was, in fact, the reason why we were able to enjoy an edible Greek vacation without leaving Joplin.

 

Thanks, George, for bringing opa! to JOMO.

 

 

 

Mythos is located at 1306 South Range Line Road. See Mythos on Facebook, too.

 

*Photos by Travis Smith.

 

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