I Am Joplin: George Michalopoulos

Noble columns and graceful stone statues resembling ancient Greek deities create elegant touches to the exterior of this building. Its appearance is unexpected – an oasis of stateliness in a sea of homogeneous commercial buildings.

 

george mythos 1

 

But while it may look like a palace, to one Joplin man, it’s simply home.

 

This home is Mythos, and its owner is George Michalopoulos, a man with boundless energy who spends the majority of his day at this restaurant. While he does have an actual house, along with a wife and two children, to go to at the end of the day, his passion for – and dedication to – his business has expanded his clan, creating a family of employees and customers who find comfort, celebration, and community within the walls of Mythos.

 

George-in-Training

Being a restaurateur is a far cry from George’s youthful dream of being an anesthesiologist, but the restaurant business is in his blood. His parents, Andrew and Vickie Michalopoulos, came from Greece to Missouri in the 1970s, and opened up restaurants. Eventually, they branched out into the full-service hotel industry and purchased the Ramada Inn (now LaQuinta Inn) in Joplin, where George oversaw the restaurant, bar, and guest rooms.

 

When it came time for George’s parents to sell the hotel, he had to figure out what he wanted to do next. With anesthesiology now off the table, he decided to honor his roots and his genuine enthusiasm for the restaurant industry by opening his own establishment. I know I’m not alone when I say that I’m extremely glad that he did.

 

George the Restaurateur

George opened Mythos in 2004 with the help of his wife Jaime, who also hails from a family of restaurateurs. But while everyone else in George’s family had operated steak houses and buffet restaurants, George and Jaime wanted to do something different, something upscale. Something Greek.

 

Over the years, the menu has evolved. Although it remains Greek-influenced with items like the Tour of Mythos (a sample platter of traditional Greek food including gyro meat, pita slices, and spanakopita – which is one of my favorite dishes here), the menu also includes other fare such as steaks (like the Blackberry Filet) and seafood (like the Vermouth Bass). “Joplin’s food tastes are growing,” says George. “The younger generation is seeing a lot more (TV) food shows and getting a lot more of a food education, which is allowing us to mature a lot more quickly than we used to.”

 

Plus, Mythos was using fresh ingredients before using locally sourced ingredients became trendy. “That’s a lot of the Mediterranean culture,” says George. “It was instilled in us as kids that you go to the garden to grab something fresh and it tastes so much better.”

 

george m

George at home, a.k.a. Mythos.

 

The scrumptious meals at Mythos are prepared by Chef Eugene Deal, who gets a special helper in the kitchen on Mondays. That’s when George dons his chef uniform and gets cooking. “It’s good for me to be in the kitchen because the employees see that, ‘Hey, this guy knows what he’s doing,’” says George. “I put orders in with them, I prep with them, I coach them, and I train them.” George believes that his presence in the kitchen has had a positive impact on the employee turnover rate at Mythos, which is low – a unique trait in the fickle restaurant industry. “I think it’s the fact that I’m in here working with them side-by-side, facing the same struggles that they face,” says George. “We’re problem-solving together.”

 

With his hands-on approach to managing the restaurant, it’s no surprise that he’s thrived as the sole owner/operator, despite the fact that he was only 30 when Mythos opened. Add in his incomparable customer recognition skills, which have earned the respect – and business – from customers over the years, and you have a solid recipe for success. He even recognizes people who come in once every year or two, much to their amazement. “I want to make sure that guests are happy and leave better than how they came in,” says George. “I try to make them feel at home.”

 

 

george mythos statue front

 

Practicing the Greek-influenced style of dining is another way that George and his employees make people feel at home at Mythos. “It’s not rushed. It’s very family-oriented. It’s sitting down. It’s talking. It’s enjoying. It’s not getting people in and out in 30 to 40 minutes, then getting the next table in.” While the servers do pick up the pace for the time-crunched lunch crowd, at dinner they move at the pace of the customers.

 

How was this leisurely European dining pace initially received by Joplin diners? “The first couple of years were an adjustment,” George admits. “Now people understand it. We had a table here last week with a 3:30 pm reservation and they were still here at 7 pm.”

 

George the Inventor

When George isn’t cooking or visiting with customers, he’s creating products and systems which make his business – and others in the industry – run more efficiently. Have you ever heard of the Dump Commander? (Go ahead and giggle like a 5th grader at the name – I did). Although it sounds funny, this product has had a serious impact on employees in the restaurant industry, winning the 2016 Kitchen Innovation Award at the National Restaurant Association.

 

What is the Dump Commander? George describes his invention as “a rechargeable unit that you take out to the dumpster, and instead of having to lift trash up over your head, you just hit a button and it dumps it for you.” You can read more about the Dump Commander here.

 

George the Dad

Being an inventor and restaurateur means long hours at Mythos, so George’s friends and family know that, in order to maximize their chances of seeing him, they should stop by the restaurant. Except in summer – that’s when Mythos closes for two weeks so that George can “devote 100%, 24/7” to his kids Andreas, 18, and Jasmine, 16, along with his wife Jaime.

 

George the Joplinite

After working in Joplin for more than two decades, George has come to appreciate living in this town, both for its “relaxed, lower pressure” lifestyle and for its family-friendly environment. “I like the fact that we know a lot of people even though it’s a fairly large-sized town.”

 

So where in Joplin does George take out-of-town visitors when they come to see him (besides Mythos, of course)? “I take our guests to a lot of the local restaurants,” says George. “When I worked in the hotel business, we would always direct guests to local restaurants because you can get a franchise anywhere in the country, but you pick the places that they don’t have in their hometowns and their cities. That way, they can experience something different and unique.”

 

George has been successful offering something different and unique at Mythos, and he does so with inexhaustible enthusiasm. “The time at the restaurant for me does not drag on,” says George. “I spend 12 to 16 hours a day here and I don’t feel like I’ve been here that long.” To George, Mythos isn’t just a workplace: “This is my home.”

 

Mythos is located at 1306 South Range Line Road. To visit its website here; to follow it on Facebook, click here; and if you’d like to read about my experience at Mythos, click here.

 

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

Crabby’s Seafood Bar & Grill

It’s laughable, really.

 

To think that you could have one of the finest seafood meals you’ve ever tasted inside a plain building next to a Sav-A-Lot grocery store, which is located in a landlocked town that’s situated over 1,000 miles from both the West Coast and the East Coast seems, well, preposterous.

 

But don’t let the absurdity of this idea keep you from seeing for yourself, because if you did, you’d miss out on dining at one of the best restaurants in Joplin.

 

And that’s no laughing matter.

 

Like a beacon in a sea of meat-and-potato cuisine, Crabby’s Seafood Bar & Grill beckons those who yearn for the taste of fresh seafood in Ozarks. It’s one of the restaurants where I take people who are visiting Joplin because I want to impress them. After all, just because our city is small doesn’t mean it doesn’t have gourmet restaurants.

 

At the helm of Crabby’s is owner Chef Damien Tiregol, who received the honor of Chef of the Year in 2017 from Feast Magazine, a publication that covers the culinary scene in Missouri and southern Illinois. I’m glad to see that Chef Damien’s creativity and talent are being recognized by someone other than his loyal patrons because he’s an incredibly skilled chef.

 

My husband Travis and I recently dined at Crabby’s, and I’m still thinking about the meal (which is making my stomach growl as I’m typing this). Actually, it’s not just the meal that was memorable – it was the experience.

 

crabbys exterior (1)

The restaurant’s simple, windowless exterior belies the sophisticated urban atmosphere inside.

 

crabbys interior

The small, softly lit dining area is separated by a full-service bar, which you can sit at if you need to wait for a table (reservations are recommended during the weekend).

 

crabbys artwork

The work of a local artist Josie Mai currently adorns the walls, creating a unique wallscape which changes regularly to feature different artists (the pieces are for sale, too). The feeling inside is cozy, but still busy enough to make you feel like you are out and about in a big city.

 

For an appetizer, we ordered the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes.

 

crabbys crab cakes

This signature Crabby’s dish was served with a smoky roasted red pepper ragout, and the refreshing sauvignon blanc I was drinking provided a nice contrast to the dish. Crabby’s drink menu offers a variety of wines to pair with your meal, as well as cocktails to sip on while you socialize (the Raspberry Lemon Drop Martini is my favorite).

 

Our entrees came with the choice of soup or salad.

 

crabbys salad

I normally choose the House Salad with Crabby’s light and refreshing Honey-Lavender Vinaigrette, but since the Butternut Squash Bisque had just returned to the menu for the fall season, I felt conflicted. In the end, I made the right decision: I chose the salad with a cup of the bisque.

 

crabbys butternut

The creamy bisque was slightly spiced, and lightly sweetened with a touch of brown sugar and molasses. This dish says, “Welcome, Fall,” and is a treat that I look forward to each year.

 

Travis chose an item that’s on the menu year-round: Seafood Chowder. The hearty chowder’s richness was accented by a dash of spice and smoky bacon.

 

Steak, pork, chicken, and duck dishes are alternative entrée options for those who want to order something besides seafood. However, Travis and I ordered seafood dishes because when in Rome…

 

crabbys sea bass

I ordered the melt-in-your-mouth Pan Seared Chilean Sea Bass, which was topped with mirin sauce and served on a bed of wasabi mashed potatoes, along with grilled asparagus. The combination of Asian-inspired flavors in this artfully plated dish make it a popular menu item.

 

crabbys shrimp

Travis ordered the Grilled Scallops and Jumbo Shrimp, a Cajun-influenced dish served with smoked Gouda grits and bits of spicy andouille sausage. This is another one of my favorite dishes here, as it reminds me of the food I enjoyed when I lived in New Orleans.

 

You would think that we’d be stuffed to the gills by this point – and you’d be correct. But I felt that it was my duty to order dessert so that I could do a thorough job of describing the Crabby’s experience to those of you reading this. What a sacrifice, right?

 

We ordered the Signature Bread Pudding and the Creme Brulee, which were both delicious in their own ways. The hearty bread pudding was buttery and boozy, and a favorite of Crabby’s customers.

 

crabbys bread pudding

The fruit-topped Creme Brulee made an elegant dessert, with its dense custard contrasting nicely with the layer of crisp, caramelized sugar.

 

crabbys creme brulee

Crabby’s is a restaurant to visit when you want more than a meal. It’s where you come when you want an experience. And tasting Chef Damien’s creative fresh seafood dishes in landlocked Joplin, Missouri, makes that experience one of a kind.

 

Crabby’s serves lunch and dinner, plus Sunday brunch. It is located at 815 West 7th Street in Joplin. 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.

Ichiban Sushi

Surprise! You can find a high quality restaurant in a strip mall.

 

 

Surprise! You can find an excellent sushi restaurant in the landlocked Midwest.

 

 

Surprise! You can find a restaurant that has had loyal customers for over a decade.

 

 

Surprise! You can find all of this at Ichiban Sushi, a Japanese restaurant in (surprise!) Joplin, Missouri.

 

 

This was the first sushi restaurant that I ever ate at in Joplin and, believe me, I was hesitant to do so. The idea of eating ocean fish in a strip mall, which was located in a part of the country where beef and pork dominate restaurant menus, was not very appealing to me. Still, people claimed that it was worth taking a chance on this hole-in-the-wall place, so I did.

 

 

It was worth it.

 

 

That was over ten years ago. Now, Ichiban is a restaurant that my husband and I visit on our date night, which works out well since our kids don’t like sushi anyway.

 

 

It’s also a fun place to meet my fellow sushi-eating friends for a girls’ night out, which is something I did recently with my friends Carrie and Erin.

 

 

We arrived around 5:30 p.m. on a Friday and there were two other tables occupied. By the time we left, nearly all the tables were filled. That shows you the kind of power that word-of-mouth advertising, plus internet reviews, has for Ichiban. While other restaurants may focus their resources on heavy media advertising or on elaborate buildings and decor, Ichiban focuses its energy on serving great food.

 

 

Let’s talk about this great food. I started my meal with a house salad, which contained crispy iceberg lettuce, crunchy carrots and red cabbage, and juicy tomatoes, topped with a refreshing dressing made with ginger and sesame.

 

ichiban salad

 

For an appetizer, Erin and I split an order of gyoza, pan-fried Japanese dumplings filled with ground pork and spices and served with a dipping sauce.

 

ichiban gyoza

 

It’s a good thing that I ordered the gyoza to take the edge off my hunger while I reviewed the sushi menu or I would have ordered more than I could eat. The portions here are very generous.

 

 

For instance, take the Thai Veggie roll that Carrie, my vegan friend, ordered.

 

ichiban thai veggie roll

 

This monstrous roll was stuffed with asparagus, broccoli, and Thai peanut sauce, then topped with jalapenos, cilantro, sriracha sauce, and crushed peanuts. This was not a roll that could be eaten in one bite, and Carrie struggled to figure out the best way to do it.

 

ichiban num

 

I ordered the TNT roll, which is an unusual sushi roll because it is served warm. It’s made with a California roll baked with Dynamite sauce and topped with masago, which is an orange roe that adds a crunchy “pop” when you eat it, exploding in your mouth like TNT.

 

ichiban tnt

 

Erin ordered the Sushi and Roll, which included tuna (three types), salmon, octopus, shrimp, unagi, and a couple more types of fish, plus a spicy tuna roll.

 

ichiban sushi and roll

 

Her platter was colorfully arranged like a masterpiece of art.

 

We ordered more rolls to split, like these mini rolls filled with shiitake mushrooms and avocados.

 

ichiban mini veggie

 

And the vegetarian version of sashimi: meaty Portobello Mushrooms, and Fried Tofu (which had a slightly sweet, dessert-like taste).

 

ichiban veggie sashimi

 

For those who don’t like sushi, Ichiban also serves cooked Japanese food like teriyaki dishes.

 

 

Carrie, Erin, and I were too full to order dessert that night, but I’ve heard wonderful things about Ichiban’s Tiger Chocolate Cake which contains layers of milk and white chocolate and is served with a secret sauce.

 

 

Surprise! Chocolate cake at a Japanese restaurant.

 

 

I love surprises.

 

 

Ichiban Sushi is located at 2914 E. 32nd St.

 

 

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