One of the things I love most about Joplin is its abundance of great places to eat. Over the years the local restaurant scene, much like the local art scene, has grown and flourished. Just about every cuisine imaginable can be found in this small city - Thai, Mexican, Chinese, Italian, barbecue, sushi – you name it, we have a local chef who specializes in it. Here on “Foodie Fridays” I will choose a local restaurant, specialty store, or chef to highlight and share some of my thoughts on why I think they are successful and how they enhance our community with their artistry.
|The counter at Instant Karma|
Instant Karma Gourmet Hot Dogs was opened in March 2010 by Jason and Suzanne Miller. Over the past couple of years Instant Karma has developed a strong customer base and, yes, I’m a groupie. Not only do they serve up some amazingly delicious food ( a bacon-wrapped Black Angus hot dog topped with sour cream and avocado, accompanied by a side of blue cheese coleslaw – can I get an “amen”?), but the place also scores high on the coolness scale. Knowing Jason’s background, I speculated the place would be a success before it even opened its doors to the public.
I first met Jason when he was working at another of my local favorite eateries, Crabby’s. He’s great fun, incredibly artistic (duh, he went to art school in New York City), and can seriously cook. However, it wasn’t his work at the restaurant that impressed me as much as it was his mad catering skills. Several years ago I attended a party that was catered by Crabby’s. I stopped by the kitchen and said hello to Jason as he and his staff were hard at work preparing the evening’s buffet –which, much to my surprise, included the very delicate, very expensive, fish, sea bass. As I am sometimes wont to do, I mingled a bit too much and found myself last in line for dinner. By the time I got to the buffet, there were only two pieces of fish left in the chafing dish. As I stared at the fish lying in the big stainless steel pan, Jason said to me, “don’t worry, it will be good. I promise.” Needless to say, I was a tad bit skeptical. Look, I’ve had fish from the buffet line before. And over the years I have learned to avoid it. But I took the fish anyway (because I was hungry and there were no other options), looked over at Jason and said, “If this stuff is still any good then you are nothing short of a magician in the kitchen.”
I carried my plate to a table and hesitantly tasted the fish. It was melt-in-your-mouth delicious! Honestly, I couldn’t believe how good it was! The quality was just as great as it would be if it had been plated straight off the grill and then hastily placed before me by an attentive server. I looked over at my husband and said, “That does it. From now on, whatever Jason cooks, I will eat because I know it will be amazing.”
That talent, combined with his extensive background in art, is why Jason’s epicurean creation is a hit with Joplinites. Jason returned to Joplin after a six-year stint in New York City because, as he puts it, “the girl I loved was here.” (The guy’s an artist AND a romantic with an innate sense of business. How could he not be successful?) While he lived in NYC (in the East Village, no less), Jason worked at a couple of restaurants. One of those restaurants was Tortilla Flats, a popular and trendy Tex Mex place that has been going strong since the early 1980’s. One reason for the Flats’ success and longevity is its owners’ philosophy of encouraging creativity and mutual support among the staff. This experience, combined with his post-art school job as an art director for a commercial interior designer, laid the foundation for Jason’s own business philosophy.
Jason’s sense of artistic creativity shows in everything he does at Instant Karma. The menu, inspired by Crif Dogs in the East Village, is ever-changing and unique, reflecting not only his own ideas but also those of his staff. Jason encourages an environment of creativity, experimentation, and spontaneity. This attitude keeps the restaurant fresh, fun, and inviting for both customers and employees. Even the music played over the sound system is carefully chosen to reflect Jason and Suzanne’s cool, laid-back personalities.
Jason told me, “I feel like everything I’ve done has brought me to where I am today. All the experiences up till now created Instant Karma.” As I reflect on his stories and my own impressions of Jason and Suzanne, I know he's right. Instant Karma is the perfect blend of creativity, hard work, and love and I’m certain it will be delighting diners here in Joplin (and maybe, someday, even elsewhere) for many years to come.
Have you ever eaten at a gourmet hot dog restaurant? What is your favorite, unexpected, eatery? What is your favorite item on Instant Karma's menu?