Above av­er­age Joe’s

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Lau­rel Glad­den

You might be sur­prised to learn that no one named Joe ac­tu­ally works at Joe’s Diner and Pizza. If, know­ing this, you find your­self ask­ing, Well, then, who is Joe, ex­actly? owner Roland Richter has printed the an­swer on his res­tau­rant’s tall, pint-sized glasses: “Joe is ev­ery­man. He is you; he is me. He is the guy next door, the gal next door. … He is friendly, un­pre­ten­tious, straight­for­ward with qui­etly dis­crim­i­nat­ing tastes.”

That might also be the best way to de­scribe the food at Joe’s, which is tucked into a clus­ter of mod­est strip-mall shops at the junc­ture of Rodeo and Zia roads. The menu in­cludes pre­dictable diner dishes, pizza, and some fancier fare, but noth­ing flashy or out­ra­geous. Like the hon­est, de­cent, ev­ery­day guys and gals we all know, Joe’s isn’t showy, nor is it un­for­get­table. It’s sim­ply in the busi­ness of serv­ing good, re­li­able, un­pre­ten­tious food in a com­fort­able set­ting.

Joe’s suc­ceeds in cap­tur­ing the kitsch of a neo’50s-era diner: bril­liant red walls lined with mir­rors, swivel­ing chrome-and-vinyl counter stools, a re­frig­er­a­tor case full of desserts, neon lights emit­ting an elec­tric pink-and-blue glow, and a black-and-white check­ered floor that might make you think of the gi­ant chess­board in Alice’s Ad­ven­tures in Won­der­land.

Don’t get me wrong. Joe’s has am­bi­tions. Com­fort foods — tuna melts, club sand­wiches, burg­ers, daily blue-plate spe­cials — are the fo­cus, and those dishes don’t dis­ap­point. But Joe’s also caters to din­ers seek­ing some­thing slightly more so­phis­ti­cated. This may be the only diner I know that serves a chicken-liver pâté ap­pe­tizer, though they do give it a down­scale spin by serv­ing it with bagel chips. Slightly more up­scale en­trees in­clude an At­lantic salmon filet (farmed and shipped in from Canada; if you’re concerned about seafood sus­tain­abil­ity, skip this one), steak, rack of lamb, roast duck, and prime rib. With each of these, you can choose two sides, rang­ing from in­for­mal choices like slaw or ex­em­plary onion rings to more gussied-up ones like se­ri­ously gar­licky sautéed spinach. The daily veg­etable — so of­ten a throw­away item — can be a crisp, brightly col­ored medley you’ll ac­tu­ally en­joy eat­ing.

Joe’s is also ded­i­cated to pur­chas­ing and cook­ing with fresh, lo­cal, and some­times or­ganic in­gre­di­ents, boldly pro­fess­ing, “We buy more lo­cal, re­gional grass-fed beef, bi­son, lamb, poul­try, eggs, pro­duce, veg­gies, and fruits than any other res­tau­rant in Santa Fe.” Ev­ery burger on the menu (ex­cept the veg­e­tar­ian one) is made with meat from lo­cally raised, grass-fed an­i­mals. And un­ex­pected items like the milky, slightly chewy moz­zarella ( fiore di latte) are made on the premises. Joe’s serves lo­cal beers and wines, too, and uses flour from New Mex­ico-grown wheat in its pizza dough, breads, and desserts.

You might want to lick your fin­gers af­ter three pieces of crunchy, slightly greasy fried chicken. The semi-chunky mashed pota­toes taste fresh and fla­vor­ful but aren’t nec­es­sar­ily in­spir­ing. That said, if you’re be­ing choosy about your carbs, choose the taters and skip the chewy, overly sweet bis­cuit. Veg­e­tar­i­ans have choices as well, from a ba­sic green salad to a Boca burger; a de­li­cious, hearty, al­most stewy black bean soup with chunks of carrot; veg­gie lasagna; and a light but sat­is­fy­ing sandwich of roasted pep­pers, ar­ti­choke hearts, let­tuce, tomato, pesto, and cheese of your choice, served on fo­cac­cia.

In a re­cent “Dija Know” news­let­ter, Joe’s made a point of men­tion­ing that, be­cause they sel­dom use a mi­crowave, “your pie will take a lit­tle longer to heat.” Our slice of pecan-apri­cot pie, served on a very warm plate, was still cold in the mid­dle. We de­voured it, but I would have waited longer for a thor­oughly warm slice.

You can get bet­ter pizza in town, but Joe’s isn’t bad. The crust is fla­vor­ful and man­ages to be both puffy and crispy, though the sauce struck me as too sweet. Still, if you live on the south side and crave pizza, your choices are pretty limited, and I’d rather sup­port a lo­cal busi­ness than give my hard-earned cash to a cor­po­rate chain.

Joe’s may not be the talk of the town, but the food is good, the menu is var­ied, the staff is friendly and at­ten­tive, and the own­ers sup­port New Mex­ico farm­ers. As Peter O’Toole, play­ing Lawrence of Ara­bia, de­clared, “We can’t all be lion tamers.” Most of us don’t want din­ner to be a cir­cus, and the chef doesn’t need to be a star. We just want to sit down; have some good, fla­vor­ful, un­pre­ten­tious food; and be treated like an av­er­age Joe.

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