In my ongoing quest to find local restaurants that don't suck, I finally visited Joe's Steakhouse, a restaurant that, until late last year, had been little more than a derelict, sitting forlorn and abandoned on the outskirts of town. Suddenly, renovators swooped in and, with a sense of furious focus, rebuilt the place and turned it into something lively and cheerful. Even though I hadn't stepped inside Joe's until today, I saw, every time I passed the establishment on my way to Skyline Drive, its consistently full parking lot during the dinner hours.
So today, the notion of going to Joe's Steakhouse was something of an idée fixe for me. I had just gotten paid, had just gotten my car back from the body shop, and was in a cheerful mood thanks to the bright, sunny weather. Joe's, a restaurant to which I'd been intending to go for months, was foremost on my mind. So I went.
The first thing I noticed after walking up the beautiful flagstone steps was the electronic marquee-- a deliberate thumbing of the nose at the restaurant's dilapidated, low-tech past. The high-resolution screen flashed Joe's menu-- with prices visible, incredibly-- as well as a few ads. At the bottom of the screen, the resto's hours of operation were clearly marked. Joe's is, for most of the week, open only for dinner, but come the weekend (by which I mean Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), Joe's opens early. There's even Sunday brunch.
I had picked a quiet time to have lunch: about 1:30PM on a Friday afternoon. In fact, I think I may have been the only customer, which made me a freak of nature. I walked in and was greeted by an energetic host; he promptly seated me at a four-top (well, a two-top in this case) near a window:
I took a look around at the large-capacity room, imagining it full of happy diners:
As you can see in the above photos, Joe's Steakhouse isn't shy about alcohol. I was, in fact, offered a beer by the server while I waited. I ordered a Coke. My usual. Since I live and drive alone, I'm the designated driver.
Joe's ambience is very comfortable; the color scheme leans toward stained wood for the floor and deep burgundy for the walls. Steakhouse colors. The table arrangements make efficient use of the available floor space-- good feng shui.
I ordered the fried calamari appetizer, and I have to say... this was some of the best damn calamari I've had, short of Maggiano's in Tysons, Virginia, and Puccini in Seoul (actually, I'd eaten a frittura mista at Puccini, but it had calamari in it). Joe's Steakhouse breads its calamari lightly and tastefully, letting the squid speak for itself. The dish isn't over-fried, and no attempt has been made to accompany the rings and tentacles with any sauce other than a good marinara. I had been to two other restaurants, in recent months, whose calamari had been ruined by poor sauce choices. Joe's Steakhouse understands that, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Magnificent dish. And plentiful, too. See below.
Luckily for me, the courses didn't come out all at once-- a bad habit that some restaurants get into in an attempt to rush their customers and create faster turnover. Perhaps, since I was the only customer, the cook staff felt it could afford to pace things out. Whatever the case, they paced it right: in between the calamari and my main course, out came the bread (ciabatta) and Caesar salad:
I dug in to the above quite happily, and was already starting to feel pleasantly full when my main course arrived. I had ordered the "Ultimate Steak and Cake," a surf-and-turf combo of filet mignon and crab cake. To wit:
The server recommended ordering the steak medium-rare, which I did. My brother Sean, who lives life according to the rules of Dr. Atkins and thus has become something of a steak connoisseur, warned me long ago that many steakhouses have no notion of how to cook a steak to the proper doneness: Sean has eaten his share of overcooked slabs of meat. I'm happy to report that the chefs at Joe's know what they're doing: medium-rare was medium-rare. The steak had a beautiful, subtle char on the outside, and was rare and tender enough on the inside to do Dracula proud. The result was philosopher Alfred North Whitehead's definition of beauty: the harmony of contrasts. The crab cake was also quite nice-- soft and understated, not super-crispy.
By the time I had finished the surf-and-turf, I was becoming truly full. (To think that the restaurant had offered, as a special, a 42-ounce Porterhouse!) Undeterred, the server floated over with the dessert menu; I found myself torn between the chocolate cake and the cheesecake with strawberry sauce. I asked the server what he thought, and he immediately recommended the cheesecake. I didn't regret this. See the beauty below:
The cheesecake was butter-soft, with an equally soft crust, but whatever was lost in terms of textural contrast was easily compensated for by the contrast in flavor between the crust and the cake. The silky mouth-feel of the cheesecake was exquisite, and the dollops of cream at the four compass points of the plate were ready-made adjuncts, screaming to be spooned onto each bite of cheesecake. The strawberries in the strawberry sauce tasted garden-fresh (I have no idea whether they really were fresh, or were merely frozen), and retained a distinctively fruity texture.
Because Joe's is a steakhouse, I didn't expect the dining experience to be cheap, and it wasn't. My bill, before tip, was $46.79:
$26.99 Steak & Cake
+ $3.87 Tax
Since I normally tip 20% out of respect for my brother David, who has served hard time in the food industry, I added $9.41 and paid a total of $56.20-- a lot for one person. But today was a special day, and with Thanksgiving on the way, I was in a bit of a festive mood. No more such indulgences until next year! In the meantime, I don't regret today's extravagance; Joe's Steakhouse proved its mettle, and was worth every penny.
The only thing missing from this fine, fine experience was the luminous presence of a pretty date sitting across the table from me. Then I wouldn't have needed the novel.