Thursday, May 13, 2010

“…Where Local Farming and Great Food Come Together”

So reads the menu at Joe’s Diner in Santa Fee, NM.

The first thing you need to know is that the owner is not named Joe. Again, the menu states: “Joe is every man. He is you, he is me, he is the guy next door, the gal next door. He is José, Giuseppe, Joseph, and all female renditions of the name. Joe is the common thread among us, and yet he is one of a kind. He is friendly, unpretentious, straightforward with quietly discriminating tastes. Joe has a robust sense of humor—he loves to laugh, even at himself. He loves good food, good drink and good company.” Sounds like Chuck and me, don’t you think.

Joe's Diner and Pizza is owned by Swiss-trained chef Roland Richter, who has headed fine kitchens in London, New York City, Toronto, and Santa Fe. His commitment is to use as much local and sustainably-raised food as is economically feasible. They are the biggest buyer of Farmers Market goods in Santa Fe. In 2008, Joe’s spent well over $30,000 on locally produced foods from New Mexico farmers and ranchers, and this figure increased to over $60,000.00 the following year.

Joe's décor is pure diner—lots of chrome, black and white floor tiles, red highlights, and booths along the walls. The walls are hung with colorful modern art and a double band of neon runs along the top of the walls.

We arrived after 1:30 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon and found the diner to be about seventy-five percent full with a clientele that closely resembled Chuck and me--that is, older. The Saturday special is fifty percent off any bottle of wine, and I did notice that many of the diners were taking advantage of this bargain. It was ice water with lemon for Chuck and me.

The menu is part diner, part BBQ joint, and part pizzeria. There are the daily Blue Plate Specials: Tuesday – fried chicken with mashed potatoes, biscuit, and the day’s vegetable; Wednesday – meatloaf with mashed potatoes and the day’s vegetable; Thursday – BBQ Brisket with mashed potatoes and the day’s vegetable; and Friday – Fish and Chips with coleslaw.

The house-smoked BBQ items (they come with two sides) include a BBQ boneless half Chicken, a BBQ Brisket Plate, BBQ Baby Back Ribs and a BBQ Sample Plate. From the mesquite grill you can order (again with two sides) grilled Atlantic salmon, chopped beefsteak, chopped organic buffalo steak, center cut certified black angus NY strip steak (certified black angus) and a full or half rack of New Zealand lamb with a rosemary demi glace. There is also a listing of fairly standard diner sandwiches and four burgers, including a veggie burger and a buffalo burger. And there are pizzas, calzones, and strombolis.

I zeroed in on the day’s specials – a Chicken Quesadilla (boring), local and grass-fed beef liver with grilled onions (Yuk), and two Maryland style crab cakes with red pepper aioli on mixed greens (I am always suspicious when a see the word “style”.) But there it was, the final listing – latkes with smoked salmon. Deli heaven.

What a meal this was. Four two-inch potato pancakes with a generous serving of smoked salmon sprinkled with thinly sliced red onion and capers and a small cup of sour cream as a garnish. Imagine this. Take one of the tasty pancakes, spread it with sour cream, pile some salmon on top, sprinkle this with some of the onion and capers, and eat. When I told our waiter, Jean Claude, how much I was enjoying this succulent salmon he informed me that it was cured and smoked in-house. No wonder it was so fresh.

Chuck went to the sandwich list and ordered the six ounce sliced steak (ordered medium) on sourdough with a side of homemade regular and sweet potato chips. The beef had wonderful flavor, but I thought that it had been cooked past medium and so was a bit dry – especially around the edges. The regular chips were great, but the sweet potato chips could have spent more time in the fryer. I suspect that they had been fried together rather than separately. All in all, I think I had the better meal.

Of course, Jean Claude had to tempt us with the dessert tray, and of course, we showed zero will power. I don’t remember all of the items but there was pecan pie, tiramisu, and—our choice—the chocolate mousse pie. The crumb crust reminded me of Nabisco’s Famous Chocolate Wafers. You know the ones used for the Chocolate Wafers Log, don’t you? And the filling was silky smooth and intensely chocolaty.

As I did a few weeks ago, rather than an overall rating I am going to rate the individual parts. My salmon and latkes – 5.0 Addies; the dessert – 5.0 Addies; the homemade chips – 3.5 Addies; and the steak sandwich 3.0 Addies.

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