Monday, October 29, 2012

I Was REALLY Excited…

when I discovered that Canyon Lake was close—at least by metro Phoenix standards—to Joe’s Farm Grill. What’s an hour when you are driving for good food?

Joe’s was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and has been a favorite of ours since our first trip to Phoenix. But our last visit in December 2010 was too short to squeeze in the nearly fifty mile (each way from our campground near Anthem to Gilbert) road trip, so it has been at least three years since our last visit.

“Maybe it's the affordable housing prices or the constant sunshine that attracts transplants from all over the globe, but whatever the reason, Phoenix has become the melting pot of the Southwest. It's rare to find a native Phoenician and even rarer to find one like restaurateur Joe Johnston, who manages to make even the newest desert dweller feel at home in his trio of Gilbert restaurants: Joe's Real BBQ, Liberty Market, and Joe's Farm Grill.

“Johnston grew up in the slump block ranch that now houses Joe's Farm Grill and never ventured far from home…. While Phoenix-area developers were busy demolishing older houses to build ivory towers for businessmen and yuppie couples, Johnston wanted something different for his family's original farmland.
He imagined a quiet village where neighbors would get together for coffee and swap stories about their kids and grandkids—a community with heart. Builder Scott Homes shared a similar vision. Up sprang Agritopia, a master-planned community with 15 acres of working farmland and quaint bungalows with large sitting porches. How strong is his belief in the project? Johnston and his parents were among the first homebuyers at Agritopia, and Joe's Farm Grill uses fresh produce from the community's crops” (Phoenix New Times).

This was the best weather day since we arrived in Phoenix. Temps were somewhere in the low 80’s, there was no humidity, and the sky was bright blue. A perfect day for dining alfresco under a tree bearing small oranges. We found a picnic table in the shade and were studying the menu when a loud voice comes booming across the grounds: “Hey, kid. Can’t you read? You’re going to fall and hurt yourself.”

Evie and I elected to remain and guard our table when Chuck, Raina, and Jessie set forth to stand in line to place the food orders. And they stood in line. Stood in line. Stood in an endless line.
At last! The three returned laden with victuals.

Chuck selected one of the day’s specials – the pork tenderloin sandwich with a side of fries.

Evie ordered the Farm Veggie Burger hand-made with black beans, brown rice, oats, and ten fresh vegetables. This came served on multi-grain bun with vegan thousand island.

Did you want to see photos of these? Sorry. None are available.

For Jessie it would be the BBQ Pork Sandwich on a grilled buttered bun with a side of fries.

Raina was the adventurous one and chose the Grilled Peanut Butter + Banana Split Sandwich made with peanut butter, chocolate chips, pineapple, fresh strawberries, and bananas on Texas toast.
To her tray she added Fried Zucchini Slices (hand-breaded in rosemary-dill panko with marinara dipping sauce on the side) and the Fresh Beet Salad (red and golden beets, toasted pecans, and blue cheese crumbles).

And I ordered my favorite menu item at Joe’s—the rare Ahi Tuna Sandwich with wasabi mayo, Asian slaw, and a side of the Asian slaw (a substitution for the fries).

And to be shared by the table there was an order of onion rings (hand-breaded in rosemary-dill panko)
and an order of Fried Green Beans (fresh green beans hand-breaded in rosemary-dill panko and tossed in fresh garlic sauce).

But what happened? Everything seemed just a bit off. My rare tuna was anything but rare and my motto is “If it’s not rare, it’s just Chicken of the Sea.” Chuck was less than thrilled by his pork tenderloin. Evie thought that her veggie burger was way too peppery. Raina would have liked her sandwich better had it come on regular bread and not Texas toast. And the beets in her salad tasted like just boiled beets. Jessie said that his sandwich was OK, which was not a ringing endorsement. And the green beans tasted as if they had been left on the vines too long. And all of the fried items were overly oily. The only saving grace was the Asian slaw which was fresh and crisp and nicely dressed with sesame oil, soy sauce, and black sesame seeds.

Joe, what happened? With three restaurants are you now stretched too thin? Was your staff unprepared for the volume of business that beautiful weekend afternoon? What’s gone wrong? This was one of my metro-Phoenix favorites. I have given you 5.0 Addies. Now you are no better than 2.0 Addies.

(I still like the Asian slaw.)

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