By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
Those rolls were ideal to sop up the fishy goodness of my bouillabaisse ($23.95). Bouillabaisse is one of three house specialties, all similar in structure. It comes served in a bowl the size of a baby's bathtub, and you can't be finicky about your table manners. You're going to have to get your hands dirty. You'll find, suspended in a light saffron/tomato broth, shrimp, lobster, mussels, scallops, clams, fish fillets (probably snapper), rounds of squid, a big chunk of potato, and a piece of corn on the cob. The half Maine lobster, from claw to tail, requires some surgical skill to extract every morsel of meat, but this one was so sweet and tender that it was worth the trouble.
This dish is a great bargain for the price. I won't tell you it's the most divine I've ever eaten; in fact, it's more like a fish and shellfish stew than a classic bouillabaisse. The broth needed further reduction, and I couldn't identify the flavors of saffron, orange peel, and fennel you'll find in a Marseilles bouillabaisse (and the French would never throw a whole corn cob in there either.) Call it bouillabaisse-esque. Joe's broth is heavy on the flavor of tomato and celery, but this is a hearty, warming meal that manages to combine the lightness of seafood and shellfish into true comfort food. Two similar dishes, a "Slow Country Boil" and zuppa de pesce, at the same price of $23.95, use basically the same ingredients with variations. The Country Boil adds andouille sausage and Cajun spices. The zuppa is served over linguine with tomatoes and garlic.
We also ordered the "Plum Crazy Snapper" ($25), which is just a gently sautéed piece of fresh snapper cooked simply with tomatoes, garlic, and basil. It was very good. Entrées come with a crisp tossed salad. More complicated dishes include swordfish Oscar ($24) dressed with jumbo lump crabmeat and homemade béarnaise sauce; a snapper Pontchartrain served with shrimp, scallops, hollandaise, and toasted almonds; and a rum and peppered tuna steak ($26) marinated in rum-soy reduction with peppercorns and cloves and served with orange chardonnay sauce. Or you can order the fresh catch (dolphin, grouper, tuna, yellowtail, snapper, flounder, wahoo, swordfish) either blackened, broiled, sautéed, fried, or oreganata.
Here's something else to love. The fish served at Joe's is "eco-friendly." That means your swordfish is local and line-caught (as opposed to using gill nets or longlines, which trap turtles, sharks, marine mammals, and young swordfish as well). Your steaks, if you're feeling carnivorous (New York strip is $28, center cut sirloin $18.95), are prime, aged beef. Chicken is Bell & Evans "all natural" (order lemon chicken for $14.95 or grilled breast for $15.95).
I'm not going to nitpick a whole lot about "Mom's Homemade Key Lime Pie," because we all have our notions about a key lime pie. And the cost of a piece, at $3, comes as such a relief. Too many restaurants these days are charging double-digit prices for their desserts. I'll just say that Mom likes her key lime pie whipped very light and frozen, whereas I prefer mine made with raw eggs and condensed milk and not cooked at all (the lime juice "cooks" the eggs, if you do it right.) So Mom and I disagree on some finer pie points, but these little differences of opinion make the world a curious and surprising place to spend some time, don't you think?