Lunch with Louie at Joe's
Santa Barbara food reviews with Louie the pessimist food critic
Jul 14, 8:54 PM (PT)
Even though I have been in this town a total of 17 years, I have never been to the most venerable of institutions on State Street; Joe’s Café. Born in 1928, it has managed to survive in this difficult business, and at the same time maintain quite a legion of loyal followers, especially among those who like to indulge in the consumption of adult beverages. So what if they are not Zagat listed. You can get nice and mellow with one drink and totally looped with two. After that you can always order a French Dip. As far as Ed and I are concerned, it’s the food that is important. After our customary “let’s hope for the best”, we march into the most revered, Joe’s.
We spotted a booth by the window and once again got lucky. We asked one of the waitresses if we could have it, to which she responded with a raspy “sure baby, anything you want” - do I have to describe her or can you picture her in your mind? No college part-timer here, but a true veteran of many wars in the pursuit of trying to make a living by providing us with some service and attention. Don’t you ever stiff a professional waitperson - it’s not acceptable. A curse will follow you unmercifully.
I slid into my side of the booth, sat down and immediately became 5 inches shorter. I fell into a sinkhole that has been slowly developing since its creation, circa 1928. I believe in nostalgia, respecting our traditions, and honoring our national and city monuments, for our children’s sake and ours. But do me a favor. Call the upholsterer and restore that booth. I almost lost something in your mini-version of the San Andreas Fault. I moved over to my right and started perusing the menu. I was surprised and impressed at how affordable everything was, and finally landed on the daily specials. I decided on the snapper for $6.95. Ed meanwhile, was having a good stare at an old gizzard named Lou, who was known to everybody in the place. He was sort of the James Stewart of the establishment (he looked a little like him, too). He was having chicken enchiladas and eating them with gusto, slowly and methodically. With his fork, he would draw figures in the dish and then make them disappear in his mouth - like cannibalizing his own creation. Ed was tired and couldn’t make up his mind, so he ordered Lou’s dish. While waiting for our food, we got a basket of sliced sourdough levain. It’s as good as you can get in any restaurant in town and probably better.
My snapper was enormous and quite good. It had a light coating of egg and flour and then was quickly grilled. The flesh was white and tender, and after squeezing a whole lemon over it, was quite edible. The vegetables that came on the side (about a pound and a half of them) where fresh out of the freezer and were that popular combination of cauliflower, broccoli and zucchini. They were tasteless and unimaginative. And, by the way, why do they keep shoving that cauliflower into our systems? It’s like the universal mom left orders before her departure to make sure we get our share of them. I hate them. They are ugly. Do not put them on my plate. Can you believe there was also a giant mound of mashed potatoes incorporated in the dish? I couldn’t make up my mind if they were fresh or boxed, but they were quite tasty and had the right texture. As for Ed’s enchiladas (also $6.95), they disappeared quite rapidly, so I guess they where good. Of course his main mission was to be like Lou, and if possible, try to be as popular as Lou was. The problem was Lou made better drawings and looked like Jimmy Stewart, and Ed was sleepy.
The highlight of my afternoon was sitting next to a picture of Rin-Tin-Tin driving an old convertible in Hope Ranch. Cool. Apparently the show was filmed there. I was always a fan of Rin-Tin-Tin. He was tough and to the point. On the other hand, I despised Lassie - what a cheesy hound - always saving somebody, doing all that sentimental goodness. I hated her. Of course, when you are ten, what do you know? Now that I think about it, maybe it would have been nice if both of them would have gotten together and lived happily ever after with their puppies at Joe’s Café.
Curiosities: on the menu they have a Phillips Crab Sandwich; I guess it comes with a side order of Milk of Magnesia.
By the time we asked for our check the place was packed - mostly locals and some business people from the Old Guard of Santa Barbara. I guess no matter how sophisticated your palate is, you still have to visit Joe’s and make sure it is still there with you, like an old friend or the image of that special lover you just cannot forget.
I got a call from Ed the day after. The enchiladas had, like the settlers of old, decided to stay, and he was having trouble evicting them. Well, you’re not Lou, or for that matter as old as he is, so suffer the little children and next time go for the turkey burger with a side of Phillips.
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