I have lived a stone’s throw away from Joe Beef for the last 3+ years, but oddly enough last Friday was the first time I had eaten there. This place was popular and well regarded when I first moved into the neighbourhood but since that time it has soared far up into the stratosphere of the Montreal restaurant scene. I’m always skeptical about places that are as popular as Joe Beef has become. So, I was eager to find out for myself what the deal really was (we were lucky enough to nab reservations on the garden terasse on very short notice).
We started with Bloody Caesars. I’ve had a lot of weak Caesars in restaurants. These ones were solid. Not as good as mine, but definitely solid. The drink comes garnished with an oyster on the half shell, a shrimp, celery and a skewer with a few other bites on it. High marks for the spice mixture around the rim of the jar.
After a couple of trips back inside the restaurant to check out the chalkboard menu (yes, it’s a bit annoying that there is only one menu and it is written on a chalkboard beside tables, but it’s not the end of the world) and some consultation with our waitress we settled on our order. The GF started with the smorgasboard and I started with the soft shell crab. We ordered two glasses of Muscadet to accompany our starters.
The smorgasbord is a plate containing about seven kinds of house smoked fish / seafood (herring, mackerel, salmon, shrimps, caviar, and one or two others I am forgetting) and a quail egg served on a slice of toasted bread. This was a really good plate. Each smoked morsel was tasty in its own right and after soaking up the combination of flavours the supporting bread was no slouch either. The variety and range of flavours made this a pretty perfect appetizer in my books.
The soft shell crab is flash fried and served “open faced BLT style”, i.e. with lettuce, tomato, bacon and sriracha mayonnaise. The crab was perfectly cooked, crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, and the spicy mayo was delicious. The addition of lettuce, bacon and tomato added an element of freshness to the dish. To be fair, I should note that I didn’t love the house smoked bacon. I thought it was a bit too thin, more like a cooked slice of prosciutto than the hearty piece of bacon I was expecting. Nevertheless, this was definitely one of the better BLTs I have had.
I had heard a lot about the Joe Beef double down so even though there was no need for it, we ordered a half portion to share (a sort of second appetizer course). The double down is two pieces of deep fried foie gras surrounding bacon, maple smoked cheddar and a house made mayo. My girlfriend loved the double down. I thought it was good (how could deep fried foie gras not be good?) but I wasn’t blown away. I think I prefer a more traditional seared foie gras.
Next up were the mains. For the GF, lobster sausage, and for me, truck stop suckling pig. The lobster sausage is served with a bouillabaisse containing shrimp, mussels and a bit more lobster and a side of fries. The sausages were really good, with big lobster flavour here and a few chunks throughout. In fact, the sausages themselves were so good and filling that the accompanying bouillabaisse seemed like a bonus, as did the fries. I would order this dish again in a heartbeat (it would be amazing with an ice cold beer…). About those fries, they really deserve special mention. After we asked, our waitress told us that they are fried in beef fat and then tossed in garlic butter and parmesan cheese. Outstanding.
The truckstop suckling pig is slow roasted pork which is then pressed into a meatloaf-ish kind of form and topped with crispy skin. It’s served with mashed potatoes, peas and pineapple. This dish is heavy duty and absolutely packed with flavour. Because of the way it is pressed you get the impression that each forkful of pork is really worth three. So simple, but so good. I’m proud to say that I finished the whole plate.
We enjoyed the mains with a bottle of a nice fruity beaujolais (G. Descombes Régnié 2009) selected by our waitress which paired perfectly.
Overall, dinner at Joe Beef was a fantastic experience. Great food, nice vibe (and I can only imagine how much better the terasse is in the middle of summer) and excellent service from our waitress Vanya. Everything at this restaurant is fresh / home made / home smoked / home grown and prepared with care. The recipe is a common one these days – upscale comfort food served in a casual setting (with an eclectic soundtrack to boot) – but I haven’t come across a restaurant that executes it as well as Joe Beef does. As we walked home I thought to myself that I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to eat at Joe Beef. After this experience, it won’t be long before I’m back.
Price: Appetizers – $12-$20; Mains – $20-$50.
Rating: 4 – Out of control.
Joe Beef - 2491 Notre Dame West - 514.935.6504