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By Jim Duncan

Chef Joe’s defies ‘Cherry Place Curse’

I am a reluctant disciple of the civic dynamics in the East Village. I just can’t forget that this is the part of town where community leaders have done their dumbest work — like bulldozing Cherry Place. That magnificent Underground Railroad mansion was a solid, taxpaying business in the 1960s when it was condemned to rubble in the service of “urban renewal.” In other places, leaders might have been able to envision its tourism potential, if not its historical and architectural sanctity. On our near East Side, it was leveled to create an unpaved, weed adorned parking lot, which it has remained now for more than 40 years. So whenever I hear a buzz about renewal in East Village, I anticipate the sting of the “Cherry Place Curse.”

Chef Joe’s Place, in Northland General Store, is the most recent East Village café to defy the curse and preserve some traditional Iowa food values. Joe’s, and its sister Flamingo Cantina, serendipitously evolved from a beer cooler-lunch stand into the main occupant in an historic building with a full kitchen, an open cooking station and salad bar, plus an outdoor smoker and grill. Together they offer four different seating areas, including two outdoors.

This wasn’t the plan, so good things can happen by mistake, even in the ghostly shadows of Cherry Place. Northland’s first choice café couldn’t cope with centuries-old infrastructure. So Joe’s upgraded to its brick wall and wooden plank niche. Ceiling fans, antique toys, candy jars and reliable free Wi-Fi add to a unique atmosphere. So does an opportunity to shop for rare foods from the likes of Paul’s Grains, Pickett Fence Creamery, Log Chain Honey and Vander Ploeg Bakery. You can buy Iowa-raised elk, emu, bison and wine in a store that is both a UPS shipping station and an authorized NASCAR dealer. Antique appraisers make regular appearances, too.

Joe Godfroy’s kitchen is just as quirky. He serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch with a small town flavor. On my fourth visit, my artfully tattooed waitress revealed her first name and asked mine, explaining that I had overstayed my right to anonymity.

Joe’s does some things extraordinarily well. All soups are made from bone-scratch stocks. “Corned beef” comes from home-brined briskets finished in the smokehouse. Ham is smoked there, too. Those are Joe’s regular carving station meats. Sometimes unbrined smoked briskets and whole smoked turkeys join them. All put standard deli sandwich choices to shame, though Joe’s offers perhaps too many varieties of bread. After dealing with stale rye, I found that asking for “whatever bread is freshest” delivered consistently good sandwiches. So does a grilled Panini option.

At Joe’s, the omelet station concept services pasta. Choose your sauce, pasta, etc. and it’s cooked in front of your eyes. Graziano sausage is a star ingredient with La Bella pasta, a rare brand that manages to incorporate whole grains and things like sun-dried tomatoes without sacrificing good texture. Seven-grain tortillas weren’t as successful at that task. BLT’s, with thick sliced bacon, sell consistently well and it’s not yet tomato season.

Breakfast offered homemade corned beef hash and cooked-to-order eggs and hashed browns. Dinner brought pizza to the table, with two crusts and some unique specials including a Reuben pizza that utilized the excellent corned beef. Flamingo’s patio café grilled good burgers and such. In the spirit of positive dynamics, a comedy club, a playhouse, outdoor movies and live music are all on the future agenda.

Side dishes

Architect Kirk Blunck, chief slayer of the “Cherry Place Curse,” said he’s working with a chef from Boston who plans to open a 42-seat Japanese restaurant on East Grand, by summer… Chef Alessandra Meschini of “Cooking with Alessandra” fame will teach a class at Casa di Vino on May 16; and at $25 it will sell out, so call 253-9463. CV

Past Food Dude Reviews
Amici Espresso (1-4-07) Bandana's (1-11-07)
Perry hotel (1-18-07) Beyond frozen (1-25-07)
Centro (2-1-07) KC BBQ (2-8-07)
Planet Sub (2-15-07) Trostel’s Greenbriar (2-22-07)
Acapulco (3-1-07) Aryana (3-8-07)
AJ's (3-15-07) Ban Thai (3-22-07)
Two Crop Palace(3-29-07) Mo Q x 2 (4-5-07)
What's In A Name?(4-12-07) Lemongrass (4-19-07)

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