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Eating out with the Joans 

click to enlarge Fatma Alici holds up an awesome reuben sandwich at - Joanie's.
  • Fatma Alici holds up an awesome reuben sandwich at Joanie's.

Breakfast is my weakness. Not breakfast at home because I can't face the prospect of dirty dishes that early in the day. But, given an hour to kill between 7 and 8 a.m., my desire and pleasure lie in diners that serve a good breakfast -- both simple and complicated varieties. I like a place where I can sit for an hour with endless coffee refills over two newspapers, with distant attention, not someone asking me every five minutes if there's anything else I need.

Lucky for me, my neighborhood shopping center, the utterly square and decidedly non-glamorous Bon Shopping Center on Wahsatch, sitting across the street from the park where all the neighborhood children learn to play soccer, has the perfect breakfast joint in Joanie's Caf. Joanie's is a cheerful, bright and clean haven connected by a back door to the shop of its co-owned adjoining business, Woody's Continental Bakery.

Joan, a no-nonsense woman with a serious hairdo, runs the place in the mornings, but the caf is not her namesake. She explains:

"I used to work in the bakery next door. Now I'm from New York, and Joanie over there is from New York, but boy, she's got the accent...."

Her eyes stray to a spot of dust on the wainscoting she has missed in her compulsive dusting the whole time I've been eating breakfast.

"Anyway, we were both working there and I said, I'll tell you what, I'll be Joan and you be Joanie. Here I am telling her what her name is ..." She laughs. It's a good story. She's told it many times.

When the caf opened last year, Joan was tapped to run it, not something she'd planned on but something at which she is more than adept, having run several other food businesses in her long work career. She runs a tight ship, knows most customers by name and offers some of the best non-intrusive service in town.

Two breakfast specials in the past week have perked up my breakfast routine. When I ordered the corned beef hash and eggs ($5.25), Joanie warned me:

"That corned beef hash we make right here; it's not that canned mushy stuff."

Indeed. Firm cubes of corned beef lightly browned with seasoned potatoes and a little onion, served with two eggs -- it's a near-perfect breakfast, especially as served with two slices of chewy rye toast, the bread baked next door at Woody's.

Another morning I indulge in Potato Madness ($6.25), the special posted on the board. I'm served a steaming plate of home fries sauted with onions, bell peppers and tomatoes with two eggs and crumbled bacon scrambled in, all combined by melted strands of sharp cheddar cheese. The serving is enormous, easily enough for two, so I save half for a side dish at dinner.

Joanie's lunches are equally as famous as breakfast among neighborhood regulars, if not more, and with just cause. On Saturdays, when the weather's good, they set up the grill out on the front sidewalk and grill bratwurst and various smoked sausages, serving them up on soft rolls from the bakery next door. A recent lunch special, a warm sandwich ($7.55), featured a generous portion of shaved smoked pork shoulder topped with a roasted chili pepper, grilled onions and jack cheese, all mooshed together on a soft potato bun, served with your choice of cole slaw, chips or potato salad on the side. I went for the potato salad and thought I'd find something not to like about Joanie's when I saw their version was the yellow kind, made with mustard, dotted with olives. I'm strictly a mayonnaise and pickle relish potato salad fan, but Joanie's surprised me. Their salad is balanced and well mixed. I didn't even pick out the olives.

Best of all of Joanie's surprises, I've discovered I can take dinner home with ease. The ice-cream case next to the front door is loaded with containers of the caf's superb soups -- corn chowder, potato sausage, chicken noodle, beef barley, even a lobster bisque with artichokes, and several other varieties. Except for the bisque, the soups go for $5.50 for a large 2-pound container, small servings for four or ample meal-size servings for two. The potato sausage is thick and smoky flavored, a fine winter dinner with the addition of a salad and a bag of Continental Bakery's cheese and green onion dinner rolls.

For such a small place -- just four or five tables plus a row of window bar seats -- Joanie's offers a remarkable variety of lunch and breakfast items and some unique special touches. The homemade soups are served with freshly baked croutons made with Woody's day-old bread. And if dessert is your thing, there's an intriguing variety of ice-cream treats, or pies available from next door. I recommend the strawberry rhubarb.

-- Kathryn Eastburn

capsule

Joanie's Caf

2224 N. Wahsatch (next to Safeway in the Bon Shopping Center)

Open Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

578-9200; Fax orders to 632-0328 for pick up

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