Bistro Joe’s: An unexpected hit in the most unlikely of places
Close your eyes.
I want you to imagine eating at a grocery store cafeteria.
I want you to picture the brown plastic trays still wet from the dishwasher, the lukewarm buffet food, soggy fried chicken, waxy French fries, the wilting lettuce pretending to be salad and the scowling cooks whose promising careers in the food industry somehow took a turn for the worse.
That was my impression of grocery store dining.
Even though I knew with every fiber of my being it was ridiculous, that’s what I had in mind as I drove to Papa Joe’s on Woodward in Birmingham to check out the newly opened Bistro Joe’s.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Let me start this by saying, Bistro Joe’s is over the top. From its ambiance to its odd location overlooking Papa Joe’s Market to its cuisine, this unexpected surprise is brimming with promise.
Tony Curtis, owner of Papa Joe’s Gourmet Market & Catering LLC, spent just under $1 million on the buildout of what could easily become the next “Restaurant of the Year.”
“It is over the top,” Curtis admitted. “It has to be in order to stand on its own.”
Curtis found a Michelin-rated executive chef in Jacques Van Staden to create the menu and hired Ron Rea for the design, which fits in somewhere between French Bistro and — well, I can’t really put my finger on it.
Bistro Joe’s is outfitted in both modern décor — like the Burberry-esque napkins — and classic accents, like its hanging paper lanterns.
But make no mistake, Bistro Joe’s is modern.
Guests can purchase wine cards and buy their favorite wine by the glass from what I’m going to call a “wine soda fountain” for lack of a better term.
The 3,600-square-foot restaurant, which opened 10 days ago, seats 65 inside and another 70 on its outdoor, all-weather patio that even has heated floors, removable windows and outdoor heaters, if needed. Open for lunch and dinner daily, Bistro Joe’s has been packed since it opened, Curtis said.
Van Staden created the menu at Bistro Joe’s and has a major advantage over his competitors: He is able to raid Papa Joe’s produce and meat departments before the high-end grocery store opens its doors to the public.
Van Staden was very matter-of-fact as he put his past accomplishments in perspective and described his vision for Bistro Joe’s.
“Michelin restaurants don’t make money,” he said. “Times have changed.
“Look at these surroundings. I have a book full of restaurant concept ideas — and none of them fit this space.”
When asked how he would describe Bistro Joe’s, he called it a contempo vintage bistro, whatever that means.
What is important is that Birmingham finally has a restaurant to be excited about that isn’t overly pretentious or trying to be something from somewhere else.
“I can’t stand pretentious restaurants,” Van Staden said. “The food here is served the way it should be. Well, the way I think it should be.”
I sampled the spicy tuna tacushi $11, Nicoise salad $16, Turkish Pide $16 and the prime charred rib eye steak $40.
Everything was delicious.
When asked if this is what Curtis is bringing to the First National Building in downtown Detroit, he smirked.
“Something like that — only the operations are going to be entirely different,” he said.
I couldn’t care less, as long as Van Staden is in charge of the menu.
Bistro Joe’s doesn’t have a website yet but can be reached at 248-594-0984.