When joebar opened just over a month ago, some people dismissed it as just a holding room for Mabel Gray, its popular next-door neighbor. Not at all. This appealing new spot with a façade marked by a vintage sign reading simply “BAR,” is much more than that. It offers its own well-edited menu in a downplayed setting with a comfortably casual feeling. It is a destination in itself.
While happy to have Mabel Gray patrons stop by, proprietors Joe and Cari Vaughn want their own clientele, both in the main part of the restaurant, and in the completely separate back room that houses Frame, where the staff of Katoi is serving its own menu by reservation on all three weekend nights. The two-restaurants-in-one approach is working just fine, and when Katoi finishes its run, another group of visiting chefs will take over.
Meanwhile, in joebar’s separate kitchen, chef Courtney Witter is sending out some interesting dishes to the rows of high and low tables in the room that is a study in contrasts, from the surreal murals by underground artist Glenn Barr on one side and a cement block wall on the other. While the room includes TV screens, they are turned on only when patrons request it.
Behind the bar is head bartender Anna Atanassova, turning out herb-bedecked cocktails that are a complement to such dishes as the JoeDip, prime rib on a hard roll with a dipping sauce of the Black Angus drippings with caramelized onions and horseradish cream sauce, at $14 the highest priced dish on the menu. Another is Good Morning, Vietnam, barbecued pork, pickled vegetables, bean sprouts and fresh herbs on a hoagie roll topped with a sunnyside up fried duck egg. The dipping sauce is pho broth and it all adds up to a signature dish. Each of the five sandwiches is a real production, with multiple flavors as typified by these two.
About the simplest sandwich is the shrimp po’boy, just buttermilk battered shrimp — from a Michigan shrimp farm, by the way — with Cajun slaw, remoulade sauce and a side of gumbo. Gumbo is one of two house soups, with the other a spicy tomato. A la carte accompaniments range from sweet potato fries and potato wedges to fried pickles and chicken wings with a garlic/honey glaze.
The Saturday/Sunday brunch menu, served until 3 p.m., is brief, just six dishes, typified by stuffed French toast, and hash made with sweet potatoes and braised beef topped with a fried duck egg. Service is friendly, as pretty much all the above attests.
One of the drinks offered along with more elaborate cocktails is beer and a shot, with rotating ingredients. The small selection of wine might come as a surprise. It is Underwood canned wine from Oregon, in three varietals, Pinot Gris, rose and Pinot Noir. As a Pinot Noir fan, I can attest that it’s very drinkable.
Mabel Gray may have put Hazel Park on the dining map, but joebar adds an exclamation point in its own unpretentious way.
23839 John R at Hamata, Hazel Park
Call: (248) 291-5711
Hours: 4 p.m.-11 p.m. Wed.-Fri., noon-11 p.m. Sat., noon to 10 p.m. Sun.
Prices: Sharable snacks $6-$10, soups and salads $5-$6, sandwiches $9-$14, desserts $5
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar
Noise level: Moderate to high
Parking: Rear lot and street
Wheelchair access: No barriers
What the ratings mean
★ — routine ★★ — good ★★ 1/2 — very good
★★★ — excellent ★★★★ — outstanding