Maui Food and Dining

To Eat or Not To Eat at Joe’s

October 5, 2012, 1:34 PM HST
* Updated October 9, 1:35 PM
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Vanessa Wolf is a former head chef, previously working in Portland, Oregon. She offers her blunt assessments in the interests of honesty and improving Maui’s culinary scene.

By Vanessa Wolf

Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

If the sight of the Joe’s waiter dropping off a steak knife for the chicken and waffles didn’t serve as a warning, the accompanying “you’re going to need this” probably should have.

KFC doesn’t give out heavy-duty cutlery. In fact, one can usually can get by with just a plastic spork. So why the knives at Joe’s? Well, we’ll get to that.

Unless you’re in the know, Joe’s can be hard to find. Set in the middle of the Wailea Tennis Club – and surrounded by tennis courts – there really isn’t any adjacent parking. First timers may want to yell out “Marco!” and hope someone responds.

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Barring that, park in the lot to the right of the club, seek the staircase, and head down a couple flights of stairs. If you’re lucky/get your timing right, someone in a golf cart will drive you there or back.

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The first of two meals started with Bev’s “World Famous” Crab Dip ($12). The dip itself arrives in a tiny cast iron dish surrounded by what’s billed as crisp flour tortillas but looked – and tasted – a whole lot more like fried wontons. Think deconstructed crab Rangoon and in you’re in the ballpark.

Bev’s “World Famous” Crab Dip. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

The dip is pretty greasy, and the accompanying tortillas/wontons are as well. With a high proportion of asiago cheese, you might prefer to spread it on the accompanying bread – a dead ringer for mini La Brea sourdough rounds – rather than the suggested triangular crisps. The bread – served warm with fresh butter – is fantastic and was honestly one of the highlights.

The Caesar salad ($11) was pretty much a typical Caesar with a little bit of kale and tomatoes added. If you’re not into heavy proportions of dressing, you may want to request it on the side. 

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On another occasion, Maui Now sampled the Ahi Carpaccio ($18). Invented in Venice in the 1950s, carpaccio is traditionally raw meat or fish thinly sliced and served with a mustard or other vinaigrette.  The Joe’s version –as the name implies – features thin slices of fresh, high grade ahi. In a unique twist semi-reminiscent of bagels and lox, there is also copious shaved parmesan, truffle oil, and capers. It’s not really Carpaccio in a purist sense, but somehow it works.

The chicken and waffles. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

Chicken and Waffles ($28) is a Southern soul food staple. Joe’s version is extremely traditional, featuring fried chicken alongside buttery waffles and a side of syrup. Some elements, like the pure maple syrup and mango butter, are fantastic. However, the waffle arrived both slightly burned and ice cold. The pat of butter never melted, despite the warm Wailea night and the inferno hot plate upon which the food sat.

The accompanying corn/potato/onion/carrot hash was flavorful, but super oily. The chicken – as the provided steak knife predicted – was cooked within an inch of its life. Dry and tough, it was a double disappointment considering how good the fried breading was. So close and yet so far…

Joe’s menu lies somewhere in the middle of fine dining and Southern diner. Famous for another common blue plate special, the waiter – aloof but efficient, almost as though on autopilot – insisted Joe’s Favorite Meatloaf ($26) was a must-order item.

Perhaps meatloaf – like pizza – has regional prejudices? Those who are accustomed to a version made with eggs, bread, Worcestershire, onion and lightly worked ground meat may not vibe with Joe’s favored version.

Joe’s Favorite Meatloaf. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

More like a slice of a giant well-done hamburger patty, Joe’s meatloaf is dry to the point of crumbling and arrives with a deluge of barbecue sauce on top. The flavors of oregano and breadcrumbs are predominant, and the texture is akin to something mixed in the blender. Again, perhaps unfamiliarity with Texas-style meatloaf is to blame, but we couldn’t eat more than a few bites.

All was not a loss, even if you don’t enjoy cooked carrots, the perfectly prepared and seasoned accompaniments may change your mind. The meatloaf rests on a rich and savory bed of mashed potatoes. Finally, the comfort one was hoping for all along.

Earlier this year, owner Bev Gannon was nominated as a 2012 semifinalist for the James Beard “Best Chef: Pacific” category. Clearly she is an outstanding and accomplished chef and restaurateur. Perhaps that is why Joe’s is so disappointing:  not because of the shortcomings, but because it could easily be so much better. Here’s hoping it soon is.

We welcome your feedback. Please let us know if you hear of any new restaurants opening or reopening, total menu overhauls, or simply know of a hidden treasure you want to share. Have a restaurant you want reviewed (or re-reviewed)? Drop us a line.

Dying to know how a certain dish is made so you can recreate it at home? Send in a request, and we will try to pry the secret out of the chef…and even take a run at cooking it up ourselves. Mahalo. -vanessa(@mauinow.com)

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