Love’s a funny thing. Studies have shown that its effects on the brain mimic that of a drug addict’s lust. Bear witness to its power at Joe & Misses Doe, a bite-sized bambino of a restaurant from longtime romantic cohorts Joe Dobias and Jill Schulster.
The outspoken couple (both have fun with social media) tied the knot in August and promptly shuttered their restaurant, JoeDoe. At a time when most newlyweds choose to cavort on an island paradise or start a family, Dobias and Schulster set to work on a different kind of procreation. JoeDoe’s environs had always been laid back, though Dobias admits that dinner was leaning further and further upscale, while brunch had garnered its own following for the kind of gut-punch dishes that continue to command crowds in the shadow of old guard royalty Prune. (Between Joe & Misses Doe, Prune, and Prima, 1st Street between First and Second avenues may be the city’s finest brunching block.) The dinner menu has been given a downscale makeover to match the weekend vibe.
This shift in tone is as much a response to brunch’s popularity as it is a reflection of Dobias and Schulster as business and life partners. The pair plan to reopen JoeDoe at a later date, but for now, this is very much a natural transformation. Other couples will have shaky GoPro footage of manatees to remember their honeymoons; these two will have dish sketches and health department letter grades.
How do we know they’re in love? Only two complete googly-eyed fools would charge these prices for alcohol. I did a double take when my $6 “small” rye and ginger ale hit the table in a standard rocks glass (a healthy “medium” and generous “big boy” are also available for $9 and $12 respectively). More involved tipples hover at $9 (“Classic” cocktails) and $10 (“Quirky”). Listed under the Quirky section, the Plantain Fire, which mingles the starchy non-banana with sriracha and mezcal, earns its moniker. Schulster has also created a lineup of shareable cocktails that serve two for $17, served in fishbowl-size goblets. The low markup is a welcome change from a citywide median cocktail price that edges ever closer to $20, which might help pay the bills, but it’s also a hard sell. Wines are rotated on a weekly basis and top out around $40. Brief though it may be, it’s a varied and solid list.
Since the beginning, JoeDoe was an ambitious endeavor. Dobias cooks in a kitchen the size of a walk-in closet but operates his restaurant without the aid of one. And while the new menu is pared down, incorporating what Dobias refers to as “classic Americana,” the series of small and large share plates he’s devised for this venture feels contemporary and, on many occasions, exciting. To find an accompaniment to your fairly priced drinks, you’ll want to scan the list of snacks, which includes sweet and spicy house-made pickles, cheese-stuffed cherry peppers, and fried gribenes, the Jewish deli’s answer to chicharrones, but better to skip a plate of toasts with somewhat leaden bone marrow butter. The creamy yolks of deviled eggs are velvet by comparison.
Luscious burnt ends give so much heft to brisket chili that it reads more like a ragù, but it’s so good that semantics seem beside the point. In true homespun fashion, the bowl of tomato-spiked brisket debris comes adorned with pickled jalapeños and Fritos. As the bowl’s contents dwindle, it’s hard not to want to secede from your table to ravage the Lone Star State–inspired gem uninterrupted.
Despite the blue-plate special feel, Dobias occasionally slips back into highbrow territory. A salad of wilted romaine with anchovy dressing and croutons plays like a dressed-up Caesar salad, but the normally unremarkable lettuce finally feels like what it is — a local, organic, buzzword-worthy greenmarket vegetable.
The kitchen also has fun with kitsch. A special one night found beef heart and sweetbreads in latke form hidden under sweet apple compote, but the crisp pucks needed a touch more salt. Still, we may have to ask for the recipe come next Thanksgivukkah. The promise of French dip dumplings filled us with Obama ’08 campaign-size hope, but the plate of doughy crescents wimped out on us. They yearn for something crunchy even if their mozzarella and roast beef filling hits the right notes. Part of the fleeting pleasure of eating a French dip is soaking the crusty bread in au jus, creating that unique texture that lasts for a millisecond before the crisp bread starts to turn soggy. That edible paradox is missing here, but the flavors make us hopeful.
Larger plates vary in size and value. A deep bowl of mussels and clams cooked in beer feels almost as substantial as the brisket chili after sopping up the garlic-laden broth with halves of toasted English muffin. The perfumed liquid hides rings of cooked-down onion, translucent and falling apart. Dobias puts out a burnished, fiery take on Nashville-style hot chicken, but the lack of a drumstick is noticeable, and it’s a bit tricky splitting a single (albeit phenomenal) thigh with two or more people. Even so, it’s easily one of the best dishes on the menu — idyllic fried chicken, piquant chile sauce, and sweet, zippy slivers of cucumber pickle meet their match with cooling garlic yogurt sauce. Spend the extra dollar and treat yourself to the “Sammy Hangar [sic]” steak sitting in house-made Heinz 57-style sauce. On a recent trip, the steak had been replaced with fork-tender boneless short rib for winter. The heartier cut, with its deeply caramelized crust, takes to the steak sauce far better than the original.
Dessert is limited to two choices, the more complex of which is a banana bread sundae made with vanilla ice cream, a layer of chocolate, and both fresh and brûléed bananas. The banana bread is served warm, melting the ice cream and diners’ hearts in the process. A commendable chocolate mousse is offered as the alternative, saturated with dark cocoa and sprinkled with a crunchy topping.
The best relationships sizzle and crackle, bubbling away in a delicate simmer. In five years, Dobias and Schulster have garnered a reputation for themselves as much as for the restaurant and their subsequent sandwich shop. Now with Joe & Misses Doe, they’ve unveiled their first restaurant that feels like a true partnership. It’s gratifying to have a seat at the table.