You Gotta Try This: Joe's Place and Connie's Beer Garden
There's no catering gig Joe Cook can't handle.
Well, I'm sure if he were tasked to provide food for everyone en route to the Formula One race this fall, he might have to call in back-up help. But the cool-headed chef has catered for notables at the University of Texas and at the nearby Capitol for so long that he makes it seem like he could run this little cafe on East MLK Jr. Boulevard in his sleep.
A few years ago, he and his ebullient wife, Connie Green, opened Joe's Place and Connie's Beer Garden in the home of his Joe Cooks catering company.
I'd noticed the brightly painted building many times while driving on MLK, but I didn't realize that you could actually stop in for a meal until a co-worker suggested I swing by for lunch one day.
Last month, we had a lovely lunch that I can easily recommend to every other curious person who has driven by but not stopped.
I had the banh mi-inspired Vietnamese pork sandwich, served on homemade bread with a delightfully tender piece of pork tenderloin inside, and my lunch companion had a salad topped with pickled onions, walnuts, boiled potatoes, feta cheese and Cook's famous salmon, which is brined, seasoned with paprika and lightly smoked.
A couple of surprises: They have a four-and-a-half star rating on Yelp, which is hard for any restaurant to keep up. They are only open for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, and they like it that way. They've been talking about opening for dinner on Thursdays, but Cook still caters full-time, and they aren't sure when or if they'll add any more work on themselves.
The lunch service, which runs from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, is quick and friendly. Cook might just bring out a bite of flourless chocolate cake if he's feeling generous, and Green is happy to make an afternoon pot of coffee if you ask nicely.
But the backyard beer garden might just be the biggest surprise of all. It's a spacious, grassy area, with a little toy area for kids, a stage for musicians and plenty of chairs and tables. It host plays, bands and just about anyone else willing to step up on stage to perform.
Joe's Place and Connie's Beer Garden