When I started traveling a bunch for the job, my wife Laura would email me a list of some of the coolest places to eat wherever I was headed.
She knew the kinds of places I liked, too: mom and pop, off the beaten path-type places that come highly-recommended by the locals.
Most of her suggestions came from the Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
Let me take a second here, first, to defend host Guy Fieri. He has become, over the past few years, the butt of many a late-night joke. I’m all for mocking the famous, but I think poor Guy gets a bad rap. I don’t mind his little catch-phrases and on-camera sandwich biting. It’s a food show! He’s gonna eat! Side note: I do personally disdain the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Food host Andrew Zimmern. I don’t even like the concept of the show to begin with. Hey, let’s find something that looks disgusting, smells like sewage and looks like the inside of a rotted goat’s corpse. And then we’ll have our host slurp it, smack it, and make other disgusting noises with his mouth and we’ll zoom in real close and put the microphone right in his face so the sounds are THX quality. And by the way, let’s go ahead and do an episode about a tribe in Tanzania that actually eats the insides of a rotted goat!
No thanks, I’m full. And stop smacking!
OK, I digress. Sorry. Bottom line: Guy Fieri is unfairly derided.
So one of her suggestions early on was Joe’s Farm Grill in Gilbert, Ariz. She actually was on this trip with me in 2008 and even though she’s a vegetarian, she was equally intrigued by the online menu. Since that first encounter, every time I’m in Phoenix, I make a trip out to Gilbert, which is about a 30-minute drive southeast from Sky Harbor Airport. It’s worth the drive.
The restaurant, which sits on a working family farm (hence, Joe’s Farm Grill) serves a wide-ranging menu of all the major food groups to entice me: Burgers, pizza, fried shrimp, hot dogs, barbecue and ice cream. Before you get concerned that Joe is trying to do too much, which often means none of it is award-worthy, relax. Joe knows what he’s doing. I’ve tried it all, except for the barbeque. And it’s all freaking awesome. There are a few reasons I haven’t tried the BBQ. A) I’m from Texas AND Kansas, so my BBQ palate is of the highest calibration. I don’t want to be disappointed by what otherwise is one of my favorite restaurants in America. B) Honestly, I’m usually over-ordering on any trip to Joe’s because my experiences are so far and few between. I want to gorge on as much as I can. (I warned you before that I’m disgusting.) So adding BBQ anything to an order that already includes a cheeseburger or basket of fried shrimp is too much, even for me.
Joe’s Farm Grill opened in Gilbert, Ariz., in October 2006. It sits on a working family farm.
After a recent Rangers game in Mesa, I decided I was close enough to book it down to Gilbert for a Joe’s Farm Grill fix. It was getting late on a Tuesday, so I figured by 8 pm I’d have the run of the place. No. Not even close. The line was out the door. See:
This put me in a tough spot. One of my food commandments is Thou Shall Not Wait (more than 15 minutes) For Food. I decided to bite the bullet, because chances were strong I was not going to make it back near Gilbert again.
Luckily, the line moved fast and I was ordering my basket of fried shrimp, grilled chicken sandwich with bacon and avocado, and orders of onion rings and garlic fries. Also, the shrimp came with coleslaw, or was the best option to go with shrimp, so I’m not apologizing for it. Hey, you’ve got to have sides or the main dish gets lonely.
I ordered it to go for two reasons: 1) It was packed in the dining room and I don’t like to eat outside (another one of my food commandments), even though Joe’s does have an ample outside dining area. 2) If I order it to go, I can pretend, if necessary, that half the food is for my wife. This way I can proudly order my disgusting amount of food.
But when my order was up most of the dining room was open. So I sat down and ate. In front of others still in line. In front of horrified staff. In front of God. I ate until I couldn’t eat anymore. I ate until my pants had to be released a tad when I got in the car to make the hour drive back to Surprise.
15 Minutes I’ll wait to be seated at a crowded restaurant. One of my Food Commandments is Thou Shall Not Wait For Food. On March 8, for Joe’s Farm Grill, I broke my own commandment.
Look, I’m not proud of any of this. But a reporter reports the facts.
What makes Joe’s food so good? It’s beyond fresh and you can taste it in all the ingredients. The half-pound of tiger shrimp tastes like it came out of the ocean 10 minutes ago. How exactly that’s possible in Arizona I don’t know, but they do. The burgers aren’t the best I’ve ever had but they’re excellent and bow down to very few others. The chicken sandwiches, including the one I ordered, are all-natural, hormone and antibiotic free, and marinated in fresh thyme. The hand-breaded onion rings are in a rosemary-dill panko and the garlic fries are tossed in olive oil, Pecorino Romano, herbs and come with big chunks of fresh garlic clinging to them.
They also have fresh fried green beans and zucchini slices, which I’ve had before when Laura was with me. They’re all bursting with freshness under the delicately crisp batter. The BBQ chicken breast pizza, which includes bacon and blue cheese, is as good as you’ll find. I wanted to order it this night but my gluttony is already off the charts. This would have been a bridge too far, even for me.
I was so stuffed I had to pass on dessert, which includes milkshakes, sweet potato pie and house-made cheesecake. Warning: If I pass on dessert, you know my stomach is about to blow a gasket.
By the way, Joe’s opens at 8 a.m. every day. From the looks of the breakfast menu and online pictures a morning visit might very well do me in. At some point, Joe, I’ll come calling one morning. You better have multiple cooks working that shift.
I’ve been six times since 2008 and have left every time barely able to walk. Nothing says world-class restaurant like a patron struggling to walk to their car on the way out. Until next time, Joe!