First, Joe’s Older Than Dirt closed after 78 years of being the go-to in the Lyndon neighborhood. Red Barn Kitchen opened in its place, but less than a year later, it closed and Joe’s returned this past spring — or at least a version of Joe’s returned.
Sure, the place physically changed some when it was briefly Red Barn Kitchen, the high-end barbecue concept created by Olé Restaurant Group, including removal of the signature moose statue overlooking New Lagrange Road and some of that rustic charm that made it a neighborhood favorite.
But in addition to the return of the moose, another aspect of Joe’s that returned is hearty, basic fare for a reasonable price.
Online reviewers speak highly of a return to the fun-loving atmosphere of Joe’s, which now gets to happen in a slick patio area during warm weather months, as well as a recaptured split-bar layout with plenty of beer taps and a handsome supply of bourbons. Plate lunches are served Monday through Thursday, and weeknights bring activities like trivia, poker and cornhole.
The single-page menu features plenty of what you came to expect during the original eight-decade run at Joe’s: burgers, sandwiches, wings, nachos and fried appetizers.
There’s also a Platters menu with barbecue, tacos and fish and chips. The plate lunch the day I was there was country-fried steak with mashed potatoes and green beans.
As I perused the menu, a gentleman sitting next to me at the bar polished off a bowl of brisket chili, pushed it toward the bartender and said, “Terrible.” He and the bartender both chuckled, which made it clear the man was a regular.
On the other side of me, another man was trying to fit the leftovers of a giant turkey club on toast into a Styrofoam box. That was one stacked sandwich.
I ended up ordering a brisket platter, substituting the standard coleslaw for green beans, and my food literally came out within four or five minutes. It was startling. Also startling was the amount of food placed before me on a metal tray, given the $12.99 price tag of the meal.
Not only had the coleslaw been delivered alongside macaroni and cheese and the beans, but they were there alongside four thick slabs of brisket.
The coleslaw was mayo-based, which is what I had assumed would be the case — thus, why I substituted. I took a couple of bites, and it was fine as far as that kind of coleslaw goes, but I fear the vinegar-based slaw at River Road BBQ has ruined me for all other slaws.
But the mac and cheese, made with fusilli pasta, was thick, cheesy and hearty. It was relatively unseasoned, but adding salt and pepper brought it to life. I could have eaten a bowl of the stuff by itself for lunch.
The green beans didn’t work as well, as they were pretty bland, even with the liberal addition of onions and bacon. Once again, adding salt and pepper helped, but I got the feeling the beans probably were much better after they simmered for the dinner crowd.
But the brisket, which was seasoned with sprinkles of spicy dry rub, was spot on. It was smoked to perfection, with measured smoke that gave way to the big beef flavor. It was juicy, lined with plenty of fat, and the kicker was plenty of crispy, delicious char. I literally identified one big hunk of char that I saved until the end.
The brisket was garnished with cups of smooth Alabama white sauce and more traditional, tangy red sauce, the latter of which hit my taste buds better. The truth was the brisket was fine without any sauce — kind of like eating a good steak — so I alternated eating it plain and dipping occasional bites in the sauces.
I didn’t get close to finishing the beans or macaroni, but I wasn’t about to let tasty brisket go to waste, per my “No meat left behind” mantra. As I was finishing up, the chili guy asked me if the brisket was good. I answered in the affirmative, and he told me works nearby, comes in often and had been considering ordering it.
“I can’t get past the chili,” he said. “Maybe in a couple of months I will.”
Of course, this only made me want to come back at a later time and try the chili. You know, once the brisket digests. But seriously, with fast and extremely friendly service, and a reasonably priced menu of hearty pub food, it looks like Joe’s really is back, moose and all.
Joe’s Older Than Dirt, located at 8131 New Lagrange Road, is open daily from 11 a.m.-4 a.m.