Thursday, September 1, 2011

Whiskey and Steak

Josephine Street
400 East Josephine Street
(next to 281; parking under the freeway)
Josephine Street on Urbanspoon
Their web site says that tree growing in the dining room is 500 years old. I don't buy that; it doesn't look a day over 450. But then, you know businesses are always stretching the truth.

Josephine Street has been around for about 30 years, though I've only been coming for about 20. I don't believe a thing has changed in all that time. The place has an admirable consistency for those who would be regulars; and judging from the people-watching I did there this evening, that'd be just about everybody. I haven't been out for dinner on a Thursday night since the demise of the old Thursday Evening Supper Club in 2001, so maybe it's not as unusual as it seems to come to a place on a weeknight and have a 30-minute wait for a table. But Jo St is just that popular.

It's not hard to see why. The service is casual and unhurried, but effective and extremely friendly, as though the customers were old friends they don't see often enough. The atmosphere is warm and familial, making the other customers seem to you like friends of friends. The buzz in the room never ends, but neither does it intrude. There's music playing, but you'll never follow it and probably won't even notice it. It is, in short, almost a perfect atmosphere for a casual restaurant.

I wish I could say better things about the food, but — strangely, for a restaurant — it's the weak point of the Jo St experience. Their draw is "whiskey and steak," and that is, fundamentally, what they offer, though you can also get chicken and pork and sandwiches and such. Josephine Street, though, doesn't approach it the way the fancy steak houses do. They're serving lower-grade meats, not that USDA Prime stuff you shell out bodily extremeties for at the fancy places. This is just meat, like you'd maybe buy at HEB and cook at home. You can probably do it about as well, but you'd miss the ambience. Josephine Street is a social, even a sensual experience; the food is secondary. (The booze, it should go without saying, is not.) Not great stuff, just good enough that you like it enough to want to come back.

Last city inspection: January 2010
33 demerits (a lot)
They do, on the other hand, do their vegetables better than a lot of other places. Tonight I had the steamed broccoli with my cracked-pepper rib eye (today's special, a 12-ounce steak for $15). The steak was on the fatty side and the cracked pepper was, well, just that. But the side order of broccoli was about as good as a vegetable can get in a restaurant. It was steamed to exactly the right point, bright green and still crispy, and doused with a little lemon juice; I tasted no oil or butter on it. It was even nicely presented, upright in a small bowl, as though it were a monochromatic bouquet of flowers.

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