It wasn’t quite midnight the first time I walked into Joe’s Midnight Run. But it was late enough – 10:30 on a Sunday – that it qualified, in my book, as a midnight run. Seated on the patio, I watched some of Steven Spielberg’s 1991 flick Hook on the big-screen TVs while I waited for a late supper. “I’m a little jealous of you, sir,” said the server as he set the foie gras in front of me. “It’s what we call PB&J for adults.”
So it was. The slice of rich waterfowl liver sat alongside a skewer of toast and spreads of cashew butter and blackberry jam. It’s grilled, like everything else, in a wood-fired oven. (Chef Michael Goldsmith refuses to indulge even a single gas range.) It’s a delightful rendition of the high-toned dish, albeit one so decadent, I feel certain to be tormented in the afterlife by a flock of enraged geese.
The foie was the pinnacle of the menu. But subsequent visits proved it wasn’t the only highlight. Housed in the shell of the former Joe’s Drive-Thru Liquors, a longtime late-night booze purveyor located in the heart of the super-hot Seventh Street dining drag, the diner – which opened in late spring – has a winning ‘80s and ‘90s pop-culture theme. The website defines it as “’80s, ’90s & ’40s,” in reference to the 40 oz. malt liquors that are served in brown paper bags, a further nod to the joint’s proud heritage.
At least one other item on the menu is a blatant period reference: The Notorious B.I.G. Burger, which heaps pulled pork and crunchy pork rinds atop a cheeseburger until the bun becomes almost irrelevant. Every element of this exercise in excess is delicious, if not necessarily cohesive as a sandwich.
Less flamboyant among the “Biggies” entrée list is the salmon. Finely grilled as the fish is, the accompanying veggie medley – carrots, scallions, fennel, etc. – almost upstages it. The same is true of the scallops, listed on the “Shorties” shared plates menu. They’re plump and sweet with just the right tinge of brininess, and they rest atop a pile of kale and fingerling taters with pancetta that could almost have stood alone. The Korean-style short ribs are a meaty treat, although the accompanying kimchi may be a little mild for a purist’s taste.
From the menu’s “8 Dollar Desserts,” I selected tarte tatin, described to me as a “deconstructed apple pie.” I suppressed the urge to ask if it was a post-modern deconstructed apple pie or a Dadaist apple pie, and just dug into the festive, great-tasting ring of apple slices on the open-faced crust.
Joe’s Midnight Run
Cuisine: Modern eclectic
Contact: 6101 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 480-459-4467
Hours: M-F 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; Sa-Su 9:30 a.m.-2 a.m.
Highlights: Foie gras ($24); Notorious B.I.G. Burger ($14);
salmon ($14); scallops ($14); short ribs ($14);
bone marrow ($14); tarte tatin ($8)
Handsomely designed in that trendy, exposed T-beam kind of way, with a handsome clientele to match, Joe’s Midnight Run is recognizably a “modern” American restaurant; which is to say, it aims for a sort of lowbrow-highbrow culinary burlesque – e.g. the PB&J foie – and executes it competently. Still, I found myself resisting the more blatant stunts – JMR’s bone marrow, for instance. It tastes great, but $14 for a teaspoon of food just rubs my simple Midwestern nature the wrong way.
I know that in another Robin Williams fave, Dead Poets Society, Williams channeled Thoreau and advised his students to suck the marrow out of life. But there’s got to be a cheaper way to do it.
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