Joe's Of Westlake
Bruce and I use to live near the Westlake district in Daly City.
Honestly, I kinda hated Daly City. It had the worst weather in the summer time. You could drive over to San Bruno and it would be gorgeously hot and sunny, then come back home to Daly City and it would be so cold and foggy you felt as if you could spontaneouly break out into Morrissey songs, and actually you hate Morrissey.
All of a sudden, "this is the coastal town that they forgot to close down – Armegeddon come Armegeddon come" made sense – as did the chorus to that song, "everyday is like Sunday".
But for 3 long years I called the town that inspired the song "Little Boxes" home. Say what you will about alcoholism, but at least my addiction gave me something to focus on while I spent countless days inside my tickytacky box.
When we moved to the City we kept our San Mateo County library cards active and, on the weekends, we occasionally commute from San Francisco to Daly City or South City to use the library, since San Francisco's library system is notoriously sucktastic.
Today we found ourselves checking out the newly remodeled Westlake Shopping Center with its multitude of souless new chain restaurants featuring generic takes on Greek and Italian food and a god-awful Home Depot, of which I make an effort not to shop at since if they drug-test their employees, it should make sense that they drug-test their customers – of which most would surely fail.
Even I, myself, have been known to eat a lot of bagels with poppy seeds.
Besides, there hasn't been once where I've been in Home Depot when you could actually find someone who works there who wasn't so clueless that, for all you know, they could've been spinning on hillbilly heroin, weed, and Red Bull.
It's useless to figure out the reasoning behind drug testing since A) testing for stupidity makes more sense, B) boozehounds are more dangerous than weed whackers, and C) sparkin' up the chron-chron with your friends on the weekend means that you have a healthy social life, as opposed to being an angry loner – the typical profile of a serial killer and/or domestic terrorist.
With this in mind, our waitress at Joe's of Westlake seriously needed to get blunted.
Once we were seated, she came on like a breeze of frigid air. Considering it was pretty warm outside and that we had crossed the street from a brand-new box store hell to the venerable uber-dive of Joe's, it was refreshing, if not a little startling.
She was the stereotype you hear about in American mythology about hardened, chain-smoking waitresses, only she leaned more to the severe Victorian school marm side of the equation. If this was America's Next Top School Marm, I'm pretty sure Tyra, Twiggy, and Miss J would give her points for being well lit.
The migraine-causing glare from the huge pane-glass windows made it impossible for anyone facing them to see anything other than shadows, and suddenly, standing over me, was a large, imposing, and intimidating shadow waiting for me to order drinks.
From the get go, this woman scared me. Her tightly and neatly coiffeured hair, the sharp features of her face, and the dead look in her eye gave me the impression that she wasn't above stabbing someone with a dull and dirty steak knife if she had to. I begged Bruce to make up his mind – and hurry.
It was easy to know your place at Joe's with this woman. You were one of those cute and furry little animals you see in nature shows rubbing two seeds together while a few feet away a vicious and hungry predator eyes every move you make.
Every word she muttered oozed contempt. Simple words such as "water" and "tea" transformed into expletives and accusations when leaving her dry thin lips.
She brought us bread to start and I had to remind Bruce to keep it down when we started capping on the fact that it comes without a towel between it and the well-used bread basket. Not only is this a dive-worthy presentation, it's a dive-worthy act. In fact, add "dirty bread basket" to your "greasy spoon" lexicon.
Our waitress, whose name might have been Mrs. Prudence Higglebee or (going with the ex-Nazi angle) Frau Helga Von Reichstag, came to take our order. Thankfully Bruce didn't dick around and ordered the first thing that came to his mind – Fish and Chips. I ordered the open-faced sirloin sandwich with veggies ($10.85).
Upon hearing my request, Prudence shot back that there wasn't any bread, to which I, as nicely as possible, murmured that that was great. However, too afraid to think straight at the time, I assumed that meant no bread on the side.
After taking our order, she brought us our tea which was practically water with a little caramel food coloring. It came in a glass about the size of a juice jar and during the course of our meal was refilled once, for which I was grateful for.
Today was the first time we had been to Joe's in at least 10 years, and even then it was only once, at night, and I have no solid memory of it other than the waiters in tux's and the hipsters who stuck out amongst the annoyed seniors back when Swing and Lounge was in fashion (the second time). Our trip to Joe's this time was a unique, daytime event and, judging later from our experience, will remain that way: unique.
While waiting for our food, Bruce and I (as quietly as possible) joked about the harsh service and the clientele, who were hmmm, let's say, diverse. It was hodge podge of people, many obese and/or old, if there ever was one.
The waiters and bus boys were dressed in formal wear, as were the cooks and waitresses (in pantsuits). The juxtaposition of the bus boys in bow-ties with the biker with hairy shoulders, wearing nothing more than jeans and a leather vest, sitting at the bar inspired much snarking at our table.
The restaurant's character is a throwback to another era, one that is usually found with concrete shoes at the bottom of the closest body of water. The set-up of the dining room and the vibe coming from the open kitchen reminded me of Joe's city cousin, Original Joes, only not as many on-duty police officers, not as dingy, and not as dark. It was the Suburban Joe and, really, that best describes it.
It has a "swinging" bar to the side as you first walk in, but in the middle of the day, it's as sad as any old duffer dive bar, complete with the kind of people you normally would find in a dark and smelly bar in the middle of a sunny weekend afternoon.
You know, health nuts.
Also to the side, as you walk in, is another dining room, where it so happened that something was going down as we were leaving. Taking a wild guess, I would say that it was likely a game of Bunco or Mexican Train being played by folks from the local senior's club.
When I saw Prudence/Helga marching towards us from the kitchen area with two plates in her hands, two thoughts came to mind. The first one was a feeling of relief since, at that point, I was really hungry. The second thought was "oh god, I hope she didn't poison us out of spite".
I thought Bruce was pushing it when he asked for hot sauce, but at this point she couldn't add any more rat poison or Visine to our food without us seeing her – or could she?
Bruce's fish were the kind that had been previously breaded, cooked, frozen and then deep-fried to order. And let's just assume that the fries weren't cut to order and then fried ala In-N-Out style. Luckily he had enough tartar and hot sauce to make his $9.95 fish and chips palatable. Later, when asked how it was, he replied "deep-fried – that's all I could taste".
I, on the other hand, didn't have anything deep-fried although my veggies were more overcooked than if they had been. Nothing says "The Fifties" like pre-cut frozen veggies steamed or boiled to death. The end result is a kind of veggie mush on its way to being a puree. Better to gum it with, I suppose. In addition to adding copious amounts of salt and pepper, I took a lemon meant for my "tea" and squeezed it over the veggies.
Better, yet still mush. I should've added a few pats of butter to it and made a proper puree using the over-sized, arthritic-friendly handle of my utencilware. Or I could've taken the extra-large container of pre-grated "parm" that was sitting on the side and given it a couple of shakes.
I'll be sure to remember this place when I get my dentures, that is if it's still around (I'm guessing it will be).
With that said, I should probably stock up on the Polident since the "sandwich" I ordered had meat so tough I would've had to soak those dentures afterwards for hours with multiple changes of water. To the cook's credit, the meat was just as I had ordered it, medium-rare, but was served without seasoning or sauce. It was also really tough and chewy; a sure sign that we're talking bottom sirloin here (as if I should've expected different?)
Also, you may notice that on my plate is a hunk of grilled meat and a side of veggies. You may wonder, like I did, "where's the sandwich"? This is, I guess, what Frau Waitress meant when she said "no bread"; not what I assumed meant a side of bread.
Interesting what comprises an open-faced sandwich at Joe's.
It would've been helpful to have a little bread to soak up the juices (I wasn't touching that bread-basket bread), since I ended up splattering a little juice on my new thrift store Guayabera. This didn't add to my fine dining enjoyment, but it certainly did add to the overall ambiance of my Joe's of Westlake lunch.
Normally I wouldn't use A-1 steak sauce on a good piece, or any piece, of meat, but desperate times call for desperate measures. It was more of a lubricant than a sauce anyway.
After finishing up, our lovely waitress brought the check and I tipped her more than I should've, since she was the type who would follow you out and drop-kick your ass in the parking lot. So all of you sorry waiters and waitresses who think the world owes you a living, learn from the old pros: intimidation gets the goods.
And thus we left Joe's of Westlake - I, with an odd taste of perfume in my mouth, and Bruce with a coating of grease in his, fondly wishing it well until we see it again.
Say, in another 10 years or so?