Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Joseph’s Culinary Pub in Santa Fe continues to quench the foodie appetite

Polenta Fries at Josephs Culinary Pub are fried in duck fat until golden brown, served with a quarter of a grilled radicchio and dressed with a gorgonzola dolce sauce. (Heather HUnter/for the Journal)

With more than 300 Santa Fe restaurants, there are copious choices for whatever occasion, time of day or meal your heart desires. But there is a special restaurant in a particularly interesting space that holds near and dear to many people’s hearts. Established in 2013 and featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” in 2019, this restaurant is neither a diner, a drive-in nor a dive – and they will soon be featured again in a follow-up segment.

Joseph’s Culinary Pub is something altogether singular in that it’s homey but not kitschy, high-impression dining but not fine dining and with a pre-determined pub slant in a cozy farmhouse setting with gorgeous flagstone floors. With so many accolades under their belt, don’t think the team at Joseph’s Culinary Pub sits back and enjoys the continuous praises without constantly assessing and reassessing their culinary approach. Each day, this well-aligned team continues to push the envelope and make food that is not only fun and inventive but absolutely fabulous and worthy of attention and repetition.

Sweet Spicy Glazed Duck is drizzled with a red wine reduction and served with a spectacular side of Thai-style charred cabbage at Josephs Culinary Pub. (Heather HUnter/for the Journal)

When Joseph Wrede relocated his restaurant from Taos to Santa Fe for a third iteration, the mother of his children turned the space at 428 Agua Fria into a work of art. Literally, everything in the restaurant has been hand-painted, handmade and inspired by Kristin Bortles, an artist and interior designer. From the curtains painted on the windows along Agua Fria to the coffee and tea-stained duck egg shell chandelier to the table tops to the wall décor, everything was touched and created by Kristin. Even the stunning plates reflect the artistic input throughout the restaurant and interior décor. Each plate is handmade in Arroyo Seco by a potter named Logan Wannamaker. While Kristin was tricking out the interior, Joseph crafted a suggestive, playful and absolutely delicious menu with creative titles that incorporate duck and duck fat in every way you can imagine.

General manager Starr Bowers says, “Joe loves the flavor duck fat imparts in the food and he is always looking for alternative ingredients that aren’t normal.” She adds, “The Lamb Burger reigns supreme with us. Joe’s use of duck fat is only rivaled by his use of lamb, a New Mexico staple. Alternatively, Joe has focused on providing vegetarians and gluten-free diners with sensational options – the dessert menu is entirely gluten-free.”

On the night of our visit, we were two female diners in a sea of ​​cozy couples and larger groups. Nestled in a corner with jars of pickled local chanterelle mushrooms lined up by our table, we had both privacy and the all the attention we needed from the capable staff. Complimentary dinner rolls are served with herb butter to activate the palate. While the global wine list focuses on small producers and natural wine makers, they also serve craft beers on tap and local spirits from Altar Spirits, a neighbor in the Railyard.

To whet our appetite on a bustling Saturday night, we started with New Mexico Lamb Tartare ($24) and Polenta Fries ($18). Coming from a Lebanese background, my dining companion was elated to scoop up glorious lamb tartare onto homemade tortilla chips and top with a bit of fresh arugula. Her smile said everything I needed to know about where this dish transported her.

New Mexico Lamb Tartare at Joseph’s Culinary Pub in Santa Fe. (Heather HUnter/for the Journal)

Everyone loves the polenta fries and now I know why. Fat polenta sticks are fried in duck fat until golden brown, served with a quarter of a grilled radicchio and dressed with an exquisite gorgonzola dolce sauce. Crispy, smoky, earthy and bitter, this is a well-executed dish that will have vegetarians swooning.

To cleanse the palate, we shared the Grilled Peach & Arugula Salad ($16). Thoughtfully, the kitchen split the salad for us. Not too spicy arugula, grilled peach slices, spiced walnuts and feta mingles with a champagne vinaigrette and balsamic reduction. Simple and good, this was the perfect green prelude to our stellar entrees.

The Fish du Jour was Mahi Mahi ($40), one of my favorite fish that I ate liberally when I lived in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. The mahi was crisp on the outside, moist and tender on the inside and a great lead actor with the support of creamed corn with green chile and rice pilaf. There was just enough juice in the creamed corn that the rice soaked it up to impart a beautiful flavor. If only corn and chiles were in season all year, this would be another must-have, signature dish on Joseph’s menu.

My dining companion had the Sweet & Spicy Glazed Half Duck ($38) and couldn’t quit raving. I felt like I was sitting with Sally in the classic “When Harry Met Sally” scene at Katz’s Deli. While eating the duck, she exclaimed, “It’s tender, meaty, juicy and fabulous. The meat is falling off the bone. Oh man, it’s good!” Glazed with orange and star anise, the duck is drizzled with a red wine reduction and served with a spectacular side of Thai-style charred cabbage. The accompanying yogurt sauce with basil, blackberries and a touch of honey bring a bit of coolness and sweetness to offset the spicy duck, which she proclaimed as she licked the cup clean, “I need more of this to take home for my leftovers.” And the waitperson happily secured her a side of the yogurt sauce in her to-go box.

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As life happens for Santa Feans, someone we knew at the bar sent us drinks. And a co-worker of my dining companion who knew we were dining at Joseph’s called and ordered us his favorite dessert, the Cloudcake ($14). He wanted to make certain we experienced this incredibly light and gorgeous dessert. And who wouldn’t love an Italian meringue cake that is at least five inches high?

The Cloudcake at Josephs Culinary Pub is an Italian meringue cake with dollops of crme anglaise and caramel for dipping and the fried tarragon sprinkled on top of the cake. (Heather HUnter/for the Journal)

When I thanked him via text, he responded with, “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy dessert and that’s kind of the same thing.” I totally agree. The Cloudcake is a phenomenal dessert that barely takes up any room in your stomach but feels utterly luxurious. Similar to a floating island, this Italian meringue cake is light and airy and melts on your tongue like cotton candy. Dollops of crème anglaise and caramel for dipping and the fried tarragon sprinkled on top of the cake adds a touch of anise to this legendary dessert, while the grapefruit segments cleanse your palate between bites.

In a city peppered with so many dining experiences, Joseph’s holds the title for fun and inventive food. Of the environment Joseph and his team have created, general manager Starr Bowers proudly says, “We strive to have fun and make this an experience worthy of getting out of your house. We like to engage the senses and have fun with flavors and textures.” And that they do with aplomb.

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