Joe’s Special

original joesJoe’s Joe’s Special is a dish that old-timer’s in San Francisco still rave about  (even though the restaurants closed in 2014).

My mom loved to go to Original Joe’s just to eat the Joe’s Special.  It really did look like a mess on a plate. It’s what my parents would refer to as a slumgullian dish (slumgullian technically refers to a type of stew, but Mark Twain called a liquid mix, and later generations just used it to describe any mishmash of odd things combined).

Joe’s Special was a mix of ground beef, and eggs, and mushrooms, and spinach, and cheese all mixed up in a mess, and served for dinner.

It was the signature dish of Original Joe’s a restaurant in San Francisco that was as San Francisco as the Golden Gate Bridge and fog. The restaurants, when we went to them, were big booths with dark patent leather upholstery, and a counter that overlooked the kitchen. There were several of them, all different (unlike a modern cookie-cutter chain restaurant) but similar menus.

The history: In the 1920’s a group of entrepreneurs joined together to open a restaurant that would do exhibition cooking — where the customers could see inside the kitchen. The term “Joe” was a generic name for a good guy, and dated back to the wild Barbary Coast days. They opened the first restaurant New Joe’s.

Joe’s Special became their signature dish — with a rather mundane origin story. (Drunk customer came in late at night, wanted a spinach omelette, but wanted some meat in it. All that was left was some hamburger, so it was tossed in the mix. Meh. Whatever.)

New Joe’s had some problems between partners, so Louis Rocca and Ante Rodin (a Croatian immigrant) teamed up and opened a small 14-stool counter restaurant, that later grew to a full dining room, and then to several different spots around town, and later in San Jose.

They dubbed their restaurant “Original Joe’s” as a dig on “New Joe’s”.  Theirs became a popular chain featuring Italian-American Cuisine, some variations on the typical/standard hamburger, some other dishes (which I don’t remember) and the slumgullian-y Joe’s Special.

My mother was especially fond of it, and insisted there was “no way to make it at home, right“.  <eye roll> “Whatever Mom.”

 Joe’s Special (serves 2-4)

1 pound ground beef  (the menu said ground sirloin)

4 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup minced up brown button mushrooms

2 cups fresh spinach, chopped, blanched in salted boiling water until limp, drain well

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup cooking sherry

salt/pepper

1/2 cup Romano cheese, grated

Heat olive oil until very hot, add ground beef and cook until crumbled and brown, add mushrooms, saute for several minutes until they are slightly soft. Add sherry, and stir well (the alcohol in the sherry cooks off).  Add spinach, and stir in spinach and cook until extra liquid is reduced, and spinach is well heated. Turn down heat to medium.

Add eggs, and mix them well into the mixture. Cook until firm (not runny). Remove from heat, and stir in cheese.

(Note: swiss chard or kale will also work as a substitute for the spinach.)

Serve with a good red wine, and sourdough bread.

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