I’ve been in Brooklyn for about 4 days now, so it’s safe to say I’ve had my share of artisan espresso drinks, “chill vibes” and hey, I’ve even bought a beanie and a scarf…partly because it’s cold here, and partly because I’m surrounded by hipsters.
A good friend of mine, Travis Jones, came to the city two years ago, with an internship at Joanne Trattoria in Manhattan. If you’re familiar with this name, you know it is the restaurant owned by Lady Gaga’s father, Joe.
Being an avid follower of Travis on Facebook, I closely watched his journey from front of the house intern to executive chef and general manager.
Travis is from Missouri. Yes, Missouri.
Growing up, Travis’ sole idea of Italian was Pizza Hut. You wouldn’t guess that now, because he’s fathered some amazing dishes like pork rib ragout and some fantastic lasagna.
Joanne was on the top of my list of places to eat, mostly because I knew Travis would be welcoming and hospitable.
Connected with Chef Art Smith, Travis landed the internship as front of the house manager. While excelling in that role, necessity steered him into the kitchen.
After devastating hurricane Sandy, the staff of the trattoria was stripped to bare bones, including Joe, Cynthia (Joe’s wife), Natali (Joe’s daughter) and Travis.
This is a true story of champions. Joe quickly discovered that Travis could hold his own in the kitchen, and from then on, Travis has reined supreme in the quaint, open kitchen of Joanne.
I embarked for my first subway trip since moving, a daunting idea, that was as anti climactic as that Mariah Carey movie (the one that’s not Precious.)
I quickly found my way to Joanne, and was greeted by dazzling signage that set the tone for the meal.
I sent Travis a quick text alerting him that I had arrived, and headed in.
Imagine the coziest little Italian restaurant you could imagine. Classy decor, rustic impression and warmth…that’s Joanne.
I was met with a smile, a hug and a comfortable little table in the dining room.
After a quick tour of the restaurant, including the walk in and small stackable ovens that produce the baked goods, I sat down with Travis and he recommended some martinis. I told him I was nervous about commuting home, so he recommended and quickly presented the blueberry casino, a sweet martini with hints of blueberry and citrus.
A quiet staff member quickly offered water, and poured some.
Travis insisted I try a winter salad they feature, with beets, arugula, red quinoa and a mustard vinaigrette.
A delicious salad indeed. The inspiration for this dish came from Natali, who has been on a health kick as of lately.
I mentioned that most beet salads feature some sort of cheese, typically goat but that can vary.
Travis explained that in previous services, dishes were finished with fine Parmesan automatically. After having them sent back by people unaware of the cheese, he decided to omit the cheese and save the kitchen staff some extra steps.
The salad had the earthy element of beets, the peppery arugula, hearty quinoa and the spice of the vinaigrette all made for a well composed dish.
Next was the entree. One of Travis’ favorites (and soon to be mine), the pork rib ragout hit my table promptly, and perfumed the air with scents of rosemary and tomato.
I opted for fresh pappardelle pasta, which I learned had been made by the current bartender, who offers to lend a hand in the kitchen during day time hours.
The ragout was simply satisfying. I’m not the least bit Italian, but this dish made me feel like a guido (and I mean that in the least offensive way possible.)
The chit chat at the table ranged from Travis’ influences, to his freedom in the kitchen, to his personal life…or lack there of.
I learned that Travis enjoyed the occasional White Castle binge, and finds himself disappointed at other restaurants, therefore prefers to cook for himself.
Menu items at Joanne are often brain children that Travis makes come to life, just like a kitchen Doctor Frankenstein.
When Travis craves a jelly roll, he makes a jelly roll.
When Travis makes a jelly roll, he doesn’t stop there.
New as a special, the tiramisu roll was suddenly acquainted with my palette. Tiramisu is my favorite dessert, and this version delivered.
Paired with an espresso, the meal capped off perfectly.
It just happened that the day I visited Joanne, was Travis’ 2 year anniversary with the restaurant, and that was apparent by the flowers and praise by owners and customers alike.
A meal at Joanne will satiate all the senses, and you will not walk away having anything left to be desired.
If you’re in Manhattan, around 68th street, pay a visit to Joanne and be sure to say hi to Travis Jones, a staple at this authentic Italian hot spot.