If you've ever seen the Joe's Real BBQ logo, you'll find a picture of a man fully decked out in a fedora, button up shirt and tie, wire rimmed glasses and the apron representing his ability to get his hands dirty -- that's Joe Johnston.
He originally went to school for engineering (U.S. Naval Academy - Annapolis, MD and Stanford) and worked as an engineering consultant for 7 years. When you read his project blog The Roaster Project, you will now know where his attention to detail comes from.
Joe Johnston is certainly polished, well-dressed, well-spoken, well-traveled but he's also a farmer's son (he grew up on the family farm that is now Agritopia) and wants to preserve his down-home vision for Phoenix with farmland, food prepared well and community. He wants to do this with his "lovely Lebanese wife," Cindy, and his two married sons, James and William, both involved in the foodservice industry.
If you've grabbed a coffee at Coffee Plantation (co-founded in 1989), eaten ribs at Joe's Real BBQ (co-founded 1998), devoured a burger at Joe's Farm Grill (co-founded in 2006), bitten into a pizza at Liberty Market (2008) or cruised around the well-manicured rows and homes at Agrigopia, you've seen Joe's vision. In addition to The Roaster Project, Johnston is also planning the "EpiCenter at Agritopia" as a food centric distination and yet another restaurant.
We asked the high stylin' Joe Johnston to give us his perfect food day. He hopped on his Vespa and gave us a tour of his Arizona:
Breakfast: We start on a Friday in Flagstaff at 6:30a at the finest bohemian coffee house in the U.S., Macy's European Coffeehouse. Since 1980, Tim Macy has been roasting his own and doing Viennese style coffee drinks. I always get a double Macy's Special, which is topped with schlag (runny whipped cream), spice sprinkles, and some sort of art. We hang out enjoying the hippie-ness (not hip-ness). Around 7:30a we fire up the Vespa and ride "two-up" down 89A into Oak Creek Canyon down to the most beautiful place in AZ , Garland's Oak Creek Lodge. On Friday, they serve pan-fried local rainbow trout with corn oysters along with black powder biscuits. The historic pine log lodge is rich with history and we've been going there since we were little kids (I caught my first trout there at age 5).
Second Lunch: Heading out to Tempe for a second lunch, we hook up with our Italian scooter gang, "Lions of Scoodah" (@scoodah) and have lunch at the coal mine-like Cornish Pasty Company. A pint of Guinness and a lamb vindaloo pasty (both sauces - yogurt/mint and tahini) at the counter are one of absolute favorite experiences. It is fun to interact with the staff as they work feverishly making pasties from scratch.
Snack: The gang rides out and we head straight down I-10 to Tucson where we do a small sampler of Sonoran hot dog purveyors. First we head to South Tucson and hit El Guero Canelo and BK Hot Dogs. These original locations of the local chains are only one step up from the lone cart experience. We savor the bacon wrapped hot dogs with all of the traditional fixings and split some caramelos. The condiment bars at both places are excellent: I love the roasted peppers and the avocado salsa. Heading up 6th, we hit a favorite mobile cart, Ruiz's Hot Dogs. A heated debate ensues over which place is best and why. With no consensus I tell them to get lost and head back to Phoenix.
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Happy Hour: Cindy and I need to calm our jangled nerves, so we go to happy hour at Scott & Company. I go for a "Make It Rain" and Cindy goes for a "Earl Grey Sour", both of which are crazy concoctions that are satisfyingly complex.
Dinner: On our final leg, we scooter over rolling hills and winding roads to Sonoita. Arriving at 7p, we meet up with Todd and Kelly Bostock of Dos Cabezas Winery for dinner at Canela Bistro, right next to their winery. One of the top five restaurants in the state (in my opinion), we ask chef John Hall what he would order, knowing his commitment to local Santa Cruz County and AZ products. We then have Todd match up local wine with our dining choices. The final meal enjoyed with great company tops off a day of sampling some of the best food experiences Arizona has to offer.