Joe’s Dining…Not Your Average Diner

Gourmet Girl - July 7, 2015

Joe's Dining is not your average diner. From the New Mexico-raised, grass-finished lamb, beef, bison and other organic ingredients to the highly creative dishes—Grilled Caesar with Watermelon and Green Chile-Corn Croutons; Giant Kobe, Wagyu Beef Hot Dog on a Stadium Bun; and Grilled Scallops on Bok Choi and Eggplant with Cherry Tomato Relishl (and those are just the seasonal specials)—there really is no place like Joe's.

And that's because of co-owners Roland and Sheila Richter, who happened to drive through Santa Fe way back in 1989, while on a trip in their motor home. They were considering a move from Toronto, where they'd lived for 10 years, to the U.S., possibly somewhere in California. But then they stopped in Santa Fe, and forever changed the city's dining scene.

“A friend said they'd spent time in Ojo Caliente, and we ended up there for a great soak,” says Roland, who grew up near Stuttgart, Germany in a farming and winemaking region. “We liked it there, but then we drove through Taos and Santa Fe, and stopped for a day here and we really liked it. We had breakfast at Tia Sophia's. It was great, and the people we met were all wonderful.”

It took a year or so to arrange the move, but when the Richters returned to Santa Fe, Roland had a job cooking at the Palace Restaurant, then helmed by Lino Pertusini. He moved on to Pontchartrain, a Louisiana restaurant in the space now housing Cowgirl BBQ, where his duck and andouille sausage gumbo picked up the Best Appetizer Award at the now defunct Taste of Santa Fe, in 1991. He followed that job with a stint at Walter Burke Catering.

In 1995, Roland stepped out on his own and bought Pizza Etc., which he quickly made famous with his eclectic pies, including the Pontchartrain, made with shrimp, andouille sausage and caramelized onions—a nod to his earlier gig. There, he began using heirloom tomatoes, introduced to him by market farmer Dave Fresques before anybody knew what the heck they were. “They were big, ugly-looking ones, or little ones with green stripes, and people didn't know what to do with them,” he says with a laugh. “We made Margherita Pizza and Caprese salads. We even started making our own mozzarella, and it took off like wildfire.”

In that respect, Roland was one of the early restaurant pioneers of the locavore movement, the farm to table movement and the sustainability movement in Santa Fe. His devotion to using locally grown, organic, healthy ingredients deepened when he opened Joe's Dining, in 2002 to provide “an unpretentious, comfortable atmosphere for diners seeking high quality local food and uncompromising quality of ingredients offered at a fair price,” as the restaurant's website states.

While it may seem today that local, organic ingredients are par for the course in many Santa Fe restaurants Joe's Dining really helped pave the way, serving the aforementioned regional grass-fed beef, lamb and bison as well as chile, eggs, vegetables and fruits, all sourced from the local farmer's market, before these movements became trendy. Today, Roland buys more ingredients from the market than any other restaurant chef in the city, and spent well over $100,000 last year alone.

“It's locally sourced, European influenced American comfort food,” Roland explains, and perusing Joe's menu, you see exactly what he means, from the Roast Duck with Spaetzle and Bavarian Braised Red Cabbage and the Organic Chicken Liver Pate with Onion Marmalade & Cornichons to the daily Blue Plate Specials, including Buttermilk -marinated Fried Chicken , BBQ Beef Brisket, Fish & Chips and more.

Joe's serves up breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, and offers local craft beer on tap as well as wine. An in-house pastry chef bakes cakes, pies and other desserts daily, and even offers gluten-free options like the Dark Chocolate Tart, served with sour cherry compote and whipped cream and inspired by the German Black Forest Cake, Schwarzwaelder Kirschtorte. The restaurant also runs a busy catering service and hosts special events, including the traditional Tuesday Spaghetti and Chianti Night and the annual Burger Week, with a dizzying choice of decadence—Bourbon Chutney Beer Burger, Hawaiian Beef Burger, Pizza Beef Burger, Greek Lamb Burger and more. And though Roland sold Pizza Etc. in 2009 to his manager, Sergio Baray, Joe's menu offers craft pizzas, with crusts made fresh daily with New Mexico organic flour.

Joe's also has a great newsletter, written by Sheila and detailing all that goes on at the diner as well as the couples' devotion to feeding their customers healthy, affordable food grown in a sustainable environment. “We couldn't do it without this community,” Roland says. “They're the ones demanding it and we're really in synch.”