Stepping foot into Joe's Bakery & Coffee Shop is like entering something of a time capsule; its bright yellow paint and Miami Dolphins' blue trim coat walls contain framed black and white photos of family and military members alike, while the occasional snapshots of politicians such as Joe Biden or Bill Clinton are scattered throughout. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry's letter wishing Joe Avila a happy birthday can also be found on one of the walls. Yet, with the exception of its decals and large sign clearly displaying the words Joe's Bakery, the bones of the building might suggest it as a meat market or convenience store rather than a restaurant.
While the Avila family business dates back to the mid-1930's, Joe's Bakery was not established until 1962, but in that time the bakery has built a reputation on serving up traditional Mexican cuisine, and the added temptation of homemade desserts encased near the entrance leaves one to contemplate more than just a conclusive cup of coffee (notice how I didn't say Joe).
My meal took place on a quiet Thursday morning; one shrouded by an overcast sky and the conclusion of a breakfast rush, both of which seemed to contributed to a pace of service that was like a slow exhale. Having decided to sit at the back bar counter, my view into the kitchen was essentially unobstructed, giving way to the sights and sounds of playful banter among staff, as well as the slow spin of a circular ticket holder and the occasional ding from the appointed 'to-go' bell. My back faced the dining room, but a quick survey would reveal that I was one of the few younger inhabitants - a trend that extended to patrons as well as staff. Framed art, the family photos and food drawings washed over the bright yellow walls while a steady stream of trumpets and violas pumped through the juke box. Little was left to assume that not much had changed since 62'.
My server, while cordial, was hardly ardent in extending herself on anything further than the basics of coffee, water and which variation I was to have my eggs, protein and tortillas (more or less, I knew what I was coming for). After considering the chorizo, I selected the Barbacoa Plate ($8.29) in hopes it would lead to the unraveling of some treasured family recipe for treating the meat.
Rising steadily, the pace of service fell in line with the approaching noon hour, though the time it took for my food to appear in the service window across from me was minimal. With a presentation that seemed very uniform, my dish was served with utensils, two corn tortillas, and a side dish of salsa verde. Uniform is the correct connotation in that the rather vanilla way of presenting this dish was presumably designed for a fast turnaround on ticket times, and consistency, after all, is key in this business. To that point, there was nothing sexy about the division of choppy eggs, lumped meat, sprawled out beans and limp potatoes - but I wasn't going for sexy. I wanted a genuine recipe that might just be memorable.
With the first few bites - a mangled mixture of the fixings before being stuffed into a tortilla - I was rather unimpressed. The meat lacked a sizzle, neither texture nor spice could set it apart from any other shredded barbacoa in Austin; though the eggs were sufficiently scrambled to a consistency that remained airy and full. As they say: beans will be beans, and these lacked any distinguishing quality; meanwhile the soggy texture of the potatoes rounded out an all together underwhelming assortment of ingredients.
Then again, a deconstructed breakfast taco is hardly impressive in any situation, and the sum is almost certain to be greater than its parts - this instance was no different. When combined and dressed with a dollop of salsa verde, the ingredients offered an array of rich flavors that were creamy, salty and a little spicy to create a rather satisfying taco. Texture seemed to be lacking, however, and I was left to wonder if the dish couldn't have been heightened with even a small portion of diced tomatoes or shredded lettuce.
The only check back that was made by the server was to inquire if more tortillas were needed. Sure they were, but the food was good, too…(thanks). After eyeing the case of jeweled desserts for the duration of my meal, I caved and bought an oatmeal raisin cookie (best 50 cents I ever spent).
If you are to dine at Joe's Bakery, come early (they close at 3pm) and without the expectation of server spiels or exotic culinary concoctions, but trust that you'll at least be getting a share of what the restaurant was founded on: classic Mexican cuisine with a relaxed atmosphere and outpour of rich family history.
(Items ordered: Barbacoa Plate, Oatmeal Cookie)
Rating: 6 & 1/2 Soggy Potatoes (out of Ten)
2305 E 7th St, Austin, TX 78702