Josephs Culinary Pub’s polenta fries are fried in duck fat until golden brown, served with a quarter of grilled radicchio and dressed in a gorgonzola dolce sauce. (Heather Hunter/for the Journal)

With over 300 Santa Fe restaurants, there are plenty of choices for any occasion, time of day, or meal your heart desires. But there is a special restaurant in a particularly interesting space that is close to the hearts of many people. Founded in 2013 and featured in Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” in 2019, this restaurant is not a diner, drive-in or dive – and they will soon be featured again in a segment feedback.

Joseph’s Culinary Pub is something quite unique in that it’s intimate but not kitsch, impressive but unrefined cuisine and a pre-determined pub slant in a cozy farmhouse setting with gorgeous flagstone floors. With so many accolades under its belt, don’t think the team at Joseph’s Culinary Pub sits back and enjoys continued accolades without constantly evaluating and re-evaluating its culinary approach. Every day, this well-aligned team continues to push the boundaries and produce dishes that are not only fun and inventive, but absolutely fabulous and worthy of attention and repetition.

Sweet and spicy glazed duck is drizzled with a red wine reduction and served with a spectacular side of charred Thai cabbage at Josephs Culinary Pub. (Heather Hunter/for the Journal)

When Joseph Wrede moved his restaurant from Taos to Santa Fe for a third iteration, the mother of his children transformed the space at 428 Agua Fria into a work of art. Literally everything in the restaurant was hand painted, handmade and inspired by Kristin Bortles, an artist and interior designer. From the painted curtains on the windows along Agua Fria to the coffee and tea stained duck eggshell chandelier, from the table tops to the wall decor, everything was touched and created by Kristin. Even the stunning plates reflect the artistic input throughout the restaurant and interior design. Each plate is handcrafted in Arroyo Seco by a potter named Logan Wannamaker. While Kristin decorated the interior, Joseph crafted a suggestive, playful and absolutely delicious menu with creative titles that incorporate duck and duck fat in every way imaginable.

Managing Director Starr Bowers says, “Joe loves the flavor that duck fat imparts to food and is always on the lookout for alternative ingredients that aren’t normal. She adds: “The Lamb Burger reigns supreme with us. Joe’s use of duck fat is matched only by his use of lamb, a New Mexico staple. Alternatively, Joe has focused on offering vegetarians and gluten-free diners sensational options – the dessert menu is completely gluten-free.

On the evening of our visit, we were two diners in a sea of ​​cozy couples and larger groups. Tucked into a corner with jars of marinated local chanterelles lined up near our table, we had both the privacy and all the attention we needed from the knowledgeable staff. Complimentary rolls are served with herb butter to activate the palate. While the global wine list focuses on small producers and natural winemakers, they also serve craft beers on tap and local spirits from Altar Spirits, a Railyard neighbor.

To whet our appetites on a busy Saturday night, we started with the New Mexico Lamb Tartare ($24) and Polenta Fries ($18). Coming from a Lebanese background, my dining companion was delighted to scoop up a gorgeous lamb tartare on homemade tortilla chips and garnish with some fresh arugula. Her smile said everything I needed to know about where this dish had transported her.

New Mexico Lamb Tartare at Josephs Culinary Pub in Santa Fe. (Heather Hunter/for the Journal)

Everyone loves polenta fries and now I know why. Fatty polenta sticks are fried in duck fat until golden, served with a quarter of grilled radicchio and dressed in a delicious gorgonzola dolce sauce. Crispy, smoky, earthy and bitter, this is a well-executed dish that will make vegetarians swoon.

To cleanse the palate, we shared the Grilled Peach and Arugula Salad ($16). Thoughtfully, the kitchen shared the salad for us. Not too spicy arugula, grilled peach slices, spiced walnuts and feta mingle with a champagne vinaigrette and balsamic reduction. Simple and good, it was the perfect green prelude to our stellar starters.

Fish of the day was Mahi Mahi ($40), one of my favorite fish that I ate generously when I lived in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. The mahi was crispy on the outside, soft and tender on the inside and a great lead player with the backing of the green chili corn cream and rice pilaf. There was just enough juice in the creamed corn for the rice to absorb it to give it a nice flavor. If only corn and chilies were in season year-round, this would be another signature dish on Joseph’s menu.

My table mate had the Sweet and Spicy Glazed Half Duck ($38) and couldn’t stop raving. I felt like I was sitting with Sally in the classic “When Harry Met Sally” scene at Katz’s Deli. As she ate the duck, she exclaimed, “It’s tender, meaty, juicy and fabulous. The meat falls off the bone. Oh, man, it’s good! Glazed with orange and star anise, the duck is drizzled with a red wine reduction and served with a spectacular side of charred Thai cabbage. The accompanying yogurt sauce with basil, blackberries and a touch of honey brings a bit of freshness and sweetness to offset the spicy duck, which she proclaimed as she licked the cup clean, “I need it more to take home for my leftovers.” And the waiter happily assured her a side of the yogurt sauce in her takeout box.

As life goes for Santa Feans, someone we knew at the bar sent us drinks. And a colleague of my table mate who knew we were dining at Joseph’s called and ordered us his favorite dessert, the Cloudcake ($14). He wanted to make sure we experienced this incredibly light and beautiful dessert. And who wouldn’t love an Italian meringue cake that’s at least five inches tall?

The Cloudcake at Josephs Culinary Pub is an Italian meringue cake with dollops of custard and caramel for dipping and fried tarragon sprinkled over the cake. (Heather Hunter/for the Journal)

When I thanked him by text, he replied, “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy dessert and it’s kind of the same thing. I totally agree. Cloudcake is a phenomenal dessert that barely takes up room in your stomach but is utterly luxurious. Like a floating island, this Italian meringue cake is light and airy and melts on your tongue like cotton candy. Dollops of custard and caramel for dipping and fried tarragon sprinkled over the cake add a hint of anise to this legendary dessert, while segments of grapefruit cleanse your palate between bites.

In a city dotted with so many culinary experiences, Joseph’s holds the title of fun and inventive cuisine. Of the environment Joseph and his team have created, General Manager Starr Bowers proudly says, “We strive to have fun and make it an experience worthy of leaving your home. We like to awaken the senses and have fun with flavors and textures. And they do it with aplomb.

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