In the silver jubilee year of the opening of Joe’s 2nd Street Bistro, I remember my first conversation with Joe himself. Speaking in the late ‘90s, Joe wasn’t sure the restaurant would work. “I’m going the wrong way on a one-way street!” he said, meaning people couldn’t simply turn off Centre Street and find him. “Who’s going to make a U-turn to come here?” Many, many happy people has been the answer.
Joe’s hasn’t changed much over the years, offering elegant fine dining favorites , special wines, and hometown art. The art has its own story: the art on the walls today is exactly what was on the walls the day Joe’s opened in 1998. The artist was Ray Pigg, a beloved local artist. His son Ricky, a Fernandina Beach High School graduate, also became an artist—a culinary one—completing his formal training at Johnson & Wales in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Now a seasoned chef, Chef Ricky says he remembers when his father painted each town scene. Later, when Ricky was working in Nashville, his father told him, “Buy Joe’s when you can and you’ll get all my art!” He and Mari did buy Joe’s only months after his father died. When they took over in 2012, Chef Ricky and Mari began making their own Joe’s history. The chef’s expertise in menu-building and Mari’s in staff training produced a bistro with freshness and zing, well-structured and balanced, with all the best of Amelia Island terroir.
As we settled into our Imagery Pinot Noir, with its layered fruit and long finish, our bread arrived. We bake, and even bake focaccia, but we have not had a focaccia so remarkable in years, as crisp on the outside as it is spongy inside. We drank our wine as the gorgeous focaccia drank up the herbed olive oil.
Our dinner at Joe’s began with something our server Corbin swore we would enjoy, their most popular appetizer by far. As we waited for it to arrive, we saw several going out to other tables. The Fried Wonton with Roasted Chicken, Andouille Sausage, and Leek Cream Cheese, sauced with house barbecue sauce, was indeed just right. It’s medley of flavors appetized us nicely. And don’t miss Joe’s Crabcakes, which are divine.
A refreshing Spinach, Orange, and Macadamia Nut Salad dressed in Honey-Dijon prepared us for our entrees of Rack of Lamb and Grilled Filet Mignon Oscar. The variety of seafood options beckoned, but we’d return another time for Seafood Bouillabaisse and Risotto Milanese. The lump crab with Hollandaise sauce on my Filet Mignon Oscar would satisfy my seafood craving. The bacon-wrapped and perfectly grilled melt-in-your-mouth filet made for a memorable meal. Satisfied with all our new experiences, we also tried the delicious Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding for dessert.
My last dinner at Joe’s was a Christmas gathering, one of several private parties in the 50-seat banquet area upstairs, that was likewise delectable, beautifully plated, and professionally served. Joe’s is ready to accommodate any special requests, if given time, so don’t hesitate to express dietary needs in advance. Two more gracious people than Chef Ricky and Manager Mari you will not meet: eating with them feels just like eating in their home, right down to the family art on the walls. Joe’s is located at 14 South 2nd Street.