Saturday, April 19, 2014
Joe’s Boathouse is everything a restaurant shouldn’t be. There it sits on the docks of Spring Point Marina in South Portland, where it deserves to throw down big dishes of salty seaside fare but instead resorts to cliché after cliché from a menu that probably hasn’t changed in years.
Spring Point Marina in South Portland is a very pretty spot
Considering that Portland is a peninsula, and South Portland and its environs front on various marinas and the ocean, one would imagine that we’d have all sorts of waterfront dining options.
But we don’t. The fact is Portland’s waterfront sits mired in decay when it should be the crown jewel of the region. But that’s another story.
Back to Joe’s, I haven’t been there in years, but recall it being more of a waterfront roadhouse serving gutsy dishes like shrimp fra diavolo, spaghetti with clam sauce or grilled swordfish in the Mediterranean style. I must have been dreaming.
Sign of the times at Joe's Boathouse
The dockside setting at Joe's is very appealing
The best part about Joe’s, of course, is the view. The outdoor dining terrace looks out over a pretty marina and Casco Bay beyond. Inside, the dining room has three choice tables directly in front of the windows overlooking the scenery. The interior tables enjoy a good vantage point, too. Otherwise I don’t think the décor has changed in years. Even that deadly back dining area attached to the main dining room remains a gloomy chamber — like a 3-season addition affixed to the rear end of a double-wide.
The central dining room at Joe's offers nice harborside views
The open kitchen lauds over the dining room
Our waitress, cute as a button, was nearly impossible to understand because she muttered so. But she tried her best, even if I did ask her to repeat herself — perhaps once too often.
We ordered some cocktails, which took forever to come from the bar, and studied the menu. This was an easy, dull read with the usual suspects gussied up with so much menu-speak it was like reading the chronicles of a jabberwocky.
For appetizers choices included Caesar salad, the wedge, clam chowder, fried calamari and so forth. My friend chose shrimp cocktail, figuring how bad can it be? And I had — big mistake — Cajun chicken and corn egg rolls, which our waitress said was a house specialty.
Joe's jumbo shrimp cocktail, 3 for $10.95
Those egg rolls were as dense at corn dogs, served with a viscous dipping sauce that could have passed for Elmer’s glue. But the shrimp cocktail was a bright, ceremonious eyeful that was decent even though they were most likely previously frozen. (I don’t know why we can’t get large fresh shrimp in Maine?). The accompanying cocktail sauce was straight out of a jar.
A serving of Joe's chicken and corn egg rolls go a long way
Joe’s is very popular with locals and certainly sets the scene for casual dining. Perhaps that's why the kitchen falls short, not itself seriously. With our entrees now before us, the result was, for the most part, lackluster.
My friend ordered fish and chips, which I’ll admit were classic and quite nicely prepared. They were described as Mere Point haddock and chips, though I’d wager they were not precisely from Harpswell fishing waters.
A respectable fish and chips--good fries and slaw, too
I chose the tuna. It’s described on the menu as being seared and topped with a sesame drizzle. At least the word “artisanal” did not appear anywhere on the menu (no surprise), but this drizzle was so asphyxiating and heavy it could have felled Sinatra singing "Angel Eyes."
The seared tuna was not a successful dish
The tuna, if you can imagine it, had the texture of gummy chalk. It was cooked to that nether-land of doneness, meaning half-raw-half-cooked or basically a pinkish mess that was neither fish nor fowl. I dipped my fork into the accompanying mango salsa and nibbled on some rice and pickled ginger.
The dessert was the best dish of the meal because it wasn’t made on the premises. It came, according to our waitress, “from away” and it was a delicious slice of vanilla lemon cake that was rich and tasty in all the right places.
The final touch was a very good vanilla-lemon cake a la mode
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.