It’s summer in Chicago. Fulton Market is humming like a bee hive. Throngs of people are moving up and down the sweltering sidewalks in search of their next great bite. This bustling dining district is full of excellent choices, some a bit more under the radar than others. The flashy exterior does not always a dining destination make, I think to myself, weaving my way between the patios filled with sweaty and tipsy folks. It takes a minute for me to find the subdued unassuming facade of Joe’s Imports. My goal is dinner, but let’s be perfectly honest, I am mostly here for the wine.
Joe’s Imports, a new boutique wine bar, lies by the Fulton Market gateway. And if you are a first time caller like me, it is easy to miss. The place is small and intimate, with a tiny sidewalk patio in front. Inside it is all warm woods, cozy banquets, aged brick, and contemporary European furnishings. Vintage chic meets modern sleek. Ahhhhhhh… It is my kind of place, friends! This is where I could spend all of my spare time, not to mention the entire contents of my wallet, sipping on obscure wines and geeking out over the food. Joe’s Imports stocks worldly bottles from curated selection of unique wines inspired by travels. Before you ask, yes, there is a Joe. And he is floating from table to table, bottle in hand, playing host and wine matchmaker. Joe’s goal is to take each guest on a vacation in a glass, through each sip of wine. Can’t wait to meet Joe…
Meet Joe I do. I recognize a fellow cork dork from a mile away! A bottle of wine is meant to be shared, I have never met a stingy wine lover. Joe is no exception. His calling, his passion is making connections between people and unusual wines. And he is good at it. His warmth and welcoming spirit fill the room. “Could I suggest some pairings?” Yes, Joe, please do. I place my fate squarely into his hands. I haven’t really even looked at the menu yet. But trust has been established.
The menu is a worthwhile read, though. So, I take a gander. The selections lean towards Mediterranean small plates that are meant to be shared, and already I am having a hard time choosing. So many items beckon! I end up requesting that Joe & Chef Jayson collaborate, so I can avoid making choices all together. My favorite way to eat!
More wine, more food. The dance continues. It’s tomato season, so of course, heirloom tomatoes arrive slick with premium extra virgin olive oil and topped with salty umami bomb that is bottarga. Lamb meatballs show up bathed in raita sauce, topped with pine nuts and feta. Cue the most unusual wine of the night: 2016 Domaine Skouras, Cuvee Larsinos Viognier. It’s Greece in a glass. Joe turns it up a notch it seems: bay scallops topped with caviar, raviolo of warm runny duck egg and spinach ricotta, sticky ribs with peanuts and scallions, snow crab with Calabrian chilies… An off-menu dish completely upstages its competition: a watermelon salad with sweet lump crab, sorrel & mint. It is perfect in its summer simplicity. All the while the wine magically appears, as Joe casts his matchmaking spells. I couldn’t possibly eat or drink another thing, but of course an impossibly decadent chocolate dessert lands in front of me. Stick a fork in me, I am done. What a glorious way to go though…
Between the wine and the food and the disarmingly eager, polished service I forget that I am doing research, and I just… float. And honestly, there is only one thing to take away from this, my soliloquy: Joe’s Imports is a not-to-be-missed destination in the heart of the bustling Fulton Market district. Who is up for some wine with Joe? I am ready to return.
Joe’s Imports is located at 813 W. Fulton Market in the heart of West Town neighborhood. Now open for dinner, lunch and weekend brunch.
Photos courtesy of Joe’s Imports.
The Local Tourist dinner for two compliments of Joe’s Imports.