|Urban Chic on Eagle Street |
Spirits, Food, and Ambiance at Joga Café
Stepping into Joga Café for the first time, you might wonder if you’d somehow managed to wander onto New York’s Lower East Side. Hand-blown yellow lamps cast a dim glow on exposed brick, blond wood, and wrought iron. Muted painted walls in shades of mustard, terra cotta, and olive evoke a cozy, bohemian feel. Happy bands of hipsters sip wine and microbrews beneath larger-than-life portraits of Marilyn Monroe and the Pope. Latin jazz plays softly over the murmur of clinking glasses and arty conversation. The overall effect is cosmopolitan, contemporary, and downright funky.
The chic, imaginitive cafe realizes a long-term dream for owners Dan Weissbrodt and Liz Canarossi. Weissbrodt, a Tunnel City native who spent years working in the New York arts scene, and Canarossi, a former producer, channeled their considerable artistic sensibilities – as well as their discriminating palates – into what has rapidly become the Northern Berkshires’ hippest eateries/late night hotspots.
Whether you stop into Joga for lunch, dinner, or the late-night scene, you’re likely to find an eclectic mix of artists, professionals, and just plain folks – all of whom are eager for an alternative to more traditional restaurants, or beer-and-darts-style bars. Patrons can enjoy well-selected beer and wine, quality food, art on the walls, classic films running silently overhead, or simply the chic, sophisticated ambiance.
Their beer list includes a variety of American standards, Paper City microbrews, Belgian-style Ommegang ales, and draught Pislner Urquell. An tempting selection of domestic and imported wines can be ordered by the glass or bottle. Cappucinos, espressos, and lattes are also available.
Joga’s food is light, but satisfying. In addition to a variety of appetizers (including salads, hummus, olive samplers, and more), the restaurant puts a winning spin on sandwiches. Tramezini sandwiches are served cold between thick slices of soft bread, and panini sandwiches, made on crusty rolls, are grilled until they’re slightly, deliciously warm.
On a recent lunch-time visit, I sampled the mesclun green salad appetizer, baked portabella tramezini, and Bel Paes’e cheese panini. The mesclun salad was fresh and flavorful. Ripe tomatoes, baby greens, and tiny slivers of fresh basil were lightly dressed in a zesty, slightly tangy, creamy vinaigrette. I detected a trace of Dijon, which complemented the citrusy flavor of the dressing.
The tramezini featured a tender, marinated portabella mushroom, earthy in flavor, and still warm from the oven. The mushroom was accented by parmesan shavings, roasted red peppers, fresh basil, and pesto sauce. Although the pesto dominated the flavor – overshadowing, slightly, the other dressings – this was hardly a tragedy; the sauce was rich, nutty, and delicious. The thick bread soaked up the flavors nicely, and the sandwich was delightfully juicy.
The panini was simply superb. Delicious bel paes’e cheese – a creamy, mild, soft cheese from Northern Italy – was harmonized by a sweet tapenade of caramelized onions and raisins. The combination – along with fresh, ripe roma tomato, was just perfect between the layers of thick, crispy, crusty bread. The sandwich was slightly warmed in a pressed grill, and it carried the most delicious, grilled flavor. Like the tramezini, the panini was a hearty two-fisted sandwich, dripping with juices, and it was frankly about as good a sandwich as it gets.
The tab for two sandwiches, plus a salad was $15.75, plus tip. Expect to pay considerably more for a dinner portion; while lunch entrees are in the $5/each range, dinners are more costly at about $9/plate.
As pleasant as the atmosphere is, and as tasty the food, neither qualify as the best parts about Joga Café. The best part, without a doubt, are Weissbrodt and Canarossi themselves. While you’re there, they’ll sit with you, joke with you, and fuss over you. This attention doesn’t feel overly solicitous or intrusive; rather, you leave feeling like you just made two new best friends. And perhaps you have. Not only will Weissbrodt and Canarossi remember you, they’ll you with a hearty smile, maybe even a hug, the next time you stop in.
Which you’ll want to, and soon.
The café is open for lunch and dinner, Mondays through Saturdays. It offers late-night music and dancing on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays until 2:00 am.