For many Richmond locals south of the river, Joe’s Inn Bon Air has served as a family-owned restaurant with a family-friendly atmosphere for over 20 years. Located in downtown Bon Air, it serves American, Italian, and Greek cuisine (including breakfast) seven days a week. Connected to the restaurant is Joe’s Out, which provides carry-out service for all items on the menu. The restaurant has won many awards, including Richmond Magazine’s 2014 Best Place to Eat Every Week. Most Richmonders recognize Joe’s Inn as a classic neighborhood bar and grill, so Colton Jones (‘17) and I journeyed to Bon Air to investigate if it really lived up to all the hype.
As we approached the strip mall, we noticed that Joe’s Inn was just one of the many community businesses in the small complex. These buildings and businesses together bring out the identity of historic Bon Air. Jones and I felt the comfort of a friendly community even before we stepped into the restaurant. This neighborly sentiment continued as the hostess greeted us with a smile and promptly seated our party of two. Our waitress was extremely polite and receptive, answering all of our questions without hesitation. Although my meal took a little long to get to the table, the food came out fresh and neatly presented on the plate. The service couldn’t have been better, making our experience very enjoyable.
The house spaghetti dish is arguably the most notable choice served at Joe’s Inn, so I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to get it. I had a hard time choosing between alfredo or meat sauce, so I trusted the waitress’s opinion and went with the meat sauce. Approximately 15 minutes later, my large plate of spaghetti was hidden under a thick blanket of crimson sauce. The tomato based sauce was a little more watery than I preferred, but the wide variety of flavors complemented the thin spaghetti noodles very well. The ratio of beef to the total sauce seemed perfect as each bite was never overwhelming. Although it was not the best spaghetti I have ever tasted, it proved to itself to be the backbone of the menu.
After finishing the spaghetti, it was time sample a sandwich. Joe’s Inn provides a wide variety of subs and burgers served hot or cold. After browsing the menu for a couple minutes, I decided on the Italian sub. I was slowly regaining my appetite as the waitress placed the sandwich on the table, provolone cheese overflowing the assorted deli meats on two thick slices of white bread. My teeth sank into the sandwich, and I ripped of a piece just small enough to swallow. Although the selected ingredients were not of the highest quality, the combination of tastes created by the meat and cheese was satisfying even with the absence of mayonnaise and oil vinegar (I ordered the sandwich without those condiments). The tomato and lettuce on the sandwich were an excellent compliment to the spicier meats and added a dash of freshness to each bite.
But what seemed to be the main attraction on this early afternoon was the Sunday Breakfast Buffet. It was open from 9 AM to 2 PM, so we arrived just in time to catch the tail end of the buffet. Since I was busy with the lunch entrees, Jones tackled the breakfast buffet, trying to sample as many items as possible on the extensive list. “The pineapple really surprised with it’s fresh and juicy flavor,” Jones commented. “The potatoes seemed to be cooked perfectly and seasoned to perfection. And the pancakes were great too!” But he didn’t praise everything the buffet had to offer. “The waffles were a little tasteless and fell short of expectations.” Regardless, Jones seemed to be delighted with his choices as he visited the buffet two or three more times during our meal.
Considering our visit was early Sunday afternoon, the sleepy atmosphere in the darkly tinted restaurant was inevitable. It was primarily an elderly crowd enjoying the famous breakfast buffet with a few small families mixed in. Jones agrees, adding, “I think that the elderly presence in Joe’s Inn displays the legacy the restaurant has created over the years.” Jones and I appeared to be the only young adults in the restaurant during our visit, but by no means did this deteriorate from our dining experience. Joe’s Inn also proved to be a great spot to catch some NFL action on a Sunday. With two 50”+ flat screens on each side of the bar, it looked possible to enjoy the games from anywhere in the large, single room dining area. At the same time, the TV’s did not overwhelm the room, which maintained a calm ambiance.
Joe’s Inn thrives on its family friendly atmosphere while serving quality American and Italian cuisines. Catering and serving families through Joe’s Out has helped the restaurant maintain such a strong relationship and positive reputation with the community. Although it might not dish out the best cuisine in the city, the wonderful service, friendly kid’s menu, and appearances from the Amazing Jonathan the Juggler make Joe’s Inn a very attractive dining option in the Richmond area.
All pictures by Jake Johnston.