Dining: Bar Lunch

I settled in for a bar lunch the other day at Joe’s, an elegant seafood and steak house off Michigan Avenue with my friend and colleague Barbara.

map I’d been to Joe’s (60 E. Grand St.) several times, for review or to meet with editors. It’s pricey, but the seafood — especially their signature stone crab — is worth the expense. Sides and salads are freshly prepared with quality ingredients. Portions are generous.

Joe’s dining room gleams: white cloth tables, waiters in tuxedos. Why sit in the bar? The menu is the same.

Joe’s attracts a lot of tourists. More than once I’ve found myself seated opposite a half-clad group in floppy hats and flip-flops. I’m not knocking tourists; they’re great for the Chicago economy. Joe’s is so classy — refined food, divine service — I expect the patrons to be, too.

The spacious bar area attracts a different crowd. Some tourists, for sure, but typically it’s people like me and Barb, professionals who work in the neighborhood and want a meal you wouldn’t have and can’t afford everyday, in a setting that soothes. There’s a t.v. on — set to financial news — but everything else is dark wood and atmosphere.

I’d feel comfortable dining here alone.

Joe’s “colossal” crab cake ($11.95) is lightly crisped, thick, loaded with crab meat. Among the city’s best, along with Shaw’s. www.shawscrabhouse.com

The tangy coleslaw ($4.95) is more vinegar than mayo, topped with sparkling green relish, sided with thick slabs of tomato.

A meal-sized salad, the Stone Crab Louis ($13.95) was Barbara’s choice: bibb lettuce, avocado, hearts of palm, sliced egg, asparagus, stone crab.

If you’ve never tried stone crab — it’s harvested from the Gulf of Mexico — it’s a lifetime must ($17.95 for four.) Like lobster, you crack its thick shell with pliers. It’s messy, but the crab meat is heavenly: soft, white and sweet.

We passed on dessert this time, but Joe’s key lime pie ($5.95) is the real deal. It’s offered by the half-slice, too. www.joes.net/chicago.

Also in the blog

Ah, the year’s first thunk: David Grossman’s “To the End of the Land.” So lauded, so bloated. To invest in ($26.95) and lug around (576 pages) one would expect, and should receive, a Franzen. In its simplest form, this is the story of an Israeli woman who gathers up her son’s father and takes him


More book grief. Zachary Mason’s “The Lost Books of the Odyssey” is that rare thing: a retelling of a classic that holds you in its grip just as the original did. Will Odysseus survive the war? Will he finally return home to Ithaca? Will Penelope be waiting? Mason offers alternate tellings and endings for the


I admit to putting down Lauren Groff’s Matrix months ago; I liked the writing but didn’t cotton to the 12th century story of an ungainly French girl sent from the royal court of Eleanor to prop up a failing nunnery in England. It seemed dreary. Later, my friend Deborah mentioned the book as a study