A longtime local wine director pours 30 years of experience into his dream wine bar, Joe’s Imports.
Joe Fiely pours a glass of wine.
I’ve been pop-quizzing wine guru Joe Fiely, with no hope of stumping him. I’m craving a lambrusco, and his Ca’De’ Medici Remigio lambrusco grasparossa ($33 per bottle) is lush and bright, with just the right amount of effervescence. Later, I ask for his favorite recommendation at his new eponymous wine bar, Joe’s Imports, for someone looking to celebrate. He suggests a 2007 bottle of Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva ($125), but manages to bury the lede in describing it. “It’s a great vintage, and it’s really opening up right now,” he says, adding, almost as an afterthought: “And I helped pick the grapes.” In his three decades of fine-tuning wine lists for Francesca’s Restaurant Group, Fiely has traversed the globe: Save for New Zealand and South Africa, he’s been to every vineyard— or at the very least, met the winemaker—for each of the nearly 200 bottles offered at Joe’s Imports. His travels benefit the food at Joe’s just as much; to Fiely, it’s second nature to pair wines with the foods native to their respective regions. The lambrusco harkens from the Emilia-Romagna region known for egg pastas, like the duck egg raviolo ($22), filled with ricotta and spinach and topped with a jammy yolk and coins of black truffle. The chianti is an ideal mate for dishes like seasonal Roman artichoke ($13)—currently off the menu— and its slivers of lemony goodness. The restaurant’s ever-evolving menu fits in effortlessly with Fiely’s vision of transporting an old Roman wine bar to his native city and filling it with chic touches like marble counters and a Florentian awning (although the defining design element— sculptural wire chandeliers—he credits to Lauren Ditka of 555 International). Each starter I’ve tried has been an indulgent success, from Parmesan puffs dipped in cheesy fondue ($9) to thin rounds of salt- roasted beets ($11) punched up with slices of orange, mint and goat cheese.
Whipped ricotta with local honey
But the one appetizer I can’t resist ordering every time is the housemade whipped ricotta ($15), luxuriously spread on toasted ciabatta and dredged in local honeycomb. Meatier plates arrive halfway down the menu, beginning with silky tendrils of grilled octopus ($19), which benefit from a Catalonian wave of flavor from robust romesco sauce and springy green beans. Immense satisfaction is just as assured with the St. Louis sticky ribs ($13), thanks to their perfect texture and underlying heat.
Wagyu prime skirt steak with pearl onions ($27)
Cocktails are tasty but get rather overshone by the wine list; the one exception is the mezcal dessert cocktail, Johnny From the Block ($14). Spiked with astringent St. George coffee liqueur, the tipple is tempered with chocolate bitters and cold-brewed espresso—dessert enough on its own. Then again, the Chocolate Royal ($12) is nearly as intoxicating, thanks to its glossy chocolate shell and sturdy base of peanut butter crunch. It’s not hard to put a finger on what makes Joe’s Imports stand out in the flashy Fulton Market District. It’s Fiely himself, whom diners are quite likely to see on any given night, pouring wine and delighting with his infectious laugh. “Someone was so surprised the other day because I was here, and I was ‘the’ Joe,” he says. “But this is my baby. I can’t imagine not being here.”
813 W. Fulton Market
Open for dinner every night
Brunch Sat.-Sun., 10:30am-3pm
Small plates, $7-$26; large plates, $11-$30; dessert, $9-$12
Photography by: Anthony Tahlier