Sunday, June 9, 2013

Joe Hoopers Beverage & Sandwich Exchange - Plaza Midwood

I have now had two experiences at Joe Hoopers. When they first opened in Plaza Midwood in January, I was excited to give it a try. I hopped over for lunch one weekday in February and was... unimpressed (insert McKayla Maroney face). I was in an addicted-to-cheeseburgers phase at the time (though I had not reached this level of addiction) and excitedly ordered the Central Burger (a 1/3 lb ground chuck patty topped with bacon and fried macaroni and cheese) and an order of tator tots to split with my friend. I was almost drooling with anticipation but unfortunately the burger let me down. First, there is no way that was a 1/3 pound burger. It seriously seemed like it had the circumference of a silver dollar. And the quality did not make up for the lack of quantity. The patty tasted dry and crumbly and the bacon was limp and thin like the kind served by the spoonful (yes, spoonful) from my college dining hall. The mac & cheese was also a let down. Somehow, fried mac managed to taste dried out and bland, kind of like pre-cheesed easy mac that somebody accidentally dropped in a deep fryer and fished out ten minutes later. The tots were a shining star but I told myself that I wouldn't be coming back to Joe Hoopers. 

Source: Wikipedia (that's a legitimate source, right?)
As with many of my emotion-driven declarations, I failed at following through and ended up returning, albeit begrudgingly, to give the joint another shot. Mentally freeing myself of my pre-existing bias, I surveyed the location and decided that the aesthetic of the place is pretty cool. In front, there is a great patio overlooking Central Avenue. I also liked the inviting hole-in-the-wall vibe I got from the wooden exterior, sheet metal roof, and wrap-around porch. The inside is made up of hardwood floors, burlap-backed booths, and eclectic decor -think retro posters, metal signs, and license plates. There are also a lot of big TVs scattered throughout the restaurant, rather than just behind the bar. It seemed that I would have a good view from wherever I ended up sitting. We were able to keep tabs on both NHL and NBA games during dinner and I think this place has great potential for football season. 

Another interesting thing about the restaurant is its namesake. While I had blindly assumed that Joe Hooper must be the owner of the establishment, he's actually a South Carolina-born Vietnam veteran that is one of the most decorated soldiers in U.S. military history. Joe Hooper served in both the Navy and the Army, including with 101st Airborne Division out of Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, where my little brother is stationed. During his 17 years of service, Joe Hooper received 37 citations, including the Medal of Honor, multiple Silver and Bronze Stars, and seven Purple Hearts. Bonus points for an interesting historical backstory, Joe Hoopers. 

Getting to the food, we were pretty hungry so we started with an order of the fried pickles accompanied by both horseradish aioli and ranch dressing for dipping. Possibly because my expectations were low (I guess my bias had not been fully freed), I was surprised by how tasty the pickles were! I'm convinced that the greatness of a fried pickle is determined by both flavor and texture. Oftentimes, the downfall of a potentially outstanding pickle chip comes from a soggy, improperly fried exterior or a bland interior. Here, the coating on the pickles was neither too thick nor too thin, and each wavy chip was fried to perfection -no sogginess here! I really liked that even just looking at them, I could tell that each pickle was a pickle (rather than an indistinguishable blob of fried matter). Their one downfall was that they were a little too salty. Head's up though, one $4.95 order is a HUGE basket of pickles. I'm not one to complain about food existing in mass quantities, but know in advance that if you're planning on following up with entrees, an order is definitely too many to eat in one sitting with only one dining companion. The ranch and horseradish aioli were great accompaniments, but were probably unnecessary given how great the pickles were on their own. These guys are going to be a strong contender for best fried pickles in Charlotte.

clockwise from top left: TAB, Joe Hoopers logo, fried pickles, 
tator tots, BLT with egg 
For our entrees, I opted for the BLT with Egg, BFTB ordered the TAB (turkey, avocado, and bacon), and we split an order of the tator tots (note: entrees do not come with a side). Like my first experience, I really enjoyed the tator tots. Once again, Joe Hoopers has their frying technique down pat. The tots were perfectly fried -the outside was crispy and the inside was not at all soggy. And as much as could be expected of a tator tot, they were not too greasy. I really enjoyed my BLT with egg. The bacon was thick, crispy, not overly fatty, and perfectly in proportion with the other ingredients. The lettuce (a big, hearty piece of Romaine... no iceberg garbage) and thickly-sliced tomato seemed exceptionally fresh and were appropriately crispy. The egg was perfectly cooked -a little squish of my sandwich had delicious yolk settling into the grooves of the bacon and oozing onto my plate, perfect for sopping up with the Texas toast that made up the base of my sandwich.  It was a huge sandwich, too. I made a mental note that it would be a perfect selection for a hangover brunch. Sadly (for him), BFTB's TAB was not as great. The hoagie roll, particularly compared to my perfectly toasted Texas toast, was lame and just too much squishy, untoasted bread. I love carbs, but I don't like eating bread for the sake of eating bread. Put that sandwich on something worthwhile! Also, the entire sandwich was doused in the same horseradish aioli that accompanied our pickles. As you can see in the picture, the sandwich was almost drowning and in hindsight, was kind of gross to look at. A little less goo might have made for a nicer sandwich. 

All in all, we were pleased with the entire experience and will definitely return... but probably avoid the TAB. I might even be brave enough to reignite my addiction and give one of their burgers another shot. Based on my most recent experience, Joe Hoopers gets a 7.5/10 in the sandwich shop category. 

Joe Hooper's Beverage and Sandwich Exchange on Urbanspoon

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