Over on James Street, vacant for so many years, sat the Fort Auto Body building. Eventually, an entrepreneur would have found some use for the building, but it’s to Whitewater’s advantage that Causal Joe’s, an American barbecue restaurant, took the spot. Casual Joe’s is more than some use – it’s an establishment easy to recommend.
They’ve a menu, principally, of five sandwiches (pulled pork, smoked sausage, pulled chicken, brisket, or sausage) and larger offerings of brisket, chicken, pulled pork, and ribs. These items are available wet or dry (with or without sauce).
There are also family and sampler platters from which one can select among three meats and multiple sides.
Choose wet, and try some of their fine sauces, updated periodically for the season. I sampled a few (stout, spicy, and mulberry), at the invitation of my server on one of my two visits, and liked them all. Of them, mulberry proved to be an unexpected treat.
On my first visit, for an early supper, I dined on chicken, like all the meats an offering prepared on an outdoor grill next to the establishment. There’s no chance to find good barbecue that’s not prepared this way – meats like this should be smoked outside, at the restaurant. Barbecue isn’t brought in from somewhere, it’s prepared right there, at the restaurant.
You’ll find brews on tap, and bottled offerings that include some that are local but not well-known. If you’re thinking about something from a bottle, Casual Joe’s has Oso’s Hopdinger, an enjoyable American Pale Ale, with a relatively high ABV. If that’s not a concern, I’d recommend it as a choice on your visit.
The chicken was tender, easily separated with only the gentle effort of a utensil, and with a fullness in taste that requires slow and even temperatures of cooking. Too much would be dry and overpowering of everything other than chicken; too little would be rubbery without supportive flavors to complement the meat. It’s not true that everything tastes like chicken; sometimes chicken doesn’t even taste like chicken.
At Casual Joe’s, chicken properly tastes like smoked chicken.
On my second visit, I had a lunch of pulled pork with apple fennel slaw. Served wet, sweet and well balanced with the slaw. I’m not much for bread, really, but those who are will find the bun representative of what’s now called artisanal, but is just a slightly heavier, simple style of preparation. It’s baked evenly, and those who avoid bread might still enjoy half a bun.
Now you may have a vegetarian among your party, as I did, and for your meat-eschewing friend there are two salad offerings: the joe (arugula, smoked candied pecans, blue cheese, pears, and hot sauce vinaigrette) or a garden salad (greens, grape tomatoes, red onion, shredded cheddar). I tried a sampling of the joe, and found it delicious.
A bit about my views on a restaurant culture: I prefer open to closed, full to empty, and many to few. For restaurants, and a thriving restaurant culture, all these preferences apply to advance an establishment: one restaurant benefits from other successful establishments in the same area, as there’s a true gain to all when people see a city as a good-restaurant place.
We’ve begun to develop a successful combination of entertainment, restaurants, and shops along Cravath in Whitewater. (A public market in this area, just having started, is both a consequence of, and through hard work a key catalyst for, that successful combination.)
Chef Tyler Sailsbery has three establishments in our area (The Black Sheep, Casual Joe’s, and Fin & Hooves). You’ll find in Casual Joe’s some of his signature touches: a concern for fresh ingredients (often local), an American style of cooking, all with touches of the new, the contemporary. There’s a simple & serious presentation of food, and a light-hearted quality to the atmosphere at Casual Joe’s.
(Of the restaurants in our area, Second Salem has this happy combination, too: they so evidently care about their local brews, but have a clever, vibrant way of presenting and branding their offerings.)
I enjoy this sort of setting, and establishments like this suit my tastes, both literally and more figuratively. Others may, initially, find the twists on old offerings or style less welcome. I’d invite readers to visit, enjoy the food & drink, and look about having tasted and sipped happily during one’s meal. Fundamentally, these establishments are rooted in a long (and solid) American tradition of cooking.
There’s a large wooden chart on the wall of Casual Joe’s, about a trip that Sailsbery and others took to sample barbecue elsewhere in America. It wasn’t a trip to another country – it was a trip through parts of America, in search of establishments from which one might learn. One of my servers spoke about the trip with deserved pride, pointing to where certain cooking techniques were more common. Finding good things, and bringing them back home, is much to this restaurant’s credit.
LOCATION: 319 W James St, Whitewater, WI 53190, tel. (262) 458-4751.
OPEN: Daily from 11 AM to 9:00 PM.
PRICES: Dish & a drink for about $10-12.
DRINKS: Beer, on tap or bottled, sodas, water.
SERVICE: Friendly, attentive, youthful, considerate.
VISITS: Two (lunch, supper).
RATING: 3.5 of 4.
RATING SCALE: From one to four stars, representing the full experience of food, atmosphere, service, and pricing.
INDEPENDENCE: This review is delivered without financial or other connection to the establishment or its owner. The dining experience was that of an ordinary patron, without notice to the staff or requests for special consideration.