I've got a dealer in Milwaukee who is a nice guy and I offered to take him out for lunch on my last visit to that city. He suggested a couple places that were national chains. I told him that I'd rather eat at a place that is either local or, at least, a local chain like The Chancery or The Charcoal Grill. He asked me if I liked seafood and I said I did. He suggested a place up in Brookfield that was a little bit of a drive from his shop - Joey's Seafood and Grill. I asked it was a place that did fish or seafood other than deep fried and he said, "Oh, no. They cook it all different ways."
Joey's Seafood and Grill started as a Canadian chain in 1985. Seeing a need for a smaller seafood restaurant than Red Lobster, but a leap above fast seafood places like Captain D's and Long John Silver's, Joe Klassen opened his first restaurant in Calgary. (Click here for the Canadian web site.) It became an immediate hit and he soon opened more restaurants in Western Canada. By 1992, he began to franchise the Joey's Seafood and Grill and Joey's Only restaurants. Today there are nearly 70 locations from British Columbia to Ontario, each of them offering fresh seafood that can be cooked many different ways - poached, grilled, lightly battered and fried, or blackened with Cajun spices.
In 1995, Joey's began to franchise into the United States using an American company that sold franchise rights for the Canadian company. At one point, there were 19 locations in 13 states, but the economic downturn forced the closure of a number of the restaurants and in 2008 the U.S. franchising arm closed down and sold the U.S. franchise rights back to the Canadian company. A handful of Joey's Seafood and Grill locations stayed open, notably one in Madison, WI (click here for their web site) and the one in suburban Brookfield, both of which are locally owned. Jim Knop bought the franchise rights to the Brookfield location and continues to run the business today as a single entity.
It was just before 1 p.m. when we pulled into the parking lot at Joey's, located in a small strip mall at the southwest corner of Capitol Drive and N. 124th St. (see map). The place was about half-full with a lunchtime crowd enjoying their food. The restaurant features a bar area with a pine log awning over the top. There are a series of sturdy tables and comfortable booths throughout the place. A quick calculation on my part showed that you comfortably seat 90 to 100 people in the place at any one time.
My dealer is sort of a regular at Joey's and our waitress came over to greet us. She looked at him and said, "Well, hello, stranger. I haven't seen you in here for awhile."
He said, "Yeah, I know. I've been busy and haven't been up this way for awhile. This is one of my reps and I suggested this place to him and he said, 'Let's go for it!' So you're under a lot of pressure to make sure the food is extra good today."
She laughed and said, "Isn't our food extra good EVERY day?"
He looked at me and said, "The food IS very good here."
We looked through the lunch menu and seafood is definitely the star at Joey's. (The dinner menu is a little more extensive than the lunch menu and they feature grilled mahi-mahi fish tacos - I've got to get back and try those at some point.) However, they also feature soups and seafood salads, sandwiches such as a lobster and seafood-blended hoagie with house spices and mayo, a blue crab melt that is basically like a tuna melt, only with blue crab meat with lettuce, tomato and melted cheddar cheese (that sounded REAL good), and a Jamaican jerk chicken sandwich. They also had a burger topped with melted garlic butter.
They also had some Cajun specialties on the menu such as jambalaya, blackened tilapia with red beans and rice with andouille sausage, and blackened shrimp. In fact, you could get shrimp cooked any of 10 different ways - Battered, Asian Sesame, Cajun, Garlic, Lemon, Charbroiled, Lime, Blackened, Poached, and for 50 cents more, Malibu Coconut. I was just about to get the jambalaya when I noticed the "Shrimp Your Way" heading. I asked the waitress if I could split two of the ways to cook the shrimp and she said, "Sure!" So, I ordered half garlic and half Cajun. I got the red beans and rice for my side dish.
My dealer, according to him, has had about everything on the menu. One thing he hadn't tried was the special that day - a grilled chicken breast with grilled shrimp combination. A vegetable medley and a salad came with the meal. He ordered that up.
After my dealer finished his salad, we had a good talk about products, the direction of the industry and the problems he faced as a small business owner. The conversation was so good that I didn't realize that nearly 25 minutes had passed from the time he got his salad. He finally said in mid-conversation, "This has never taken this long to get our food here." He flagged down our waitress and asked her where our lunch was. She went to check on it and she came out with his chicken and shrimp, but not my shrimp and red beans and rice. About three minutes later, another waitress came out with my shrimp. It was my guess that either our waitress or the kitchen dropped the ball on our lunch.
My shrimp platter was teeming with a mound of boiled shrimp, half slathered in garlic, the other half powdered up with Cajun seasonings. Inexplicably, a side of rice came with the red beans and rice. I certainly didn't need that. The shrimp were - in a word - excellent. The Cajun seasoning wasn't overpoweringly hot, and the garlic wasn't obtrusive where I was going to smell bad all afternoon. Actually, I would have liked it if they WOULD have made it more hot and more garlicky. The highlight of the meal, however, was the red beans and rice. They were excellent. That's not to say the shrimp were bad - far from it. They were just a notch down from the red beans and rice. I was happily impressed with what I had at Joey's.
My dealer thought his chicken was a little overcooked (above right). He said that this was the first time he'd gotten a grilled chicken breast at Joey's Seafood and Grill where it was cut in half. "Maybe they do that because of it being a lunch special," he said.
I finished my shrimp and my red beans and rice. I left my corn muffin on the plate and he said, "Aren't you going to eat your muffin? Man, that's the best part of the meal!"
I said, "You know, growing up in Iowa, you'd think I'd like cornbread, corn muffins or corn dogs. I just don't like the taste of corn meal all that much. It's too dry for me." I offered him my corn muffin and he immediately grabbed it off my plate. It was like I was offering him free gold.
Other than the service being a little slow and dicey, I was overly impressed with my meal at Joey's Seafood and Grill. The shrimp I had reminded me of the night Cindy and I had our "seafood overload" meal at Hudson's on the Dock on Hilton Head. The shrimp was almost as good as it was that particular evening. And the red beans and rice rivaled anything I'd ever had at any authentic Cajun restaurant. The whole meal was just tough to beat and while I was a little apprehensive going to a seafood place for lunch (thinking that it was going to be a lot of deep fried fish and such), I'm already looking forward to the next time I can make it back to Milwaukee and try the fish tacos at Joey's. If they're even half as good as the shrimp, I'll still be happy.