Wandering the historic downtown of Fairfield, documenting the old Highway 40 alignment (and before that, Lincoln Highway) one afternoon, I spotted a newspaper article in a window about restaurant and its long history as a popular local eatery, Joe's Buffet.
My wife has accused me of only liking places because they're old, indiscriminately lumping those of quality with those that just happen to have hung around. It is true that having a long history is enough to pique my interest. I had to try Joe's at least once, to both share and document this local experience that multiple generations have shared. And the fact that it has survived this long--since 1949, as I discovered later--should indicate that they are doing something better than most restaurants.
But being old isn't enough to make me like a place, and Joe's is lacking that which I enjoy about going out for a sandwich, rather than just making myself one at home. It's extremely similar to Bud's Buffet in Sacramento, a restaurant I tried after an old girlfriend read rave reviews on Yelp about it. Both offer large portions and no frills to the carnivores that line up daily to be served cafeteria style.
It has been a few years, but I don't recall there being any positive ambiance in the dining area at Bud's--the cheap and strictly functional tables and chairs laid out in a big room are what you might expect FEMA to provide when serving up meals to the victims of natural disasters. Joe's has gone a bit further, with brightly painted green and yellow walls, and a row of photographs of famous entertainers along one wall. Plus, giant Budweiser and Bud Light helmets in the window (not that I consider that a plus). But it's pretty sparse, functional, and depressing, despite the bright colors. No old photos of Fairfield, or the 64-year history of the restaurant. Nothing at all that looks like it was there previous to 1980.
As for the customers . . . they came all decked out in their sweatpants and shorts on a cold winter day, and some continued the fitness regimen post-meat consumption by lighting up cigarettes outside. My neighbors treated me to a delightful conversation about a pregnant woman living with her ex-boyfriend's parents, and an insightful analysis of how a couple of old classmates of theirs never amounted to anything because they had had everything handed to them.
But what about the food? Generous portions, to be sure. My small side of coleslaw was twice the size I expected. They roast their meats each day and carve them when you order. My roast beef sandwich was nice and juicy, although I prefer my roast beef rare, rather than well done. The soft and tasteless white roll it was served on didn't help my opinion of the place any.
I'm glad that I visited it once, but that will probably be it for me.