Dec 22, 2015 11:03AM
By Mandy Mowers
Recent renovations along 10th Street draw people’s attention past the Old Market to the newly-constructed Blue Barn Theatre and updates to the Burlington Building, yet one small restaurant has quietly welcomed people to this area for 21 years.
Located at 10th and Pacific, Joe Banana’s red awnings and logo bearing a saxophone-playing, curved, sunshine-colored fruit welcome visitors crossing the bridge from the Old Market.
The banana represents Joe Monastero, who owns the food and spirits establishment with his wife, Connie.
The couple come from culinary backgrounds. Connie learned about the food business from her father, who did a lot of catering and owned a restaurant at which Connie waitressed in high school.
Joe’s family is Sicilian. His mom taught Connie lots of family recipes, which make a strong appearance in the new menu, the restaurant’s contribution to all the revamping going on around them.
“It’s hard, after 21 years, to keep your focus,” Connie says. Their previous menu was “crazy huge.”
The scaled-down menu includes Friday night specials from Monastero family recipes, such as a double-crust pizza called gouda-roonie. Saturday evening specials include items like pigtails, meatballs, and homemade sausage.
Connie must love to cook in order to show up to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the week. It’s clear from the way she talks about her customers that they are another reason.
“We have a lot of regulars, and we’ve had a lot of regulars for years,” she says fondly. “But then we also have newer customers, like some who’ve moved into the area. Super great people.”
Connie attributes so many return patrons to the diverse crowd. “Anybody can come in here and feel welcome,” she says. “I think that’s what the big draw is. Everybody just feels like they belong here.”
One of her regulars is Kelly Swotek. He patronized the bar Joe and Connie previously owned, then followed the Monasteros to Joe Banana’s.
Part of his loyalty is knowing Joe and Connie, and their friends, and their friends’ friends…
The food helps, too. “I’m partial to the chicken,” Swotek says. “She has a beautiful Malibu chicken sandwich. I had one last night.” He also raved over tenderloins so big he and his wife split them. “Phenomenal.”
Even Swotek’s family has gotten involved in the restaurant/bar. “All my kids have worked here,” he says. “In fact, my son is bartending right now. And my daughter will waitress and bartend tomorrow night.”
Card clubs meet here regularly. A poster advertises a fundraising event called “Cancer Can Kick My Pancre-Ass,” held on Joe’s patio with live music. A chorus of “Bye, Kevin!” is heard as a customer leaves, reminiscent of the fictional “Norm!”
Connie and Joe are fond of the Little Italy niche. They’ve gotten along well with their neighbors, and they’re excited for new ones.
Connie welcomes the development, even if it poses obstacles like the water being turned off certain mornings.
After 21 years, she knows change. “It’s all good.” Encounter
Visit letseat.at/joebananas to learn more.