Located at 6400 Carolina Beach Road in the Masonboro Commons shopping center, Joe’s Oasis is derived from the notion that Pittsburghers don’t have enough dining options in the Port City. It’s a pleasant little pub—perhaps a bit dark—and it makes no apologies about being a haven for Steelers fans. Pittsburgh memorabilia adorns the walls, and the waitresses wear goldenrod T-shirts reminiscent of jerseys. Of course, there is the occasional UNC Chapel Hill jersey, which I’m beginning to assume is required by law.
I stopped by on a Saturday night to find a full house for a charity event to raise money for Stand Up for Soldiers. I took a seat at an unbused table and gave the waitresses a few minutes to catch up. I’ve seen this at successful bars before: Every so often the dishwasher gets full and there’s nowhere to put any more empty glasses until the back of the house catches up. I pushed three pint glasses to the far side of the table and silently took note of what a great night they were having.
I ordered a beer, watched them raffle off a guitar and listened to the band figure out feedback issues before looking at the menu. Joe’s menu is as Pittsburgh as the decor, with an emphasis on pierogi and sandwiches meant for steelworkers. I’d like to take this moment to tell anyone considering eating at Joe’s Oasis that it is not for the lactose intolerant. Cheese, sour cream and butter are the order of the day. Dairy is ubiquitous.
I ordered a trio of appetizers, which arrived surprisingly quickly given the crowd. The pierogi of the day, which contained a cheeseburger twist, was a particular treat. While a standard pierogi resembles a ravioli stuffed with mashed potatoes, Joe’s special was a beautiful mix of flavors, creating a new take on the barroom favorite. The ground beef, bacon and cheese stuffing gave the expected flavor, but the kicker came with the generous topping of melted butter and caramelized onions. That sweet, salty mix made the whole thing pop.
The pretzel bites were nice, though the beer-cheese dipping sauce was a bit pasty and bland. However, butter once again came to the rescue. The pretzels were so thoroughly drenched that any additional sauce seemed superfluous. Once you have bread and butter, what more do you need?
My favorite item of the night was the bacon-cheddar potato pancakes. Seared to a perfect crisp, without a hint of burning, they had a nice balance of flavors. Most importantly, the kitchen resisted the urge to oversalt them. That’s a huge problem in bar food, and I appreciate its restraint.
I made a second trip to Joe’s shortly after, but this time with a Pittsburgher in tow for an authenticity check. He immediately commented that the bar was far too clean and that any real Pittsburgh bar has a layer of soot from steel-mill smoke. I don’t know how one imports steel-mill soot. I tend to give extra points for cleanliness, so let’s call that minor failing of authenticity another check mark in Joe’s column.
We ordered a few appetizers. My Pennsylvanian companion found the standard pierogi a little too doughy; he preferred a thinner pasta shell. The potato skins didn’t leave much of an impression either. The veggie quesadilla was a surprise success. It’s tough to keep cooked vegetables crispy, especially once they’re surrounded by melted cheese. However, the onions and peppers had snap left in them.
The big hit were the gouda mac-and-cheese bites: spoonfuls of deep-fried macaroni and cheese that can be eaten by hand. The gouda makes for a surprisingly subtle and elegant taste that is somehow not overshadowed by the intensity of deep frying. It’s one of the better appetizers I’ve had in quite some time.
I ordered “Isalay’s Ham Sandwich,” which I proceeded to order “sloppy.” Sloppiness entails heating the deli sliced ham in a frying pan with barbecue sauce then covering it with sweet relish. The relish proved so overpowering that the barbecue sauce made a bigger impression on my fingers than my tongue. Its sharp, cloying flavor was a bit too much. I suggest letting the ham speak for itself.
My companion ordered a traditional Pittsburgh favorite: the Steelworker’s Stack. For those unfamiliar, it’s a hearty sandwich stacked several inches high with meat (and in this case a fried egg). My friend tells me it was delicious, but he was quick to point out that the grilled bread was a non-traditional ingredient. (In his version, steel workers don’t have time to wait for toast during lunch hour, and the Steelworker’s Stack has to be made quickly.) While he said he missed the soggier version, he found Joe’s variation delicious still.
I’ll find a few excuses to make my way to Joe’s Oasis over the next year. I think I’ll pencil in the Steeler’s/Raven’s game just for the fun of it. It’s a welcoming atmosphere with swift service and a friendly neighborhood vibe—a likable pub with cold beer and a fun menu. There’s nothing here not to love.
6400 Carolina Beach Rd.
Sun.-Wed., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Thurs-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-12 a.m.