Jo’s American Bistro hadn’t really been on our radar, despite being right there on Memorial Boulevard in Newport — not exactly hiding out. Maybe we were distracted by near-neighbor Sardellas, or a pretty girl riding her bike to Easton’s Beach … the point is, we should have gotten here sooner.
Because Jo’s is excellent. Which really isn’t a surprise, since owner Joann Carlson has been in local restaurants longer than most restaurants have been in Newport, starting with her family’s Dry Dock Seafood, then moving on to Percy’s Bistro and 22 Bowen’s before opening her namesake eatery in the former Puerini’s space in 2014.
The restaurant decor is uncluttered and casually elegant, with understated nautical touches, polished-wood tables, and indoor, outdoor, and upstairs seating. We enjoyed our quiet table upstairs, where we could only just get a hint of the hubbub from the first floor, but on a warmer night we’d love to sit on the small outdoor patio and watch summer in Newport slowly filter by.
Jo’s sources her food as locally and organically as possible, and it showed in the arugula salad that started our dinner: the subtle flavor of the goat cheese and fennel were nicely balanced with the arugula, which had just enough zip without being overly bitter. Three each of tender seared scallops and squares of pork belly — less fatty than you typically get — were served on a bed of fresh potato corn puree for our new favorite appetizer, which went perfectly with a glass of Sunday Funday, a crisp, unoaked Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc/Vignoer blend from Sonoma’s Rebel Coast Vineyards. (Speaking of fun Sundays, Jo’s has a nice selection of half-priced appys and sandwiches at the bar on Sundays and Fridays.) Vodka drinks are a bit overrepresented on the cocktail menu: the martini was great and generous, but we’d love to see some interesting bourbon or whiskey drinks there, too.
Dark spirits did star in our pork chop entree, glazed with a bourbon peach reduction, and the four-cheese penne was an out-of-the-ordinary blend of blue, cheddar, asiago, and parmesan baked with diced butternut squash, caramelized onions, and oh-so-tender chunks of white-meat chicken.
On another night we’ll come back on a budget to try the house burger or fish and chips or the $20.95 prix fixe menu (Sundays-Wednesdays), or get splurgy with the filet mignon; either way, we’ll start with the popular sticky duck appetizers — glazed drumsticks served over basil polenta that, alas, were sold out by 7 p.m. on the night we visited.
Shared cinnamon peach bread pudding was a wonderful way to cap the meal — we savored a few tasty bites each of the bourbon/caramel sauce soaked bread, vanilla ice cream, and delightful cinnamon whipped cream. Jo, we’re sorry we waited so long to find you, but now that we have, we’ll be back!