Cari Taylor-Carlson

Joe Mama’s Is Worth the Trip

A 40-minute drive to place touted by Travel Channel, with delicious food, big portions.

By - Jun 29th, 2018 04:28 pm
Joe Mama’s Bar and Grill. Photo from Joe Mama's Bar and Grill's Facebook page.

Joe Mama’s Bar and Grill. Photo from Joe Mama’s Bar and Grill’s Facebook page.

There has to be a heck of a good reason for me to drive 40 minutes to eat lunch at a bar in Colgate. I did just that, at a friend’s persuasive recommendation, because no one can be that enthused about bar food unless it’s truly worth crowing about.

Joe Mama’s is actually closer to Lake Five than Colgate, but their address is Colgate, a wide spot in the road on the way to the restaurant. Besides the food, here are two more reasons to drive 40 minutes to this destination. If you’re a gardener, there’s Monches Farm, 3.4 miles past Joe Mama’s if you’re coming from Milwaukee. And if you’re a a hiker, another .5 mile past the farm takes you to the parking lot for the Monches segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, a lovely walk along the Oconomowoc River, especially in the fall when the maples put on a fine show. Or, if you opt for a pleasant drive, and don’t choose to leave the car, you can meander along the Rustic Road that intersects Q on the way to the restaurant.

I came to Joe Mama’s twice and yes, the glowing recommendation was well deserved.

Here’s what I learned about this roadside pub. Co-owners Joe Vella and Allyn Wasley took over an established restaurant at this site in December 2016 and made some changes. The new menu was an instant success story according to Chris Curka, General Manager. It didn’t hurt that they were discovered in June 2017 when the U.S. Open took over the golf course at nearby Erin Hills. That’s how the Travel Channel found Joe Mama’s and featured it in “Food Paradise.”

That put their already popular Mac and Cheese on the map, making this a destination for cheese aficionados like me who crave an occasional cheese-loaded bowl of cavatappi pasta al dente. You get that and much more at Joe Mama’s.

When you study the menu, first check out Munchies where you’ll find Nacho Joe’s Nachos topped with the usual chips, salsa, beef or chicken, and piled on top, enough mac and cheese to feed everyone at the table, a vision of excess, a monument to creativity in the world of nachos at their most decadent.

From the list of Macs of the Month a friend and I shared Mama’s Crab Shack, which provided enough for two, plus an ample take home meal. This Crab Shack, a masterpiece in a bowl, is filled with chunks, yes chunks of lobster meat and crab, with shallots and bacon to add more flavor to cheddar, goat, and jack cheese, mixed in to house garlic cream sauce. The chef finished the dish with toasted bread crumbs, chopped tomato, and garden chive. A tour de force from the sweet lobster to the final bite of cheesy, garlicky, cavatappi.

After we enthused over the mac and cheese, we asked our server just how popular is the mac and cheese at Joe Mama’s?  She checked with the chef and said, “More or less 150 pounds of cavatappi go down every week and every bowl is made to order, only the pasta is pre-cooked.”

There’s more mac on the regular menu: the Basic with garlic cream sauce, Buffalo Chicken with crispy chicken, bacon, and blue cheese, Pulled Pork Mac with haystack onion rings, and Reuben Mac with corned beef, kraut, and 1000 island dressing. To complete this cheesy orgy, there’s a separate menu listing the Macs of the Month.

From Pick Your Proteins, a choice of marinated or crispy chicken breast, a half pound burger, or a black bean burger, I ordered the Firecracker sandwich: crispy chicken with hot pepper cheese, peppered bacon, and jalapenos served on a bun with a side of — what else — hot sauce. This was a full half pound of juicy crisp chicken in a sandwich with just the right balance of meat, cheese, and bacon, powered by additional jalapenos.

Even the sides are worth a mention: tater tots, sweet potato fries that taste like sweet potatos, skinny sweet onions rings, and house-made chips, fresh and crunchy.

A second lunch included a Bang Bang Chicken Wrap and Hog Heaven, pulled pork topped with onion rings and finished with BBQ sauce served on a toasted pretzel roll. The pork had been cooked in BBQ sauce, not just doused at the end. The onion rings, fresh from the deep fryer, added a sweet note to the tangy pork, a sweet-sour duet on a bun.

There was more chicken than wrap in the Bang Bang, a nice change from the usual oversized wrap that overwhelms the filling. But it needed more Bang Bang sauce as it was more bland than spicy. This was quickly remedied when I requested more, then used it as a dip for both the wrap and the house-made chips.

In addition to the monthly mac and cheese specials, there’s a list of Sandwiches of the Month. For example, Crabby Pants Sammy features lump crab meat while Jalapeno Popper Grilled Cheese will heat up your mouth, and Taco Truck Tuna Tacos bring a southwestern flavor to the mix. Note: none of the specials are available after 3:00 on Fridays as the Fish Fry takes over. “Get here by 4:00, or you can plan on a long wait,” said our server.

We liked everything about Joe Mama’s, the food, the tap beer, the friendly people, the excellent service, and especially our server Annette who remembered which beer I had ordered on my first visit. “Can I bring you a Moon Man?’ she asked as soon as I pulled up a chair at the table.

As we left, we met co-owner Joe Vella at the door. When we commented on the portion sizes, he answered with a smile.

“Yep,” he said. “The portions are big, just like me.”

On the Menu

Photo Gallery

The Rundown

  • Location: 4600 County Road Q
  • Phone: 262-628-9211
  • Hours: open 365 days a year at 11:00 a.m. Kitchen closes at 10:00 p.m.
  • Website:
  • UM Rating: 4.5 stars (average of Yelp, Trip Advisor and Zomato)

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One thought on “Dining: Joe Mama’s Is Worth the Trip”

  1. Comfy Chair says:

    Yeah, no way….

    The last time I checked, “joe mama” was something of a racial slur, a way to make fun of black people….

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