Surviving Brunch at Jojo
After a swim in the deep fryer, the eponymous potato wedges at Jojo are balanced like Jenga pieces—they’re practically nachos, stacked with cheddar, bacon, ham, roasted chilis, and caramelized onions—to make its breakfast hash. A nod to the version served at Portland’s storied Hot Cake House, the glorious pile teeters between collapse and heart attack.
Jojo started as a food cart serving burgers, fried chicken sandwiches, and those titular taters. Eventually, it expanded into a restaurant and added cocktails, dessert, and a vegan menu. Despite its fast food and diner nostalgia, Jojo is not a chicken shack. It’s actually kind of a nice restaurant. The industrial-chic, Pearl District brick-and-mortar sits kitty corner to Design Within Reach and next door to a Kure juice bar. As of January, Jojo is in its brunch era, which it announced by posting a picture of biscuits and gravy to Instagram and asking, “do any of you piggies wants some slop??!”
Everything at Jojo is ironic: the “Live Laugh Jojo” employee shirts, the unwieldy Instagram, the boozy milkshakes…and the reverse psychology. One Instagram post of a meme-ified, teary-eyed Bart Simpson with a tummy ache reads: “dumbass you just ate a bunch of fried food and mayonnaise for dinner.” Another post with a presidential air: “i’m happy to announce that President Joe Brandon [sic] just ate at jojo!! but i'm unhappy to announce that he passed away due to the extremely unhealthy nature of our foods.”
In person, short of hyperbole about the food, there’s nothing vulgar at Jojo. You can take your kids; they’ll love the popcorn chicken and tenders. And you can drink black coffee out of a brown diner mug like you’re Dale Cooper. It’s somewhere between a Prohibition-era soda fountain and a flat-top drive-in, but with a sprinkle of 2023 interior design flourishes, like cane chairs and philodendrons hanging from the ceiling. SZA is playing, and families across three generations are packing into the orange velvet booths just after the 9 a.m. opening, hoping to squeak in before the rush.
Drinks set the tone for the chaos that’s about to ensue: A pilsner with a Bloody Mary float as well as a full-on vodka (or tequila) Bloody Mary. House “soadies” that dye Sprite blue and turn Dr. Pepper peach-vanilla carry over from regular service. A boozy milkshake that laces housemade chocolate ice cream with Cocoa Pebbles and a shot of banana rum.
You’ll recognize most of the dishes from the lunch and dinner menu, dressed up a little differently—add a waffle, a biscuit, or an egg, and fried chicken suddenly becomes brunch. Most everything on the menu has a vegan doppelgänger: mushroom gravy, fried tofu swapped for crispy chicken, vegan cheese for dairy, and Thrilling Foods “Bakon” for bacon. The only item on the brief menu that doesn’t have a plant-based counterpart is the chicken and waffles. The yeasted waffle and perfectly cratered fried thighs are lacquered in Crystal hot sauce–spiked honey and maple syrup, then dusted with chives and orange zest—a nod to the typical diner garnish of an orange slice and lone sprig of parsley.
The biscuits and gravy—to which any self-respecting masochist will add the fried chicken thigh (or tofu nuggets, maybe) and an egg—is another feat of deftly assembled gluttony. The trick to pulling such a thing off is in the textures: The biscuits must be risen and layered (this burger and chicken joint employs a pastry chef, Christina Hoover); the gravy richly spiced and smooth yet thick enough to hold tight to the biscuits. We want our ridiculous food to pack a punch. But when you’re playing with such hefty dishes, the line between disgusting and delicious is tenuous.
With its expensive new West Side digs and zany social media argot, Jojo feels suspiciously like it’s pushing some ulterior motive. Are the fried chicken and potatoes just—eggs or not—fried chicken and potatoes, par excellence?
Mostly, Justin Hintze, the restaurant’s owner and the force behind its social media, has wielded his motley following (nearly 40,000 strong on Instagram) for good. Notably, he raised upwards of $50,000 for the National Network of Abortion Funds through a restaurant donation-matching campaign when word broke that Roe v. Wade was under threat. He’s also used the platform to publicly advocate for trans rights. It’s an outlandish form of political activism, but it’s proven effective, if unhinged.
In terms of social justice, the outsize persona is working. The food is equally intense. It’s fun. Jojo takes celebratory gluttony to the extreme. Eating here will undoubtedly put you in a food coma. Like its social media persona, Jojo the restaurant is more bricolage than tribute to any one thing. It’s an extremely online fried chicken joint, mashed together with touches of fast-food nostalgia and vintage diners, packed into a Pearl District–appropriate dining room, and now eggs (and their plant-based substitutes) are in the equation. I’m still recovering from my last meal and trying to figure out the schtick, while also figuring out when I can go back.