James Joyce steps it up with new menu

A reader was nice enough to tip us off to some changes occurring at James Joyce (912 W. Main) this week.  Apparently, they’ve flown in a chef from Ireland to revamp their menu to focus traditional Irish fare.  When we went on Tuesday they were operating on a limited portion of the new menu, with the full menu expected to debut tomorrow (Thursday).


These are the ribs ($7.95 appetizer portion, $11.95 meal portion), and they were delicious.  They are still working out some execution issues (they were slightly overcooked, one of the ribs had so little meat on it that it shouldn’t have been served), but we suspect this will get worked out soon.


This is the beef and Guinness pie ($13.95), also quite good.  Other menu items are fish cakes ($11.95), Irish stew ($10.95), and bangers & mash ($11.95).

Overall, this is a great improvement.   The only problem I see is the prices, which are definitely high for the area and the quality of food (you can regularly get duck confit next door at Federal for similar/cheaper prices).

Published in: on February 18, 2009 at 1:27 pm  Comments (26)  


  1. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Joyce. I definitely prefer the Federal. The pork sandwich and pork carnitas at the Federal are still among my favorite no-fail Durham dishes. And the fries are so tasty too.

  2. I used to go to the Fed a lot for lunch. They had a brisket sandwich special once that was out of this world. The burgers at the Fed are above average.

  3. really? I’ve had nothing but bad luck the two times I was at the Federal. Based on the rave reviews here, and based on everyone else I’ve talked to in Durham I expected the Federal to be awesome and somewhere I would want to go back to, My burger was substandard even for the area. It was ok, but I wouldn’t order it again. The second time I went I had a shredded pork sandwhich that was dry and had absolutely no flavor. Both times I was there the service was horrible and our booth was covered in guacamole. Granted, the beer selection was great, but I’d have to drink a lot of it for it to make up for the food.

    The burger I had at the James Joyce the one time I was there was really good, nothing special but better then the Federal for sure.

  4. The key to the Federal is to order off the specials menu. The avocado/cucumber grilled cheese on the normal menu is inconsistent, but when it is “on” it is seriously delicious.

  5. yeah, i love the food at the federal, but you have to put up with their asshole servers.

  6. What happened to the fed? I used to go there regularly for their burgers, but the last three times i’ve been, it’s been seriously bad, and it wasn’t just the burger, it was as if it wasn’t even the same place bad. I’m hoping someone was on vacation, but i’m skeptical to try again until I hear good news.

  7. The avocado/cucumber grilled cheese is absolutely wonderful at the Federal! The nachos are great too. I love the salsa they serve with it. I’ve had a couple of bad experiences with the food at the Fed, but most have been great.

  8. flew in a chef from Ireland? *snort*

    given the choice, I hit the federal every time….usually for specials

  9. Joyce for Duke undergrads, Fed for the rest of us. As for burgers: I used to be a Fed partisan, but the burgers at Bull McCabe’s are fantastic.

  10. PS However, the Fed’s fries are the second best in Durham (after Vin Rouge)!

  11. I have noticed a serious decline in Fed’s fries over the past year. I still love the place, though.

  12. Having no relation to Duke, and being a recent transplant, I guess I just want something that isn’t hit or miss. Somewhere I can go for a burger and a beer that’s good every time. Somewhere preferably unpretentious and without undergraduates.

    As for the Federal, despite the praise for the specials it’s hard to want to revisit somewhere thats been bad both times I’ve been there. I can see grabbing a drink there, but then again, if I’m not eating I might as well go to the Pinhook.

  13. If you want “Somewhere I can go for a burger and a beer that’s good every time”, hit Dain’s Place on 9th Street. Delicious. And it’s no smoking!

  14. I used to go to the Federal regularly – they had a hangar steak on the menu that was delicious. I had family in town in November and had raved about the Fed. We went there and were informed that the menu had changed. The food was awful and the service was worse. I tried it one more time with the same results, and won’t try it again.
    I’m really interested in the food at the Joyce, but it is just way too smoky in there to enjoy or really taste the food. Everything sounds really good though!

  15. the Federal has some of the consistently best food in town. and yeah, the specials menu is always a good way to go. their burger has been on a decline though. and i still long for the Joyce burger circa early ’00s, the giant bacon-clad behemoth…

  16. SO frikkin cramped tho

  17. Glad to see that JJ is changing up their menu. Those prices are not exactly recession-friendly though.

    I’ve only had 1 bad meal at the Fed (the brisket sandwich, mentioned above, was too fatty), but I’ve never had bad service. The wait staff are very friendly and always remember the beer I drink. As previously said, you really can’t go wrong with the specials menu. They had southern fried chicken & waffles a few weeks ago and it was just as good as it sounds.

  18. Apathy – if you want a consistently excellent burger, then you need to go to Dain’s Place on 9th. I’ve been going there at least one time every week for the past 14 months and the burger is always great. The steak soup is pretty dang good also and the beer selection is unrivaled.

  19. Apathy-

    If you don’t mind less ambiance with your cooked cow, check out Wimpy’s on Hillsborough. Greasy burgers served in wax paper are hard to beat.

    Haven’t had Dais’s burger or Bull McCabe’s, based on the comments above, I’m missing out. Damn this work from home job!

  20. Dain’s is tough to beat. Their fries are also excellent; I asked Dain what he did with them. He replied that they change their oil a lot more frequently than most places, and they use a slightly higher quality of fry than many places (about 2 bucks a bag more expensive). Changing the oil more frequently is also pretty costly, but he said it’s worth it for the reactions he gets.

    The only problem with the burger is that you can’t get it medium rare, but that’s obviously not his fault.

  21. Dain’s burgers are good, but as others (and myself) have said, the best are at Bull McCabe’s and Wimpy’s – evening and morning burgers respectively.

  22. Had a Wimpy’s burger last month and was not impressed. I read somewhere that they pre-cook burgers during the lunch rush and based on the “meh” burger I received, I believe that. Nowhere close to Dain’s. Not even up to Cook-out level. OTOH, I love their biscuits and I’ve had their shrimp burger which was good, so I’d give them another shot.

  23. Go for breakfast there 🙂

  24. […] probably never be complete agreement about the best burger in town, but a good bet for your top 5 is probably Dain’s Place (754 9th St., […]

  25. Bummer. Joyce has had the best chicken wings in town for a long time, now they are gone.

  26. It seems the Joyce had to fly their new chef back to Ireland.

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