Parkchester community loses local culinary legend, Joe Torres

Joe Torres, owner of Joe’s Place Restaurant & Bar, who passed away April 12 from COVID-19
Photo courtesy Joe Conzo

A man who served the likes of Derek Jeter and Jennifer Lopez and became known as an icon in the restaurant industry was taken from the Bronx this past weekend.

On April 12, Joe Torres, owner of Joe’s Place Restaurant & Bar, 1841 Westchester Ave., passed away from COVID- 19. Torres, 73, had his eatery for two decades and spent the majority of his life in the kitchen.

For many years he was the chef at Jimmy’s Bronx Café on Fordham Road, which shuttered in 2004.

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. expressed his condolences.

“Joe catered a lot of our events and sponsored our Orchard Beach Salsa summer concerts last year,” he said on Twitter. “More importantly, Joe was a friend. My heart goes out to Joe’s family during this difficult time.”

Torres was born in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico and developed his culinary talents from an early age in his mother’s kitchen. At 9-years-old he came to America and began cooking at 14.

Kevin Fitzpatrick, who wrote “111 Places in the Bronx That You Must Not Miss,” reminisced about his time with Torres.

“He is just a classic old school chef,” Fitzpatrick said. “What impressed me about Joe was that he basically grew up in a kitchen.”

Torres told Fitzpatrick how as a kid he would work 60 to 80 hours a week and when his friends were out riding bikes, he was behind the wheel of a Cadillac.

He mastered his trade while cooking at Jimmy’s in the 90s. Fitzpatrick said even though he served numerous celebrities, he was always humble.

Here is an excerpt from his book about Torres.

“I worked in Manhattan hotels and restaurants as a teenager. Daytime I was at the old Americana Hotel. Then I’d go over to the Cattleman on 45th Street and work at night. I was there 18 years.”

Joe’s Place is the restaurant he always wanted. “Now it’s been more than 20 years cooking Caribbean food,” Joe says. “Our mechado is a very good looking dish. Cow feet soup is a traditional Spanish dish. Try the mofungo stuffed with shrimp, or sweet plantains and yuca. For dessert get the tembleque, it’s cocoa based.”

Joe Conzo, a retired paramedic and lifelong Bronxite, was the photographer for the book. Conzo recalled how during the 1996 blizzard Torres and the staff at Jimmy’s helped feed FDNY/ EMS personnel.

Conzo noted that Torres was looking to retire, but sadly his life was cut short. His death came as a shock, Conzo said. He heard he was in the hospital and the next thing he knew he had passed.

“He gave back to the community and he was an approachable guy,” Conzo said.

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