Stoner Food Critic Joel Haas has eaten over 100 takeout meals in the Covid era. Photography by Joel Haas
Joel Haas has eaten three bowls of Kashi cereal and one Chobani yoghurt since Covid-19 struck DC in mid-March. That is remarkable only because every other meal the 51 year-old has consumed came from a restaurant kitchen. Haas—aka “the stoner food critic”—estimates he’s dined on takeout from 107 restaurants, all while high on medical marijuana. He’s surpassed 1,000 carryout dishes, nearly all from cheffy or fine dining spots. His recycling is robust.
Haas, who also goes by such self-given nicknames as “the Michelin whisperer” and “a blazer in a blazer,” was already an obsessive diner pre-Covid. In 2019 alone, he clocked in 600-plus meals nationwide—over 200 of them in Michelin-starred restaurants. And he did it all solo, while legally high (he focused on marijuana-friendly states and DC). The journey, “420 Coast to Coast,” is documented in the restaurant reviews he posts on his cannabis entertainment site, “High Speed Dining: Inhaling America.” There, you’ll find 4 minute 20 second (get it?) videos depicting the jovial host feasting at spots like New York’s Le Bernadin, San Francisco’s Atelier Crenn, and Pineapple and Pearls in DC. Reviews are all “stoner approved” and effusively positive. Imagine a mix of Bong Appetit-style high-flying entertainment and Korean mukbang voyeurism—with a fine dining bent.
“For me a bad experience is when you go spend $380 at a meal like Alinea, and while it’s the most amazing show, it doesn’t fill you up,” Haas says. “They want to make sure the old lady who’s sitting next to you doesn’t leave anything on her plate, when in reality, I could eat the old lady.”
When I first met Haas in late January, he told me: “I look at myself as Snoop-Dog, knowledge-wise, on the marijuana side, but with a Martha Stewart food angle.” We were at the Ivy City tasting-menu restaurant Gravitas, where he’d reached #1 regular status after 30 visits in under a year. Now, in the pandemic, Haas has become even more of a novelty: a daily restaurant regular—and one who puts lots of money where his mouth is. His carryout tabs average about $200 per meal, between food and tips. He has doled out upwards of $20,000 to DC restaurants since March, plus $6,000 to food banks here and in other cities where he’s filmed.
How can the guy afford it? The New York native made his money both as a comedy producer in Manhattan for big names like Jim Gaffigan, and also with a line of—no joke—cell phone ringtones called “HaHaas.” (Another self-given nickname: The Rick Ruben of Ringtones). A job with then-fledgling SiriusXM Satellite Radio brought him to DC where he created comedy channels. High Speed Dining came about as a retirement passion project, which is still finding its way. Haas carefully documents his eating adventures with video and photos, and has collected an insane amount of footage (“over a quarter million images,” he says). But he’s not big on social media and doesn’t play the influencer game.
“I think Joel is a chef’s cheerleader and a restaurant cheerleader—he’s just a really good person” says Matt Baker, chef/owner of Gravitas. “He was part of a rough service we had early on after opening. He came by the kitchen at the end of the night, unprovoked, and said ‘Hey chef, I know things seemed high heat tonight, but I just want you to know the food is spectacular and you’ll get things figured out.’ When you’re a perfectionist and so worried about an off night, it meant so much.”
Haas lives alone in a Brookland apartment and occasionally dines with his girlfriend, though his massive takeout orders would suggest a larger crowd. A recent to-go order (for one) from Italian dining room the Red Hen was stuffed with Castelvetrano olives, burrata, chicken-liver mousse, cucumber-and-snap-pea salad, pasta with asparagus and bacon, sausage rigatoni, roasted halibut, charred short ribs, tiramisu, and a pint of mint-chocolate chip ice cream. After a 20 percent tip and a separate donation to the restaurants’ employee relief fund, the grand total came to $253.84.
Though Haas sometimes patronizes two restaurants a day, his typical diet features a mix of fresh food and leftovers for a light lunch around 1 PM, a decadent dinner by 8 PM, and a late-night munchies snack around 2 AM. The first two meals are accompanied by a ritual 3.5 mile walk, plus an hour of lifting in between. He vapes and uses oils—no smoking—morning through night. Asked if he pairs certain kinds of marijuana with meals like fine wine, he chuckles.
“If I was a normal person who got high one meal a week, pairing might mean a lot. But I may be doing an all-day, ten strain mix,” says Haas. “I like to consider myself the bartender crafting the overall buzz, and what I’m doing is the Long Island iced tea of marijuana.”
Such obsession may seem extreme, even in this extreme moment. But methodic intensity is the usual way for Haas. While Action Bronson blisses out over pizza and fried chicken on F*ck That’s Delicious, Haas walks ten miles a day, lifts obsessively, and boasts a six-pack tighter than tray of dinner rolls—an image he’s not shy about sharing on his website. He often passes up carbs and sweets in favor of massive amounts of protein. After we met over snacks at Gravitas’s rooftop bar (his order: two crudos, a lobster roll, and a Cuban sandwich), Haas walked over four miles to Bad Saint in Columbia Heights for a proper dinner. He drinks constant refills of sparkling water, and gave up alcohol, caffeine, and even large doses of sodium over the last decade after a double hip replacement and a once-crippling inner-ear condition.
“My friends tell me, you do everything to eleven” Haas says, his New York accent firing off with triple-espresso intensity. “When I lost two-of-the-four things I do to eleven, what did I replace them with? Getting high and eating food. I’ve never been happier.”
Haas is used to living with physical limitations. He was born without fingers on his left hand, but a surgery granted him a two-finger “claw” (his words). “It’s a major part of who I am and where I am in life,” Haas says. “Are things more difficult to do? Sure. I have to try a little harder. But I don’t question what I’m doing, I’m just doing things.”
Back in February, Haas went on a 51st birthday trip to New York. During his ten days there, he hit 21 Michelin-starred restaurants. Lunches at Momofuku Ko, Eleven Madison Park, and Gramercy Tavern were tailed by dinners at Masa, Daniel, and Per Se. Over 30 desserts with candles landed on his table.
Now that Covid has largely shuttered fine-dining bastions—some forever—the vacation seems like a concept from an alien world. But as a voiceover in Haas’s new line of takeout videos says:”Not even Covid-19 can keep Joel down.” He’s got a new project, “Takeout A-Z DC.” In those films, Haas shows up at say, Reverie or Bresca for a two-or-three bag haul—“I couldn’t decide what to get so I got everything!”—and chats with masked staffers before returning home for “the unboxing.” It strikes a less goofy, more intimate tone than the High Speed Dining videos of yore. Takeout bags reveal beautifully packaged seafood feasts or whole lacquered ducks, often with hand-written notes of thanks.
“Before I went out to restaurants, I was a fairly lonely guy,” Haas told me on a recent call. “But then I started going out and feeling like family everywhere.” He recently dined outside at a few of his favorite restaurants, like Gravitas, where he splurged on a seven-course tasting menu plus two takeout meals. “I like that way to connect with people. My life is very much like Groundhog Day. But with the most amazing food.”