Original Joe’s Sets Up Shop in North Beach
The San Francisco legend is here! The old Original Joe’s feel is recreated with dark wood, moody lights, red leather booths, and rows upon rows of vintage photographs of family members, friends, and media reviews on the walls.
Started by Tony Rodin in 1937 (the year the Golden Gate Bridge was opened to the public) and followed by many other “Joe’s” restaurants all over the country, Original Joe’s is now revived and happily restored in the historic North Beach neighborhood.
John Duggan and his sister Elena Duggan, the grandchildren of the proprietor, are on premises most of the time, assuring the continuation of the family’s 75-year legacy.
On the night we dined, I had a momentary illusion of time travel. Formally dressed waiters served classic cocktails and time-honored fare to elegant patrons in Art Deco ambiance…then a glance at beer-chugging phone-texters in branded hoodies brought me back to reality.
I had to resort to empowering Sazerac, back on cocktail lists of America with the recent absinthe rehabilitation. My dining companion indulged in a gingery Dark n’ Stormy.
The classics at Original Joe’s include the Manhattan, the screwdriver, the grasshopper, and other nobles straight from Mad Men drinking rituals. There are many comfort-food favorites on the Italian-American menu of cold and hot starters, salads, sides, and entrees.
The antipasti platter has enough salami, mortadella, mozzarella, pickled pepperoncini, red onions, and black olives to share. Red pesto with chili flakes adds a kick unknown to previous generations of diners. Arancini—cheesy risotto balls named after the oranges they resemble in form and color—come dusted with basil and parmesan. Chicken cacciatore is cooked to tenderness and smothered with a generous portion of hearty tomato sauce.
Breaded pork chops, as all meat, chicken or fish dishes, come with various sides – it can be wonderfully tasty Original Joe’s beef and cheese ravioli, or different potato variations, or a healthy “eat your vegetables” mix.
Some good not-so-old wines come by the glass. I liked 2010 Pushback sauvignon blanc from Napa, whose creator-winemaker happened to be sitting at the Original Joe’s bar lounge that very evening.
We met Nick Floulis and learned how lucky we were, since his small-production—only 1,300 cases—wine “inspired by a pushback moment, a quarter-life crisis, an 805-mile drive, and sauvignon blanc grapes” is not sold in retail – only in restaurants.
Predictably, the drinks at Original Joe’s are not for sissies, the food is caloric, and the portions are substantial, but I couldn’t leave this restaurant without dessert.
Butterscotch pudding with sea-salt caramel sauce is a true masterpiece, and a great finale to a memorable meal.
The Original Joe’s is located at 601 Union Street in San Francisco. Call for reservations (415) 775-4877 or visit their website.