Sometimes I think Calzone’s — the North Beach, high-style restorante with a lot of sidewalk action — gets a bum rap. “Too touristy,” one is apt to hear. What’s wrong with that? Attracting tourists to your restaurant is bad? Don’t Chez Panisse, the French Laundry, Gary Danko, or the Tadich Grill attract tourists? — who, by the way, eat well and have a hell of a good time.
Let’s get real here. Calzone’s brings ’em to North Beach. It’s exuberantly and unmistakably Italian like the restorantes along Rome’s Via Veneto. One imagines Fellini, just out of sight, observing. Sitting on the sidewalk under the awning and the heat lamps — when necessary — and observing the Columbus Avenue strollers, can be salubrious. But Calzone’s deserves some serious attention by restaurant reviewers, not just yelpers and other amateurs, who should take off their blinkers and open their minds. The point is it’s not getting a lot of “ink” as we print folks say.
Calzone’s has been around since 1986. It was opened and is still owned by long-time San Francisco restaurateur Jerry Dal Bozzo. He and a partner, Dante Serafini, operate several other restaurants in the area — The Stinking Rose, Old Clam House, Osso
Steakhouse, Franciscan Crab Restaurant, Crab House — all in San Francisco — and Salito’s in Sausalito, and the Dead Fish in Crockett.
CALZONES AT CALZONE’S
Calzone’s may be off the radar for the big-shot reviewers because it’s not a storefront joint in the avenues, a trendy Dogpatch loft with no name and no phone number, or a high-tech Valencia hottie. And I confess Calzone’s hasn’t been on my personal North Beach prowl list. Too bad! Recently I checked it out.
But before we go further, let’s define the word “calzone.” It’s an oven-baked, doughy turnover (usually pizza dough) filled with this and that. And by all means, try the calzone at Calzone’s. Or try the pizzas, which are as well made as any in North Beach. But that’s not the entire menu story.
MY LUNCH ‘WORKED’
You may want to stick to the small plates and, if so, several will make a fine meal. Not long ago, I covered my outdoor table with crab crostini ($15.95), ratatouille ($7.95), roasted cauliflower colore ($7.95), and a salumi plate ($11.95). That, and a bottle of Honig Sauvignon Blanc ($34.95), made a fine meal and gave me enough time to people watch.
The crab crostini — there are two in a serving — had generous portions of fresh crab meat, topped by a thin slice of smoked salmon and a wedge of avocado on a toasted slice of sourdough drizzled with olive oil. It was rich and unctuous without being over the top.
The ratatouille — which frequently I find too slick and eggplant-y — was not that at all. The eggplant was firm and flavorful, and to that was added some onion, zucchini, bell pepper, tomato and, I was told, a bit of kale. Happily, your kale-disinterested columnist discerned no kale.
The roasted cauliflower colore was your routine, now very popular, roasted cauliflower flowerets topped with toasted almonds, a very small amount of Manchego cheese, and a small cup of romesco sauce, similar to a red pesto, for dipping. The Manchego — there was not a lot of it, and there shouldn’t be for my taste — added a saltiness that kept me sipping my wine.
The salumi plate was just that, a generous portion of cured meats — salami, prosciutto, sweet coppa, and mortadella. I munched it with torn pieces of sourdough.
What I am saying here is that my lunch worked. And when I used the calculator on my iPhone, I discovered I spent $74.75, plus tip. OK, considerably more than I usually spend for lunch. But, as I said, it worked. I had a fine time and enjoyed myself. And no one forced me to buy a $34.95 bottle of wine. I could have ordered by the glass and not dented my impoverished wallet that much.
BUBBLING ON THE BACK BURNER
Another time, accompanied by a lady, we went for entrées. Mine was braised short ribs ($21.95). Hers was breaded chicken Milanaise ($19.95), and thinking we needed it, we added a dish of fettuccini with slow-roasted pork and beef sugo. ($17.95). And cheapy that I am sometimes, I ordered house wine by the glass. They range from $8.95 up. Not all that far up, but up.
My short ribs — there were four small boneless ribs — were nicely accomplished, very brown in a suitable ragu but perhaps not as lusty as I would have liked. They were accompanied by a few fava beans and a pile of orecchiette pasta, those little crimped pasta-things shaped something like the ears of a punch-drunk boxer.
The breaded chicken Milanaise was lemony and caper-y and the breading was crisp and a little spicy. As I recall it was served with some mashed potatoes and a bit of sautéed zucchini.
The fettuccini with pork and beef sugo was a home run. The sugo had been slowly bubbling on the back burner for a suitable, old-school time and tasted like it; that is, it filled your mouth with that Italian tomato saucy earthiness.
Overall, I prefer my cucina Italiana a little more rough and rustic around the edges. But that’s me.
We skipped dessert. Next time!
What I am concluding here is, when you’re in North Beach you may want to — consider Calzone’s. You will be glad you did.
Calzone’s: 430 Columbus Avenue, 415-397-3600, calzonesf.com, daily 11:30 a.m.–1 am. Indoor and outdoor seating. Full bar, lots of people having fun.