As readers of the Marina Times will know, I am a voracious diner in North Beach. Not only do I occasionally review restaurants, but also annually write a column, The Ernestos: Best of North Beach Awards. And now I’m confessing in my North Beach wanderings I have frequently overlooked Calzone’s Pizza Cucina, the Columbus Avenue powerhouse whose sidewalk tables always seem to be filled with tourists.
Yes, I really do understand, tourism is good for the neighborhood, but I’ve been a bit snooty, looking down my nose at Calzone’s and under what I now believe is a false impression that locals from the neighborhood don’t eat there. They are doing what the tourists do — enjoying the Calzone’s experience. So in the last couple of months I’ve mended my ways and checked it out — repeatedly. Smart!
First, without doubt, Calzone’s is the most attractive restaurant in North Beach. It looks like a set for the 1960 Fellini movie La Dolce Vita. One expects Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg to begin an affair there. But what is more important, I found the food to be surprisingly good. And in North Beach the bar is set high for restaurants.
By the way, the proprietor of Calzone’s isn’t a guy named Calzone. It’s a guy named Jerry Dal Bozzo, a North Beach native who opened the place in 1986. The executive chef for Calzone’s, who’s been there for more than 30 years, is David Barrett.
Although Dal Bozzo operates Calzone’s, he has a partner, Dante Serafini, in several other Bay Area restaurants. In San Francisco there’s The Stinking Rose, The Crab House at Pier 39, The Franciscan Crab Restaurant, Osso’s Steakhouse, and The Old Clam House. In Sausalito there’s Salito’s Crab House and Prime Rib, and in Crockett there’s The Dead Fish. An impressive empire.
But back to Calzone’s: Just what then is a calzone? It’s a small pizza folded in a half-moon, and stuffed with this or that. I’ve tried several here and found them to be a good lunchtime meal if you add a glass of wine. My favorite is the calzone with steak and peppers ($19). Inside is diced filet mignon with caramelized onions, cherry peppers, and a bit of white cheddar cheese.
I’m told the word calzone means trouser in Italian and this steak-stuffed “trouser” is easy to like and easy to eat. Unlike the typical pizza, which droops and drips when you pick it up, the folded calzone is both chewy and flaky at the edges.
Another good choice for me is the crostini with Dungeness crab ($12 for two, $5 for each additional). It’s piled high with fresh crab. Another is the tomato bruschetta ($12 for four, $4 for each additional).
Both bruschetta and crostini are listed together on the menu. I’m not enough of a dedicated foodie to distinguish between the two, but I’m advised there is a clear difference. Both are toasted bread topped with a variety of flavorful offerings. Bruschetta is frequently presented as thinly sliced, toasted bread doused with olive oil, rubbed with garlic, and sprinkled with chopped Roma tomatoes and a bit of sweet basil. Crostini, also thinly sliced toasted bread, is the more elaborate of the two, and toppings can include sun-dried tomatoes, prosciutto, chicken livers, tuna, and at Calzone’s, my favorite Dungeness crab. The bread, delivered twice daily from Acme Bread Company, is excellent.
One day I made a fine meal of the Caesar salad — again with the addition of Dungeness crab ($14). It’s also available with sliced beef steak or chicken ($14). If the basic Caesar salad is your choice ($12), you will be happy. The romaine lettuce is crisp, with just the right amount of dressing.
There’s an heirloom tomato salad ($13) served with red onions, avocado, croutons, and balsamic vinegar. The tomatoes are organic from San Francisco Specialty Produce. I had them one evening with an order of calamari ($18) with a spicy chipotle remoulade that enhanced them nicely. Another surprisingly fine meal was the seared scallops ($17) wrapped in prosciutto and napped with wasabi aioli.
All pastas are house made. Good choices are fettuccini with Dungeness crab and cherry tomatoes ($25), and Lasagna Al Forno ($25). The lasagna is done with a deeply flavored sugo with pork and beef.
Desserts are $10 and include a competent Tiramisu.
Calzone’s has a full-service bar and lists a variety of the fancy craft drinks so popular these days, as well as the simpler cocktails and highballs. There’s also a wine list with both Italian and California offerings by the bottle, decanter, or glass, and one Malbec from Argentina. Add to these beverages the usual draft and bottled beers, and soft drinks, and you have a more than adequate selection to accompany your meal. Then to round it off you can stay and people-watch a while longer over an espresso, cappuccino, or latte.
I should also note that all prices listed here and on the official menu include sales tax. Gratuities, though, are extra.
Calzone’s Pizza Cucina: 430 Columbus Avenue, daily 11:30 a.m.–1 a.m., 415-397-3600, calzonesf.com.
Most attractive restaurant in North Beach: You could be in an Italian movie.
Dining on the sidewalk means street noise, but that’s all part of it, isn’t it? Inside can get loud in the evening when they crank up Italian music on the sound system.
NOT TO MISS DISHES
Calzones, crostini, and bruschetta. The lasagna is outstanding.
WHAT THE DIAMONDS MEAN
Ratings range from zero to four diamonds and reflect food, atmosphere, and service, taking price range and type of restaurant into consideration. In the case of Calzone’s, I give it four diamonds for ambience and three for food. It’s a terrific place to hang out — especially at those sidewalk tables. And as I said above, the food is surprisingly good.
OUR REVIEW POLICY
We conduct multiple visits anonymously and pay our own tab.