North Beach Journal

Betty Lou’s Seafood & Grill, Tony Bennett’s statue, Barney’s city guide, Chief Sullivan’s Irish mural

The mural of poets and playwrights on the wall at Chief Sullivan's. Photo: Rick Howard


Tony Bennett, who you recall left his heart in San Francisco, was asked by Barney’s, the upscale New York retailer, to prepare a city guide as a promotion for its San Francisco store. What are a few of Tony’s favorite things in our town? The Japanese Tea Garden, the Fairmont Hotel (where in 1961 he first sang that San Francisco city anthem), the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the cable cars (that climb halfway to the stars), the Palace of Fine Arts, SFJazz Center, and two restaurants — Tadich Grill and Sotto Mare.


And speaking of Sotto Mare (552 Green Street), two of the restaurant’s most important staffers who kept the place humming — Betty Pesce and Hector Chaparro — have taken a walk from the North Beach landmark and are opening another fish restaurant nearby. They are joined by Louise Taylor, who a few years ago managed Sotto Mare for her brother-in-law Gigi Fiorucci.

The new restaurant will be called Betty Lou’s Seafood & Grill. As I write this, it’s due to open at 318 Columbus Avenue sometime this month. Betty and Louise are sisters — third generation Portuguese from Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands. Brother-in-law Gigi is the master restaurateur who opened Gigi’s Sotto Mare in 2007. Gigi sold his restaurant a few years ago to Richie and Laura Azzolino, who still operate it as Sotto Mare. Hector has been chef there since it opened. Betty, Louise, and Hector are equal partners in the new establishment. There have been some rumblings and grumblings of discontent from Sotto Mare’s Green Street sanctum sanctorum, but Betty Lou’s Seafood & Grill is good news for the neighborhood. The three partners are well-liked and experienced. I’m eager to try the cioppino.


Perhaps you’ve seen the eight-foot, bronze statue of our man Tony Bennett that was unveiled last month in front of the Fairmont Hotel — great idea to honor the Italian crooner. But I would have been happier if Tony’s statue had been placed in North Beach — in front of Betty Lou’s Seafood & Grill. Betty and Louise are buddies with the jazzy singer.


North Beach neighborhood barkeep Conor Howard is my man when I need information about the mysterious Irish. He served behind the plank at the defunct O’Reilly’s Irish Pub on Green Street for more than 10 years. That’s a long time to be listening to customer blarney, but as an Irishman, Conor knows about blarney. A few months ago, I ran a paragraph in my Sketches column about O’Reilly’s reopening as a saloon called Chief Sullivan’s, and stated I hoped its magnificent mural of Irish poets and playwrights would not be destroyed. I stated that one of the Irish poets depicted was Dylan Thomas — and, of course, Conor almost lost it. Dylan Thomas was Welsh. There’s a big difference, Conor explained to me. Had I given this more thought before I applied quill pen to paper, I would have realized this.

Poets and playwrights in the mural are George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Brendan Behan, Sea O’Casey, and William Butler Yeats. Conor told me that Irish poet Seamus Heaney once dropped into O’Reilly’s, ordered a Guinness, took a look at the mural, and noted that his visage was not on the wall. Heaney, who was later awarded the Nobel Prize for poetry, was not pleased. The mural was done by local artist Vranas Van Hoyt.


One night, as I do frequently, I telephoned my daughter to chat. She had just finished her dinner. “What did you have?” I asked. “Sushi and a Three Musketeers Bar,” she said. “Wow, a new twist on California cuisine,” I said. “I’ll have to contact Michael Bauer at the Chronicle so he can try out your new pop-up restaurant.” “No way,” she replied. “No food writers please, not even you, Dad.”


Whenever I think of real food — as I do often — I think of Madam Meatloaf who in real life is Lona Jupiter. That’s because whenever I’ve been invited to her Russian Hill digs, Lona serves her justly famous, but simple, dish. Knowing you will want to try it in your own digs rather wait for an invite from Madam Meatloaf, here’s the recipe in her own words.

“I just put a bunch of hamburger in a bowl, add a little salt and pepper, a can of spicy tomato sauce, and some Panko. No onions and garlic because I’m too lazy to chop them. Then I add a raw egg and smoosh it all up, put it in a loaf pan and bake the works at 350 degrees for about an hour.”
Now that’s real food.

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