I’m a lover of meatballs, and I suppose I spend an inordinate amount of time checking them out here and there. And perhaps there’s no place better to do this research than in North Beach — the meatball capital of the Western World.
If you follow my strange and scholarly pursuits in these Sketches columns, you know that I am a tireless food researcher and have undertaken quests for the perfect clam chowder, baccala (the salted cod I am so fond of), linguine and clams, crab Louie, steaks, lamb chops, prosciutto, and gelato. So the logic of my search for the perfect meatball is apparent.
Any North Beach restaurant with a huge stockpot of tomato sauce on the back burner offers a reasonably worthy meatball. And I have probably tried them all. Some are heavily breaded, some with no breadcrumbs at all but bound with a raw egg or with parmesan cheese. Some are spicy with red pepper flakes. Some are as mild as your mother’s meatloaf.
THE MEATBALL SYMPOSIUM
My North Beach buddy James Melling, whom I call the Gentleman Trencherman because I value his judgment in the gustatory arts, sneaks off to Tony’s Pizza Napoletana on Stockton Street once in a while to feed his guilty pleasure — a slice of this or that. Although I too am a fan of pizza, I find Tony’s pretentious and pompous. A bit like Janis Joplin belting out a song called “Bobbie McGee and I.”
I have avoided Tony’s pizza and have even taken a few potshots at it in my column. But one recent day James chided me for what he said was my narrow- mindedness and insisted I accompany him there for lunch. I was nervous. Perhaps Tony — the capo — had put out a contract on me with some of his gangster buddies from Napoli. So I donned my Rod Stewart fright wig, my Elton John glitter glasses, and ventured forth.
But once ensconced in the dark confines of the place, I couldn’t bring myself to go for the pizza. I demurred.
“Try the meatballs,” James said. That’s how the Meatball Symposium came to life.
Tony’s meatballs were so good I hit the “Like” button in my brain. So I want to go on record here. Tony makes one helluva meatball.
ANOTHER SALOON MOVES TO THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET
As a bonafide saloonist, I was a regular at The Square (that’s what we called the Washington Square Bar & Grill). When it closed, I transferred my allegiance to Capp’s Corner, my home-away-from-home for a long time. Then, two years ago, it too closed after a long, comic opera episode of bullying and posturing on both sides — the landlord and the Capp’s Corner proprietor.
After the impasse, a lot of bad feelings, no negotiation in good faith, and the closing, I was once more out on my rear end without a barstool. Happily, I soon found a couple of joints in North Beach to place my butt and enjoy life — Original Joe’s and Gino and Carlo.
With this epic struggle for neighborhood space behind me, you can imagine my interest when a while back I heard someone was taking over the old Capps’ Corner at Green and Powell Streets, and intended to operate a saloon-restaurant there. And that’s how I happened to sit down with a personable young guy named Keith Wilson.
A DEAL FOR CAPP’S SITE
Keith is the owner-proprietor of The Boardroom, which operates right across Powell Street from the lamented Capp’s Corner. The Boardroom serves burgers, fries, onion rings — that kind of saloon fare — and well-engineered, but simple drinks. And Keith is doing very well, thank you. So well, in fact, he had been eyeing the larger Capp’s Corner space for some time. “I’ve made a deal with the owners, signed a lease, and expect to open this fall — perhaps in September or October depending on when the Capp’s Corner building owners complete the necessary seismic upgrades,” he told me.
Music to my ears! Maybe it’s just as simple as that. I hope so.
Keith’s plans — while loose at this point — are to continue what he does best, to serve simple food and good drinks. But he’s a reasonable guy and open to suggestions, and I’m a guy with suggestions.
When I met with him I was in my usual default mood — nostalgia. I told him I was the proud possessor of a large sign that hung over the door at Capp’s Corner. I view the sign — as do many of the old-time regulars — as conveying the essence, the spirit, the mojo, of the old Capp’s Corner. Some readers will recall it:
1. Grab your coat and get your hat —
2. Leave your worries on the doorstep —
3. Just direct your feet to the sunny side of the street!
What I am getting at here is that Capp’s Corner was the sunny side of the street for many of us. Keith wants to put the sign back up in the new joint. And I’m for that. I will turn it over to him on permanent loan. All I require is my own barstool.