North Beach Journal

Popcorn, pasta, Poets Plaza, Puccini, Joe DiMaggio Playground … and a kick in the ‘calzoni’

Italian-born newlyweds Mattia Cosni and Alice Romagnoli cook up family recipes at The Italian Homemade Company in North Beach.


Recently, I received an invitation from Angela Alioto, international director of the Knights of St. Francis (an unofficial Catholic lay organization she founded), to attend a dinner-concert on Oct. 2 at the Porziuncola Nuova in North Beach. The colorful, multipage invitation lists co-chairs, advisors, benefactors, and honorary committee members including one cardinal, two bishops, eight priests, one consul general, one governor, two mayors, more than 200 of Angela’s knights, scores of San Francisco A-list socialites — but not one poet.

Not including a poet on this list of swells is a mistake. Proceeds from Angela’s Knights of St. Francis dinner-concert go to The Piazza St. Francis, The Poets Plaza. That’s the official name for the pedestrian oasis planned for that short block of Vallejo Street, between Grant and Columbus Avenues. The National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi and Trieste, the seminal San Francisco coffee house — where poets actually hang out — border the site diagonally.

A poet conceived the admirable project designed for people, not automobiles. But not just any poet, San Francisco’s premier poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, first envisioned his Poets Plaza back in 1998.

In a meeting I had in June with the always-energetic Angela, who has become a latter-day champion of Lawrence’s concept, she promised to raise the necessary $1.8 million for its completion. When I checked with her by e-mail last month, she reported that she had pledges for the Oct. 2 event in excess of $400,000 — a good start.

Those interested in attending should contact Individual tickets are $250. Prime tables for 10 are as much as $25,000. Angela, a North Beach mover and shaker, has other fundraising efforts up her sleeve for Lawrence’s imaginative project.


Although it’s called The Piazza St. Francis, The Poets Plaza (descriptive but awkward), I prefer to think of it as Lawrence Ferlinghetti Plaza to honor the poet who conceived it. I don’t think St. Francis — a poet himself — would mind.


You like Italian food, don’t you? A new place for it in North Beach is The Italian Homemade Company, 716 Columbus Avenue, just north of Washington Square. It seats only four diners at a narrow counter with high stools and serves pasta out of cardboard boxes. Yes, it’s primarily a take-out restaurant but also sells Italian groceries, sandwiches, and fresh pasta for you to cook at home.

The Italian Homemade Company is the dream of Mattia Cosni, 30, and Alice Romagnoli, 27, newlyweds who left Italy for San Francisco to live the American dream. “We wanted to move to San Francisco to make fresh pasta,” says Mattia. He and his bride Alice — she’s actually the cook in the family; he’s the helper — have been married only two months so may be excused if they’re still a little giddy. The pair met at a beach party in Mattia’s hometown, Fano, an Italian resort on the Adriatic Sea, and soon began scheming to open an Italian restaurant. Alice learned to cook at home from her mother and grandmother in Rimini, a city in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna province. The day I stopped in for ravioli with meat sauce and a burrata salad with cherry tomatoes and arugula, both the pair’s mothers were visiting from Italy — and were helping make the sauces and pastas.


Here in North Beach we enjoy naming places after famous Italians. Two that come to mind quickly are Caffe Puccini and Joe DiMaggio Playground. Hanging on the wall in Caffe Puccini are framed operatic scores in the composer’s hand. O.K., so they’re reproductions. Do you know any other place besides the Giacomo Puccini Archives in Milan where you can see stuff like this? Well, that’s my segue to the Joe DiMaggio Playground that plans a redo with a new kids’ area, lots of trees, and renovated sports courts. The project is expected to get underway in early 2015. DiMaggio died in 1999 at 84, and the Florida lawyer who controlled his estate didn’t want to let us put up signs reading Joe DiMaggio Playground — even though Joltin’ Joe played ball there as a North Beach kid. Back in 2000, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown bit the bullet and the signs were put up.


A popcorn shop has opened on Columbus Avenue in the heart of Italian North Beach. On the sidewalk in front of Cornology (that’s its name — I don’t make up stuff like this) is a nearly life-sized statue of a 1950s drive-in carhop on roller skates presumably holding a bucket of candied popcorn. Where are the Telegraph Hill Dwellers when you really need them?


A while back, I wrote about the restaurant Calzone’s in North Beach. To be hip and a phony Italian, I referred to it as a high-style “restorante.” Then I made my second blunder and referred to “restorantes” along Rome’s Via Veneto. Wrong! The singular of restaurant in Italian is ristorante. The plural is ristoranti. I deserve a kick in the calzoni, which are not only Italian oven-baked turnovers but also the Italian word for trousers. I got my calzoni kicked by reader Lucia D’Alessandro who lives in the Marina. I owe her a calzone at Calzone’s.

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