North Beach’s Il Casaro Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar Opens

Salvatore, the pizzaiola at North Beach's new Il Casaro Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar
Salvatore, the pizzaiola at North Beach’s new Il Casaro Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar

A couple of months ago I told you about Il Casaro (the cheese maker), the soon-to-open North Beach pizzeria and mozzarella bar. Well it finally happened a couple of days ago and I stopped in to wish my friend Francesco “Buona Fortuna”.

He sat me at the end of the immense white marble bar. I almost cried when I opened the menu filled with Neapolitan street food (cibo da strada), fried rice balls, bacala cakes, potato crocchette. Then I saw the homemade and imported mozzarella, fior di latte, burrata and the pizza. It’s a tantalizing menu.

“Where should I start my first time here?” I asked Francesco. “Pizza” he said without missing a beat. As I glanced toward the tomato-red beehive wood-burning oven I saw that I knew the pizzaiola standing in front of it. That sealed the deal. “Pizza Norma” I told Francesco without missing a beat either.

It was Salvatore, who I knew. I waved and in his honor ordered pizza alla Norma topped with grilled eggplant. Salvatore is a very talented pizza maker. He checked my pie lifting it high in the oven a few times just before he pulled the pie out to make sure it was perfect, slid it on a plate and delivered his masterpiece to me himself.

Il Casaro's Pizza Norma with grilled eggplant
Il Casaro’s Pizza Norma with grilled eggplant

Francesco wasn’t wrong. The tender pizza came out of the oven with dark puffy blisters all around the edge. The sweet eggplant played against lightly salted homemade fior di latte mozzarella.

I ate the whole thing starting with a knife and fork that I soon abandoned. Fold the slice in half and pick it up with your hands. It’s much easier and fun that way.

Those Calabrian peppers are small but deadly. Just the right addition to the last 2 slices of Pizza Norma.
Those Calabrian peppers are small but deadly. Just the right addition to the last 2 slices of Pizza Norma.

That single pizza was a wonderful trip around southern Italy. I started with a Neapolitan pizza that swung by Sicily to pick up the classic alla Norma eggplant topping and finished in Calabria after Francesco doused my last 2 slices with that tiny red-hot Calabrian pepper and its oil.

Before I left Francesco gave me a plate with ribbons of shaved raspadura, a delicate, nutty, young grating cheese. Once the paper cups arrive you can get curly shavings to eat while you roam North Beach. If you sit where I did you can watch them shaving the big cheese wheel with a special thin metal band.

I’ll return to Il Casaro soon. I gotta continue eating my way through the menu. Wanna join me? 5 stars so far in the early Yelp reviews.

If you’re inspired to make pizza at home my Pizza Margherita episode will show you how.

Did you see my new pasta primavera episode we released yesterday? You gotta make this easy, simple spring vegetable pasta dish part of your kitchen repertoire.

Buon appetito!

Mama’s on the Move in North Beach

Is the Piazza Market space a new Mama's?
Is the Piazza Market space a new Mama’s?

You know Mama’s at Stockton/Filbert across from Washington Square. It’s the one with ridiculously long lines winding up Stockton everyone waiting to get a fantastic breakfast or lunch.

The family behind Mama’s plans to open a second location in the long abandoned Piazza Market space on Vallejo around the corner from Molinari’s.

The Mama’s and Lil Mama’s space plans have been in the window for months now but I didn’t see any work going on inside so I thought the deal was stalled or dead.

But Paolo Lucchesi’s Chronicle item says the deal is happening. The Sanchez family signed a lease. Here are the Inside Scoop details.

Mama's restaurant plans
Mama’s restaurant plans

The space has a retail permit so the Lil Mama’s Market plans could be ready to go.

No so fast for the restaurant operation. The application for a restaurant permit has been filed. They’re tough to snag in North Beach.

With no neighborhood opposition I hope the permit issues quickly. No more long lines for breakfast.

Lil Mama's specialty grocery store plans
Lil Mama’s specialty grocery store plans

But I’m most excited about Lil Mama’s Market, the retail specialty grocery store part of the operation.

For months I was wondering what those merchandize cubbies in the drawing would hold.

Mama’s baked goodies and jams and an array of curated (ala Bi-Rite Market) local produce and food products too.

I can’t wait for this new North Beach treasure to open.

North Beach is San Francisco’s Heart

Worth the wait!
Santo’s Cannolo at Cavali Cafe–A North Beach Treasure

So says Carl Nolte in today’s Chronicle.

“People will tell you that South of Market is the new center of San Francisco. But North Beach has all the contradictions that made San Francisco what it is. And for my money the heart of the town is North Beach.”

Molinari’s Deli, early morning tai chi in Washington Square, lunch at Original Joe’s where a mistress may be at the next table, Liguria Bakery’s fantastic focaccia, Carl surveys it all in his ode to North Beach.

You know how much I love North Beach. Come along with me as I scour what’s left of North Beach’s Italian-American neighborhood to get all the fixings for a 4-course meal with friends last weekend. Homemade ricotta and mozzarella ravioli in a San Marzano tomato-basil sauce were the star of that 4-hour meal. Santo’s incredible cannoli weren’t too bad either.

Wayne Thiebaud's Laguna Rising
Wayne Thiebaud’s Laguna Rising

Only one week left to see the incredible Memory Mountains, the Wayne Thiebaud exhibit at the Paul Thiebaud Gallery on Chestnut Street at the fringe of North Beach.

You may know Wayne Thiebaud from his luscious cake paintings or the gum ball machine. I love his landscapes as well.

At 94 Wayne remains a prolific artist. The exhibit features his recent work and older food and landscape paintings that give the exhibit context over time.

Don’t miss this extraordinary collection of art. See which new ridge painting resembles a cake good enough to eat and another like a swirl of chocolate gelato ready to be scooped up.

What’s not to love in North Beach?

I know, the messy and disruptive subway to nowhere dig, loss of old Italian businesses. Don’t get me started. I’m in a wonderful mood this morning.

Mussels Steamed in Fennel-Mascarpone Broth

Mussels steamed in a white wine and fennel broth with mascarpone
Mussels steamed in a white wine and fennel broth with mascarpone

I ended my birthday celebration with 3 glorious days in Boston. I knew I had to eat at NEBO and booked a table. It was my birthday and my friends’ anniversary celebratory 4-course dinner.

NEBO named for its original location in Boston’s vibrant Little Italy (North End Boston) recently relocated to the edge of the financial district.

Chef-owners Carla and Christine Pallotta and their 80-year-old mother made us feel as though we were at their home. The vivacious sisters serve the food they grew up with. Their grandmother and mother cooked their ancestral food from Puglia and Compania.

Mrs. Pallotta is a regular at the restaurant. She’s a constant mentor. “Don’t do it that way, do it this way,” she demonstrates while watching pasta being made in the kitchen.

Turns out that one branch of the Pallotta family is from a village in the Appenine foothills inland from Naples very close to Mirabella Eclano where my Mom was born. “We’re paesani” the 80-year old Mrs. Pallotta and I exclaimed in unison as we shared family histories.

Carla and Christine’s pan-steamed mussels were the star of our all-seafood antipasti course. I kept thinking about them so I had to try to replicate this fantastic simple dish. Here’s my interpretation of the NEBO pan-steamed mussels that we savored on that special night.

I think I got it right. The small mussels bathed in the  fennel-flavored mascarpone cream broth are briny, plump and tender. The fennel’s anise flavor balances the rich mascarpone broth. I scoop up some broth, fennel and shallot on each half-shell as I pop one mussel after another into my mouth.

Serve the mussels with grilled bread rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with sea salt and extra virgin olive oil to sop up all the rich, flavorful broth.

This dish brings me back to the Bay of Naples. Grazie mille Pallotta family. I’ll be back and in the meantime I’ll recreate your wonderful southern Italian dishes in my kitchen.

Buon appetito!

Steamed Mussels with Fennel & Mascarpone
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Plumb mussels steamed with fennel in a mascarpone cream broth.
Author:
Recipe type: Appetiser
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 24 mussels, cleaned and debearded
  • 1 fennel bulb, cored, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 shallots, roughly chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs fresh Italian flat parsley
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup water, fish stock or clam juice
  • ½ cup mascarpone
Instructions
  1. Put the olive oil in a large cast iron pan or large pot over high heat.
  2. When the oil ripples add the fennel, shallot and bay leaf and sauté until the fennel is tender, 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add the white wine, water, mascarpone and parsley. Mix well and boil until the liquid thickens a bit, about 5 minutes.
  4. With the broth at a rapid boil and add the mussels and put a lid on the pan.
  5. Steam the mussels until they are all open, about 5 minutes. Discard any mussels that didn't open.
  6. Serve immediately in the pan or put the mussels and broth in a large bowl and top with some fennel fronds.

 

4 North Beach Sandwiches on 2 Top 10 Lists

Molinari Deli on Columbus
Molinari Deli on Columbus

4 North Beach places own top spots in 2 recent San Francisco best sandwich lists.

Molinari’s and Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store are on both lists, Eater SF’s Most Iconic Sandwiches and Sean Timberlake’s Citysearch Guide’s Best Italian Sandwiches.

Giordano Brothers and L’osteria del Forno are on Timberlake’s list too.

Stop in Molinari’s to get a Renzo Special (prosciutto, coppa “hot or mild” fresh mozzarella, with sun dried tomatoes). Be sure to take a number as you enter the deli. Grab your choice of bread for your sandwich from the bin while you’re waiting for your number to be called.

Head to Mario’s on Washington Square Park for a meatball sandwich oozing melted cheese and marinara sauce on focaccia from Liguria Bakery just across the Square.

Giordano Brother’s “all-in-one” sandwich is an homage to a Pittsburgh tradition, stuffing a truck driver’s whole meal between 2 slices of bread so he can eat lunch behind the wheel. North Beach’s Italian-French Bakery bread holds your meat and cheese picks, delicious french fries and oil & vinegar coleslaw.

L’osteria del Forno house-made focaccia sandwiches can’t be beat. If you want a bigger meal their simple, Tuscan food will not disappoint.

And Eater SF’s downtown pick near my office, Sentinel’s corned beef focaccia sandwich never fails to sate my lunchtime deli cravings. The Sentinel is a street front walk-in for take-out only.

Buon appetito!

Citysearch List

Eater SF List

Orecchiette with Cauliflower & Anchovy

Orecciette with Caulifower & Anchovy
Orecciette with Caulifower & Anchovy

April Bloomfield just bought North Beach’s iconic Tosca Cafe on Columbus and will soon be serving her food there. She has a cult following at her restaurant The Spotted Pig in NYC’s Greenwich Village. I wondered what was in store for us when she arrives here in North Beach.

She describes her dishes as “British, but with Italian undertones.” I haven’t been to The Pig and I wanted to find out more about April’s British take on Italian food.

I came across one of April’s pasta recipes and decided to give it a go. I’m adding it to my list of dishes where the sauce can be cooked in the time it takes to boil the pasta. You can get these pasta dishes on your table in less than 30 minutes.

April first had the dish in Puglia, the southern most region on Italia’s Adriatic coast where it was served by a skilled home cook she was visiting. Her hostess made it with homemade orecchiette, small ear-shaped pasta. Quality dried orecchiette from Italia works well too.

Don’t be scared off by the anchovy in the sauce. Anchovy melts in hot oil and adds dimension to any dish. It’s an umami, like miso, a preserved ingredient that is known as a “5th taste”. The anchovy in this dish adds flavor and depth to the sauce.

The little pasta hats capture the sauce. The anchovy and garlic sauce is mellowed by the sweet cauliflower with a rosemary accent.

I love this pasta and can’t wait for April Bloomfield to wow us with more of her food at the revived Tosca Cafe. Try my riff on her recipe to get a preview of what’s coming to North Beach.

Buon appetito!

3.0 from 1 reviews
Orecchiette with Cauliflower & Anchovy
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Orecchiette with cauliflower & anchovy is a really simple, flavorful pasta dish you can have on your table in the time it takes to boil the pasta.
Author:
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1 pound or 500 grams imported Italian dried orecchiette
  • 3 tablespoons EVOO, plus a drizzle to finish the dish
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, minced
  • 3 anchovy filets, chopped
  • ¼ cup grated parmigiano
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil.
  2. Cut the cauliflower florets into bite size pieces.
  3. Cook the florets in the boiling water and cook until knife-tender, about 2 minutes.
  4. Remove the florets with a slotted spoon or spider to a plate and set aside.
  5. Over a medium-low flame, put the EVOO in a saute pan large enough to hold the pasta.
  6. Add the onion and garlic, add a sprinkling of salt and cook until the onion is soft and slightly caramelized.
  7. Add the anchovy and rosemary and mix well with the onion. Cook for about 2 minutes. The anchovy will dissolve and disappear.
  8. Add the florets and a sprinkle of salt and mix well with the other vegetables. Cook for about 10 minutes. (If the sauce is too dense add some boiling water.)
  9. While the cauliflower is cooking add the orecchiette to the boiling water and cook until al dente.
  10. Strain or drain the orecchiette and add to the cauliflower sauce. (If you drain the sauce, reserve a cup of the pasta water.)
  11. Coat the orecchiette well with the sauce and cook for about a minute or so. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
  12. Put the orecchiette on a serving platter, top with a drizzle of a good finishing EVOO and the grated parmigiano.
  13. Serve immediately.

 

New in North Beach

HRD Smokin Grill on Green in North Beach
HRD Smokin Grill on Green in North Beach

Lots of good things happening in the Village food scene.

Dogfather’s on Green is now HRD Smokin Grill, right next to Golden Boy Pizza on Green Street. The folks from the SOMA’s HRD Coffee Shop have staked a claim that they can draw a crowd for their famous spicy pork kimchi burrito and Mongolian cheesesteak. Dinner only for now. Here’s Guy Fieri’s video of his visit to the original HRD Coffee Shop.

Tony Gemigniani got 2 1/2 stars in Michael Bauer’s Capo’s review in Sunday’s Chronicle. Tony’s Pizza Napoletana on Stockton is a blockbuster and Tony has scored with his latest endeavor that celebrates Chicago’s Italian-American food traditions. I agree with Bauer, hats off to Tony for creating some nostalgia in North Beach. We’ve lost too many old-time places. Capo’s with its ’30s look and feel is most welcome.

Tosca Cafe has been facing eviction since the fall. Would the North Beach icon go the way of Caesar’s and other North Beach institutions that were shuttered over the last few months? The answer is a resounding no. New York City celebrated chef April Bloomfield and her partner restauranteur Kevin Friedman who own The Spotted Pig in Greenwich Village and other spots, bought the place.

They pledge to keep Tosca as it has always been.  That may include keeping the former owner Jeannette Etheridge around to reign over the place as she had for decades. The new owners are adding a full food menu. I can’t wait to see what the talented Bloomfield has in store for us.

Fior d’Italia re-opened late last month after a brief hiatus. Chef-owner Gianni Audieri promised a come back when he closed the restaurant last year. Now that it’s back I wonder if will regain the title “oldest Italian restaurant in America”.

Geppetto, the Italian deli across the street from Capo’s has been “on vacation” for months. Pete Mrabe who owns the popular Don Pisto on Union and Chubby Noodle, the just-reopened permanent pop-up in Amante’s on Green, is taking over the space. Fresh pasta and sandwiches are on the menu. I haven’t seen much activity in the space so it may be a while before it opens.

Txoko, the Basque place on Broadway closed on New Year’s Eve. The outrageous sandwich shop Naked Lunch took over the space and opened this weekend.

So when’s the last time you visited North Beach? Lots of fantastic new and well-established food choices beckon. What are you waiting for?

Buon appetito!

Una Pizza Napoletana’s Mangieri Back in the News

Una Pizza Napoletana
Pizza Napoletana

I’ve been following Anthony Mangieri for years on both coasts. Actually I’ve been following his pizza.

The guy had a reputation for making pizza Napoletano, pizza as made in Naples where it all started, my personal favorite. Some even said that Anthony’s pizza was better than you can get in Naples and certainly the best in America.

The only problem was that his pizzeria in New York City’s East Village was only open until he ran out of dough and you had to wait on the sidewalk a couple of hours to get in. Hey, it’s only pizza. I ain’t waiting, so I never went.

I got excited when I heard that Mangieri was closing his New York place and moving to San Francisco. The city’s beauty beckoned. Hell, he could make pizza anywhere, right?

I followed the progress at his new SOMA pizzeria, Una Pizza Nepoletana on 11th near Folsom. Anthony didn’t like the first brick oven he imported from Naples. He ripped it out and 40 grand later he had a new wood-burning beehive brick oven that suited him better. Mangieri’s pizza is artful.  No less would do.

When he finally opened, same thing. The wait on the sidewalk was 2 hours. Hey, it’s only pizza. I ain’t waiting.

I got a chance to walk right into Una Pizza Napoletana one night at a private event. No waiting. There was Mangieri, a solitary figure standing at a stainless steel worktable in the middle of a large room. The Maestro was at his alter. The brick oven was behind him, watched over by Saint Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of fire. Read all about that special night at Mangieri’s Una Pizza Napoletana and some of the best pizza I’ve ever eaten.

In Paolo Lucchese’s article about Mangieri in Sunday’s Chronicle, Anthony says that some nights the pizzeria is empty now. What happened to the 2-hour waits?

When Anthony first started making true pizza Napoletana in Jersey years ago, nobody knew what it was. In just the last few years, pizza Napoletana became famous. Lots of places making Neopolitan-style pizza opened in San Francisco. Farina, Zero-Zero, Tony’s Pizza Napoletano, Pizzeria Delfino, Flour and Water, Mozzeria, the list goes on and on.

We’re in a pizza bubble and I’m think it’s about to burst. Can all these places survive as the glow of pizza oven fades and the crowds more on to the next new craze?

I think Anthony will be making pizza for a long time, no matter what. It’s in his blood. If you haven’t been to Una Pizza Napoletana visit Mangieri soon. You won’t be disappointed. Just don’t ask for a salad.

Here’s Paolo Lucchese’s Anthony Mangieri article from Sunday’s Chronicle and some extra “scenes” with Anthony that Paolo didn’t include in the article.

Celebration Crab Salad on My New Year’s Eve Menu

Dungeness Crab Salad
Dungeness Crab Salad

San Franciscans love dungeness crab this time of year. The crabs are big and meaty this season. I’m making a celebratory dungeness salad with celery and shallot, EVOO and Meyer lemon.

The lemon perks up the briny sweetness of the crab bathed in mellow olive oil. The celery and shallot add a background crunch to the crab salad. Simple and sinful.

If your have steamed, cleaned and cracked crab the salad is done in 10 minutes. Use the recipe below and put a celebratory crab salad on your table. Add fried calamari and giardiniera and your antipasti is complete.

Lentil soup with cotechino is a traditional New Year’s Eve first course. It brings you good luck in the new year. The dish full of tiny lentils represents the coins you will amass in the new year and the fat boiled sausage your impending opulence.

I wasn’t completely satisfied with the New Year’s Eve dinner menu I posted the other day. Something was amiss. As often happens I found inspiration in the market.

There it was, a beautiful boneless leg of veal roast sitting in the display case at Little City Meats. The roast with a zesty spinach stuffing will be the anchor of my meal. I’ll post this recipe soon.

I’m all set for New Year’s Eve dinner at my place. Are you?

Except for the Prosecco, we’re drinking some nice California reds.

Buon Capo d’Anno! Happy New Year! Buon appetito!

Gianni’s New Year’s Eve Dinner Menu

Antipasti

Calimari fritti. Fried calamari served with vinegar pepper confetti.

Fresh dungeness crab salad with celery, shallot, EVOO and fresh Meyer lemon (recipe below).

Giardiniera

Zeppole. (fried savory, light doughnuts with anchovies)

Prosecco, a sparkling dry wine from the Veneto in northern Italia

Primo Piatto

Lentil soup with cotechino

Pinot Noir, Beulieu Vineyard, Carmeros Reserve, Napa, 2007

Secondo Piatto

Leg of Veal Roast with spinach stuffing

Roasted spaghetti squash

Cabernet Sauvignon, Francis Coppola Diamond Collection, Ivory Label, Napa, 2010

Dessert

Sfogliatelle (crispy Neapolitan pastries filled with sweet ricotta)

A sip or two of my homemade limoncello and my strawberry liqueur

Italian still and sparkling bottled waters throughout the meal

Celebration Crab Salad on My New Year's Eve Menu
 
A fresh clean taste of the sea, dungeness crab salad with shallot and celery,
Author:
Cuisine: Italian
Ingredients
  • 2 steamed dungeness crab
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 shallot
  • ¼ cup EVOO
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian flat parsley
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Steam the crab or buy steamed, cracked crab at the market. (Blue crab or boiled shrimp can be substituted for the dungeness crab.) Put the crab meat in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Clean and crack the crab. Pull out out all of the meat leaving the pieces as intact as possible.
  3. Cut the celery in very thin slices.
  4. Squeeze the lemon juice in a small bowl.
  5. Mince the shallot and add to the lemon juice. Let it sit for 5 minutes to mellow its flavor.
  6. Add the EVOO and whisk well.
  7. Pour the dressing over the crabmeat.
  8. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  9. Roughly chop the parsley and add to the crabmeat. Mix well.
  10. Put the crab salad on a serving dish and serve chilled.
  11. Serves 4-6.

 

Bolognese Pasta Sauce

Tagliatelle alla Bolognese

Actually it’s called ragu alla Bolognese. It’s a long-cooked meat sauce from Bologna, in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna, the culinary heart of Italy.

The ragu is traditionally served with tagliatelle in Bologna, a flat pasta a bit narrower than fettuccine. The pasta’s shape is perfect to maximize the sauce captured on its surface.

Spinach tagliatelle is the favorite in Bologna. I grabbed fresh spinach pasta at Molinari’s Deli on Columbus so I could focus on the ragu.

The ragu has to simmer at least 3 1/2 hours, even longer. I like to make it Sunday morning to eat for lunch or dinner. The aroma will fill your house all day.

You’re building layers of flavor here. Saute minced onion, celery, carrot and pancetta in EVOO and butter. Add the meat and mix them together. Cover it all with wine. Cook off the wine and add milk and nutmeg. Cook those off too, then add the tomatoes and simmer, simmer, simmer. You end up with a thick brick-red ragu with tons of flavor.

When the sauce is done, boil some well-salted water and cook the fresh tagiatelle. That will take about 3 minutes. Put half the sauce in a large bowl. Drain the pasta when al dente and put it in the bowl and mix well with the ragu. Place a serving of pasta on a plate and top with a big spoonful of the ragu. Sprinkle with grated parmigiano reggiano and eat!

The fresh tagliatelle is silky and coated with the ragu. The long simmer intensifies the complexity of the sauce and melds all the flavors together. The dusting of parmigiano reggiano completes this homage to Bologna.

This ragu is for a pound of tagliatelle, fettuccine or your favorite pasta.

When I don’t have time to make my own, one of my favorites in North Beach is Graziano’s ragu alla Bolognese at his Caffe Puccini on Columbus.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:114]

4 North Beach Treasures

Molinari Deli on Columbus

Marcia Gagliardi of Tablehopper blog fame shares her appreciation of 4 North Beach spots in her just-released video tour.

Marcia visits Caffe Trieste, Molinari Deli, Liguria Bakery and Stella Pastry. Find out Marcia’s favorite coffee, focaccia, sandwich and sweet. I’m with her all the way. These are some of my favorite North Beach haunts.

If those tourists in the picture took my North Beach walking tour, or Marcia’s video tour, they wouldn’t have to scour that big map to figure out where to go.

Where’s the best cannoli? Want a quick pasta fix? I have a few ideas. Who’s still cooking inspired, authentic food you find in Venice, Tuscany, Rome, Calabria and Sicily? Want pizza? I always head to one of 4 places.

Tired of Italian, God forbid?  How about Mexican, Thai, French, or American? All of my favorite shops, markets, restaurants, cafes, bakeries, art galleries and bars are on our route, as we leisurely stroll through the Village.

Come out of the fog. Make North Beach your own. Let me know if you’re interested in my 90-minute North Beach walking tour and I’ll schedule one soon.

In the meantime, take Marcia’s North Beach video tour.

Capo’s Finally Opens on Vallejo

Capo’s on Vallejo

Tony Gemignani enlivened Washington Square Park when he opened Tony’s Pizza Napoletana on Stockton and Green a couple of years ago. Now he hopes to have a similar effect on the moribund block of Vallejo between Stockton and Columbus with his new restaurant, Capo’s Chicago Pizza and Italian Dinners.

After a year of construction, Capo’s finally opened late last week. The new North Beach hot spot features deep-dish pizza and other Chicago Italian-American favorites. Hopefully, Capo’s will bring this block of Vallejo back to its former glory too.

“I want Capo’s to feel like a neighborhood place that’s been here for years, while also transporting guests to a moment in time when Italian-American cuisine began to form its roots in our culture,” says Tony.

Gemignani designed the space to evoke a ’30s Chicago feel, including photos of infamous mobsters Frank Nitti and Al Capone above the red leather booths. Another throwback to that era, reservations can only be made by telephone and you must pay with cash.

Be sure to get there early. Tony’s special pizza Quattro Forni is baked in 4 different ovens and he only makes 20 a day.

Here’s the Capo’s menu.

Buon appetito!

Ciao Caesar’s

Last Day Crowds at Caesar’s Restaurant

It’s the end of a North Beach era.

After 56 years as a destination for locals, Caesar’s Restaurant near Fisherman’s Wharf, closed yesterday.

The family-owned restaurant is a victim of changing San Francisco and North Beach demographics, changed tastes at the table, and a sour economy.

Eat Where the Italians Eat Caesar’s proclaimed. For more than a half-century, this was the place for wedding receptions and other large family gatherings.

Caesar’s was also famous for the North Beach Italian-American 7-course meal.  Locals lingered over the huge meal at lunch or dinner: salad, antipasti, soup, pasta, entree, dessert and coffee. Who eats this way anymore?

When I moved to North Beach twenty years ago there were a bunch of these family-style restaurants. The Gold Spike, New Pisa, La Felce, San Remo, Fior d’Italia, are all gone. Gone too is the North Beach community that supported these businesses.

Here’s a glimpse of those bygone days from the Caesar’s website.

Caesar’s was established in 1956 by Caesar Fabrini and his three partners, who all came to the United States as youngsters and knew each other from playing soccer at the Italian Athletic club still in existence in North Beach today. At that time the neighborhood consisted of many small factories and there was a big Italian community made up of workers and fisherman and their families. Caesar Fabrini had the inspiration to serve a seven course dinner at a moderate price for this community and so Caesar’s Italian restaurant was started.

That North Beach Italian community is much smaller today. Businesses closed. Families moved to the suburbs. There aren’t enough of the old-timers and their progeny around to support these old-time places.

But, if you’re in the mood for this North Beach Italian-American culinary experience, you can still have a family-style dinner at Capp’s Corner on Green & Powell.

Caesar’s owners’ note announcing the closing is heartfelt, as is the Chron’s Carl Nolte’s Caesar’s farewell story.

Open and Closed in North Beach

Capos on Vallejo

I’m back in the Village after a week out of town and was pleased to see the Capos sign was up. Capos is Tony Gemignani’s new place on Vallejo (between Stockton and Columbus). As Tony promised the vintage National cash register sits proudly on top of the Deco bar. There’s a strange looking machine in the front window. I don’t know what it is but it looks cool. Word on the street is that you’ll be able to get Capos’ Chicago deep dish pizza and Italian dinners soon.

Tuesday the “oldest Italian restaurant in America” Fior d’Italia closed after 126 years in North Beach. It opened in 1886 as a bordello dining spot and fed survivors of the ’06 quake and fire.

Fires forced the restaurant to bounce all around North Beach. It was at the spot that now houses Original Joe’s (Union/Stockton) for 50 years. After a 2005 fire it ended up at the San Remo Hotel down on Mason near Fisherman’s Wharf where the owners threw in the towel.

In 2010 Fior d’Italia celebrated it’s 125th anniversary by bringing back 1886 prices for a day. Linguine and meatball was 10 cents and minestrone soup and dessert were included!

Chef owner Gianni Audieri hopes to re-open in yet another location. I wish him luck. I hope we don’t lose the San Francisco Italian institution for good.

Here’s Grub Street’s story with pictures from the closing night. Inside Scoop’s post includes more pictures of the restaurants beautiful interior.

Making the Same Pizza in North Beach for 77 Years

Pizza Margherita
Gorgonzola, Prosciutto and Pear Pizza
Gorgonzola, Prosciutto and Pear Pizza

North Beach’s Tommaso’s opened in 1935. The Crotti family bought it in 1973 and they’re still serving the original menu from 77 years ago.

Agostino Crotti boasts that Tommaso’s was the first to have a wood-burning oven on the West Coast . “That’s written in the books.”  Augstino says “this place is famous for one reason and one reason only: the brick oven.”

Agostino gave the oven design to Alice Waters who built one at Chez Panisse in 1980 and California-style pizza was born. Alice passed the design on to Wolfgang Puck who built one at Spago opened in 1982. The rest is history. “So everything started here,” Augustino proclaims.

Pizza in San Francisco has come a long way since 1935. The pizzeria choices in most neighborhoods are incredible. Just in North Beach you can get a dazzling array of pizza at a dozen places. Pizza delivery has evolved too. Not just home delivery anymore. We had fantastic pizza truck pies from Casey’s parked downtown on Mission for lunch a few weeks ago.

Agostino isn’t too impressed with all these developments. He only eats pizza out of his 77 year old wood-burning oven. “I’m more simple. Give me a margherita pizza and I’m a happy camper.” That’s my Tommaso favorite too but the half-sausage/half-meatball ain’t bad either.

Make your own pizza at home with my easy recipe. The dough is foolproof. Make Pizza Margherita or the Gorgonzola, Prosciutto and Pear pizza (Agostino might not approve of this one) or use your favorite toppings.

EaterSF’s Pizza Week 2012 posts are a goldmine for everything you need to know about pizza in San Francisco, including Del Popolo, the new monster pizza truck with a wood-burning oven.  Don’t miss A Snob’s Guide, a virtual SF pizza encyclopedia. You can read Chloe Schildhause ‘s full interview with Agostino Crotti and his sister Carmen too.