Resident food critic tackles iconic Italian-American bar and grill
THE SANTA CLARA
February 2, 2017
Cozy leather booths. Waiters in tuxedos. Massive portions of Italian-American food. A wide smile on every diner’s face.
Welcome to Original Joe’s.
Though initially established in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco in 1937, Original Joe’s opened a second and third location in 1956—in Daly City and San Jose.
Wanting to bring the big city, fine-dining experience to the South Bay, the four partners (Louis J. Rocca, Louis J. Rocca, Jr., Arthur Tortore and Anthony Caramagno) built a restaurant that to this day remains a cornerstone of San Jose’s rapidly evolving downtown.
Many cool features distinguish Original Joe’s from other popular downtown eateries. For one thing, the restaurant has an exhibition kitchen, where customers can watch cooks sear massive fillets of fish, carve textbook thick slices of prime rib and assemble heaping portions of chicken parmigiana.
Another striking feature is that Original Joe’s doesn’t take reservations—emphasizing the old Italian traditions of “first come, first serve” and “ya snooze, ya lose.”
Finally, Joe’s has a rear-located bar, far removed from the main dining area. Similar to the types of joints where Don Draper would sweet talk broads in “Mad Men,” the bar basically commands patrons to order classic drinks—martinis and Old Fashioneds, specifically—in favor of sweeter, fruitier and more modern options.
But the main reason folks pack the house is the food. Joe’s has everything from liver and onions to Ribeye steak. During my Herculean undertaking, I sampled but a few of the quite literally dozens of items on the enticing menu.
First and foremost, I ordered the eponymous Joe’s Special: a scramble of eggs, spinach, ground beef and onions. Unable to put even a dent in the generous pile of food, I still savored the immense richness and savory flavors.
It’s a dish I’d gladly eat at any hour of the day or night, and for that matter, every single day or night for the rest of my life.
I also managed to try two of the Saturday night specials: prime rib and braised short ribs. Served with a nostalgic baked potato, assertive horseradish and swimming in au jus, the prime rib was one of the most succulent slabs of meat I’ve ever had the privilege of eating.
Likewise, the braised short ribs were fall-apart tender and made even more indulgent with the inclusion of a bed of creamy mushroom risotto.
The showstopper was the chicken parmigiana. Two massive, breaded breasts were covered in hearty tomato sauce and a combination of mozzarella and parmesan cheese. The Italian-American specialty came with a side of cheese ravioli, also bathed in sauce and cheese.
Fresh from the sea was the fillet of sole, served with lemon wedges, tartar sauce and a side of steak fries. The mild fish was lightly breaded and seasoned—almost fragile in texture.
As far as seafood dishes go, it’s about as unpretentious and straightforwardly satisfying as it gets.
For dessert, the waiter recommended the cheesecake and cannoli. The decadent former had a strong lemon flavor and a buttery, graham cracker crust. The latter was overflowing with sweet mascarpone cheese—an authentic taste of the old country for all the Italian patrons equipped with the know-how to order it.
On a special note, enough cannot be said about the wait-staff at Original Joe’s. In addition to being dressed to the nines, they firmly shake your hand upon your arrival, strike up friendly conversation, consistently refill your beverage and treat you with the utmost respect.
Tipping below 20 percent would be highway robbery, because these folks make you feel like a million bucks.
Between the killer food, classy decor and extensively-trained waitstaff, Original Joe’s stands as one of the best restaurants not only in San Jose, but in the entire Bay Area. Sixty-one years of delicious tradition leave you walking out with rosy cheeks, a full belly and firm faith in the fact that some things should never change.
Contact Jimmy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.