North Beach Italian done right

For years, North Beach has been waiting for an inexpensive family-style Italian dinner house like Joey & Eddie’s.

Joseph Manzare, the chef behind Globe, Zuppa and Tres Agaves, recently took over a sold and redecorated Moose’s, changed the name and just started cooking.

His idea is so old-school it feels new — big platters of hearty Italian-American standards that easily feed four, but cost only the price of a single serving. All the dishes are completely accessible and fun, just what everyone secretly wants when they go out for Italian (except maybe real Italians, but even they have a soft spot for the Italian-American vernacular).

The expansive dining room now has a burgundy color scheme, dark wood chairs and tables, and ceiling fans, all lit by bordello-style striped and fringed lamps.

Tables in a patio-like tiled area by windowed French doors look out to the greenery of Washington Square Park across the street.

The big bar at the entryway keeps drinkers and Giants watchers separate from diners. Just as at the old Moose’s, plenty of locals still use this as their watering hole.

Most start with Caesar salad ($12), torn romaine in creamy, lemony dressing, without anchovy undertone but plenty of grated Parmesan.

Even better is the Joey & Eddie Salad ($16), a mountain of torn iceberg, crisp and juicy, withfinely cut strips of salami, pickled Italian peppers and provolone in a lively red wine vinaigrette.

A gigantic baked, stuffed artichoke ($14) tastes like Thanksgiving, with its soft, sage-scented bread stuffing wet with brown gravy. Use the artichoke leaves to scoop it all up.

Joey & Eddie’s makes a mean spaghetti and meatballs ($18), my favorite pasta here. The huge meatballs are moist, light and perfectly seasoned. They crown a hill of al dente spaghetti smothered in sweet, chunky tomato sauce.

In comparison, linguine and clams ($19) paled; the large clams in their shells were mushy, the white wine sauce not reduced, and the flavors a little flat.

One problem with ordering spaghetti and meatballs is that it’s too similar to my other favorite dish: pork braciole, pork ribs, meatballs and sausage in tomato gravy ($27), essentially the spaghetti redux without the spaghetti but with a big pile of meats that taste terrific with the sweet tomato sauce.

With this, have a plate of sautéed escarole with toasted garlic slices ($8). The broccoli rabe ($9) was too stalky, not in season.

Veal saltimbocca ($27), many thinly pounded slices of sautéed veal highly seasoned with salt and sage in a reduced marsala sauce, worked nicely with the spaghetti and meatballs. It was recommended by a dilemma solving waiter — the best kind.

Espresso-soaked tiramisu ($12), plenty for four, took care of coffee as well as a dessert. Dense Italian-style cheesecake ($12) tasted more like New York to me, but somehow every bit disappeared.

The bar makes fine Manhattans and a wine list, heavy on Italian bottles, has a pinot nero from the Alto Adige (2006 Suditroler Blauburgunder, $50) that drinks like a charming burgundy.

At $25 per person for food, this restaurant is a gift to families, kids on a budget and groups of locals and tourists alike who want to eat hearty and comfortably with real amenities.

Finally, I have a place in North Beach that I can recommend to everybody.

Patricia Unterman is author of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide” and a newsletter, “Unterman on Food.” Contact her at pattiu@concentric.net.

Joey & Eddie’s

Location: 1652 Stockton St., San Francisco

Contact: (415) 989-7800; www.joeyandeddies.com

Hours: 5:30 to 11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 5:30 p.m. to midnight Friday-Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday

Price range: $14 to $17 for family-style portions of starters; $14 to $17 for pasta, meat and fish

Recommended dishes: Joey & Eddie Salad, Caesar salad, spaghetti and meatballs, pork braciole, pork ribs, meatballs and sausage in tomato gravy, veal saltimboca, tiramisu

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Reservations: Accepted

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