Joe's Special : LUSENET : San Francisco History : One Thread

I have heard that the famous dish, "Joe's Special" was first offered to the public at New Joe's in North Beach. Story goes that some of the guys who were helping Joe Ingrassia open the place decided they should put it on the menu.

-- Don Beppino (, February 17, 2004


Joe's Special Every Joe's restaurant I've eaten in has the Joe's special, but I have no idea who was the 'first' to feature it. Heck, your story sounds as good as the rest of them. Take your pick.

Some say this famous San Francisco specialty was devised by a San Francisco chef as a variation on the Italian frittata. Others insist it was created as an after-hours snack by dance-band musicians of the 1920's. A third theory attributes the dish to miners who frequented the city's riotous Barbary Coast district in the 1850's. Whatever its origin may be, this hearty mixture of beef, onions, spinach and eggs makes a satisfying.

meal any time of the day or night.

2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

2 pounds lean ground beef

2 medium onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely minced

1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon dry oregano

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry; or 1/2 pound fresh spinach, rinsed, stems removed, and leaveschopped (about 4 cups)

4 to 6 large eggs, lightly beaten

1.Heat oil in a wide frying pan over high heat. Crumble in beef and cook, stirring often, until browned. Drain excess fat.

2.Add onions, garlic and mushrooms; reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened, about 5 minutes.

3.Stir in salt, nutmeg, pepper, oregano and spinach; cook for about 5 more minutes. Add eggs. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, just until eggs are softly set.

Makes 6 servings.

-- will (, February 17, 2004.

Speaking of Joe's Restaurants here is a recipe from Franco Montorello, Little Joe's, San Francisco. My wife jotted it down years ago and we really enjoy these-

Little Joe's Meatballs

1 lb. ground chuck

3 Tablespoons garlic, minced (we use a lot more)

3/4 cup Parmesan cheese (freshly grated)

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon pepper

2 teaspoons salt

2 eggs

4 slices french bread- soak in water (dried french bread works well and is a good way to use it when it gets away from you)

Squeeze out water from soaked bread.

Spread out meat against inside of bowl- add ingredients and mix with fingers.

Form into balls 1 1/2- 2".

Bake 45 minutes at 375 degrees F. in cast iron skillet.

We like them as they are, but you may serve with tomato sauce and spaghetti.

The french bread really makes it all work!


-- will (, February 17, 2004.

Great meat-ball recipe! Which brings me to comment on so-called "French" braed. In the early part of the 20th century, Italians in SF called their bread "French" because it didn't carry a stigma or stereo-type that many non-Mediterraneans had of Italians back then. So in reality, our "French" bread ain't French at all, but Italian!

-- Don Beppino (, February 17, 2004.

Hmmm, San Francisco 'French bread' is like no European bread that I've ever eaten in France, Italy, or any other country, for that matter. I may be wrong but I feel that 'our' bread is unique because of the sour dough starter that results in just the right bite, and I attribute its origin to the Sourdough miners. Indeed, this is a subject ripe for debate, but your theory may have merit, nevertheless.

Those meatball are to kill for, I guarantee it!

-- will (, February 17, 2004.

Now we are starting to sound like a real bunch of San Franciscans. We are starting to post recipes. And that is just how it should be. "Joe's Special" has been a favorite of mine for a long time, but I have just gotten away from it. Several years ago on a dive trip to Catalina Island, I prepared this delicious dish for 12 hungry divers. All hands really enjoyed it, and for the moment, named it, "Frank's Special." They talked about it for years.

Will has motivated me, tomorrow night that is what we have for dinner at my place. Once again, I like this idea of recipes. Let's keep it up.


-- Frank Grant (, February 18, 2004.

The "French" bread I speak of is different than sourdough. If you've ever eaten in North Beach you've likely had the local "Italian" bread, not a sourdough veriety, which used to be "French" bread. You can get it at the Italian-French bakery on Union and Green. I think generic "French" bread now includes sourdough by default. Although it is not French and has never had any connection to the French, AFAIK.

-- Don Beppino (, February 18, 2004.

Ha! you've started the debate. I've no doubt that I've had Italian bread and enjoyed it, but I take an exception to your statement "I think generic "French" bread now includes sourdough by default." I think it's the other way around, a French baker introduced San Francisco to the original Sourdough French bread in 1849, and others, by default, called their product French bread.

San Francisco Sourdough French Bread baked by Boudin Bakery is the original San Francisco Sourdough bread baked fresh daily since the California Gold Rush of 1849, when Isidore Boudin first used a sourdough starter or Mother Dough that he brought from Mexico. The 49ers of the time enjoyed his unique hard crusted Sourdough bread...

Debate (wink) Frank: The last time I made a 'Joe's Special' was on a sailboat race to Mexico, and we simply called the dish 'GOOD'. I wonder if there shouldn't be another rumor of the origin of the 'Joe's special' seeing that the dish is so good around the water - Might be that the Italian fishermen, returning hungry at all hours were accommodated with a quick filling meal as they sold the catch of the day to the resturaunts. (just an idea)

-- will (, February 18, 2004.

Many believe that, in 1849, a miner tossed his pouch full of gold dust and nuggets onto the bar and called for the most expensive meal in the house. The cook relayed that they were eggs, which had to be packed carefully to survive the rough drive from the coast; bacon, which was shipped from the east; and fresh oysters, which had to be iced to make it up from San Francisco Bay. The prospector requested all three, and the cook slathered together a combination that became known as .....

Oh, wait, that's not the Joe's Special", that's a Hangtown Fry...

Hangtown Fry

Yield: serves 1

A California classic recipe, reputedly developed from a condemned man's last meal request, or an omelette made of eggs, crisp bacon, and oysters, that got its start when a wealthy miner walked into the El Dorado Hotel,Placerville, California and asked for the most expensive meal. This recipe, from "Tadich Grill"


2 slices bacon

1/2 cup fine seasoned bread crumbs, toasted, or flour seasoned with salt and pepper

6 oysters, shucked

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

3 eggs, lightly beaten

3 or 4 dashes tabasco sauce

kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper


1. Place a non-stick sauté pan over medium heat. Add the bacon and try for 6 to 8 minutes, until crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

2. Place the bread crumbs in a small bowl. Dredge the oysters in the bread crumbs, shaking off any excess.

3. Pour the bacon fat out of the sauté pan. Add the butter to the pan and melt over medium heat. Add the oysters and sauté for about 1 1/2 minutes on each side, or until they just plump up. Crumble the bacon and toss it with the oysters. Pour the eggs into the pan. Season with Tabasco sauce, salt and pepper, to taste, and cook for about 3 minutes, until the eggs are almost set, lifting the edges of the cooked eggs to let the uncooled eggs run underneat.

4. Carefully flip the frittata over and cook for about 2 minutes longer, or until the second side is set. Transfer to a plate and serve immediately.

Is this what you want to see, Frank?

-- Chuck (, February 18, 2004.

Chuck,my friend, you are right on and have got the right idea. I might not do this one tomorrow night but am making copies and will do it someday soon. I promised that I would do Will's "Joe's Special" tonight. I kept that promise and it was really outstanding. I made enough for leftovers and tomorrow night we will still enjoy this delicious meal. Thanks gang.

-- Frank Grant (, February 19, 2004.

OK, so Boudin brought in the first sourdough. Which is great, without a doubt. But very different from "Italian" bread, SF style at least. As for Joe's Special, I made it the other night as well, having left overs tonight, on real sourdough, too! Now about's one certain to stir up controversy: CIOPPINO...have at it!

-- Don Beppino (, February 19, 2004.

CIOPPINO? Can't help with that one. Besides, after all this food talk I'm ready for dessert. Any Zabaglione recipes? Techniques? Why is a copper pan so important?

Boudin is a corprate company now and turns me off, in fact they even bake French bread at their theme bakery at Disneyland (California Adventure?). If your're looking for really good sourdough French bread I would suggest Bordenave's, a family owned wholesale bakery in San Rafael. They do a little retail business at the bakery but most of their bread heads for the restaurant trade, which speaks volumes for its quality. They've been around since 1918 - four generations and still going strong. Ah, French bread right out of the oven!

-- will (, February 19, 2004.

Bordenave's is good stuff. Especially considering it's made outside of SF and still is able to obtain that exclusive SF taste. Another excellent "outsider bread" is Lombardi's. As for actual SF breads, some of my favorites are Parisian and Royal Baking. IMHO, the best of all was Venetian, and a close second was Larabaru, neither of which exists any longer. Too bad. As a kid working on Fisherman's Wharf, there was nothing better on a cold, damp day than a big hunk of hot Venetian bread just off the truck, stuffed with bay shrimps and slathered in cocktail sauce heavily spiked with Tabasco!

-- Don (, February 20, 2004.

I've heard stories about Italian bread that was made "back in the good old days". Sweaty Italian men would make the dough in tiny, steambath bakeries in North Beach and, as they kneaded the dough, they would slap it against their sweaty chests (they would work in those wifebeater tanktop undershirts, too). Old-timers swear the bread never tasted the same when health codes were introduced, but I don't care what you say, I'll stick with sourdough French bread, thank you!

Those Little Joe's Meatballs sound really good.

-- strange (, March 27, 2004.

I tend to believe the story about the musicians who got to New Joe's on Columbus, feeling very hungry, when the kitchen had run out of food. Try the recipe with FRESH spinach and fresh basil. It is to die for---we had it tonight.

Now, who remembers the BEST sourdough bakery in San Francisco? They had to go out of business when a delivery truck driver was involved in an accident. Laeabarou French has yet to be matched!!!!!!!

-- Linda (, June 04, 2004.

There is no doubt that the Larabareu Bakery at 3rd Ave. and Geary back in the late 30's, early 40's made THE BEST sourdough french bread. I think I read once that brick ovens were part of the secret. I remember the inside of a fresh baked loaf was kind of damp and had an unbelievably good sour taste.

-- gerry cullinane (, December 13, 2004.

I think you are right about the origin of Joe's Special. I worked at New Joe's on Broadway in the late 60's, when it was owned by three partners: Joe Ingrassia, Lorenzo and Pete (I forgot the last names of Lorenzo and Pete). Any way, that was a popular dish. I wasn't crazy about it, but it sure was different, and bacame a San Fran dish. In one of your posts you mention the bread, and at New Joe's we used to get both, the round sour dough bread, and the heavier somewhat sweet bread in sort of long, rectangular loaves from the Bakery on Grant Avenue between Green and Union, I think. I love that bread. It's made in stone or brick ovens. I later went to work at Julius Castle Restaurant up the hill, and there too we used to serve the same two types of bread. Last time I actually went to order bread at that bakery, French Italian I think it's called, was around 1995 or so, and they were still baking in the same old oven. I wonder how all these low-carbohydrate diets have affected that type of business. I know that a bakery (the name escapes me) run by a nice lady and her mother, on Green Street, across from the old Green Valley Restaurant disappeared. I know that everything changes but I miss "those old days."

-- Amedeo Modigliani (, December 19, 2004.

CORRECTION! The last time I was at the Italian French Bakery on Grant Street was around 1987 or 1988, not 1995.

-- Amedeo Midigliani (, December 21, 2004.

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