Saturday, May 11 2013 12:00 PM

PETE TITTL: Old-time Italian still done the best

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Joseph's server Jerrie Ramay brings out food for dinner guests, many of whom are regulars at the Italian restaurant.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Early dinner guests at Joseph's Authentic Italian Restaurant beat the rush at the popular Bakersfield restaurant.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Alex Aguirre serves Joseph's Authentic Italian Restaurant guests George and Mary Anderson during a recent dinner visit.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Spaghetti with chicken with pesto is a delight at Joseph's Authentic Italian Restaurant.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    A small calzoni at Joseph's is big even for a hungry guest.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Linguini with shrimp napoletan is a favorite at Joseph's Authentic Italian Restaurant in Bakersfield.

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BY PETE TITTL Contributing writer pftittl@yahoo.com

Every city needs those restaurants that move blissfully through the decades, anchored as a reliable source of sustenance to the regulars. We have a few of those in the heart of the city, and one of those stalwarts, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, is Joseph's Italian Restaurant.

It's small but reliably crowded on weekends, and our recent visit on a Friday was no exception. Customers were milling about outside in the mild spring evening weather. We got on the list and were seated within 30 minutes. The regulars move a bit faster through the dining experience.

Related Info

JOSEPH'S AUTHENTIC ITALIAN RESTAURANT

3013 F St.

322-7710

Hours: Lunch 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Dinner 4 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 4 to 9 p.m. Friday and 3:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday. Reservations not accepted.

Prices: Appetizers, $3.25 to $6.75; soup and salad, $3.95 to $10.95; pasta entrees, $9.95 to $14.95; large pizza, $16.95 to $20.95; specialties, $12.95 to $18.95; child's plate, $6.95 to $9.95.

Payment: MasterCard, VISA and Discover accepted. American Express and personal checks not accepted.

Dress: Casual

Amenities: Wheelchair accessible; beer and wine served; some vegetarian options.

Food: ***½ stars

Atmosphere: **

Service: ***

Value: ***

Happy hour!

Pete Tittl is on the trail of the happiest happy hours in town, but he needs your help. Please drop Pete a note with the name of your favorite spot and why that particular happy hour is the best there is. Email him at pftittl@yahoo.com

If you haven't been to Joseph's, don't expect the high-end Italian you might find at Mama Tosca or Little Italy. What you will get is a restaurant that makes all its own sauces, shows a modest respect for garlic and knows how to make a pizza oven produce great calzones.

Please avoid my mistake. The medium Joseph's special calzone we ordered ($17.95) was so massive that it had two large knives stuck in its side, as if it needed to be stabbed twice to get it to our table. It resembles a folded-over pizza, which is how one of my companions explained it to her daughter, and it was filled with mushrooms, onions, black olives, ham, pepperoni, salami, with red sauce on the side. It always has the most beautiful brown crust on top, practically inviting a cellphone picture.

On that particular visit we also tried a large margarita pizza ($18.95), made with tomato chunks, mozzarella, a fair amount of garlic and a sprinkling of fresh basil. Judging from the outside of the crust, it had been brushed with olive oil. On both of these pizzas, one of my companions noted a heavy use of salt, a trend that is becoming a dividing point in our culinary adventures. Those watching their sodium intake for health reasons have to limit their visits to the old-school places like Joseph's. Neither pizza was offensively brackish, but it was noticeable. I think I'm just more tolerant of a heavy hand than some.

On another dinner visit, I ignored the reasonable temptation to order the ravioli or gnocchi, which I've always enjoyed, and we ordered new-to-us treats: the pork chops ($15.95) and the nightly special of a chicken breast stuffed with spinach, ham, asparagus, mozzarella cheese, roasted red peppers and just a pinch of puttanesca sauce to add some real punch.

The word stuffed is really pushing it, as the food was all over it, on top, spilling out and on the plate. The combination was winning, with the fresh asparagus a particularly charming touch. I had never had the three thin pan-fried pork chops here, and what makes them special was the sauteed whole fresh button mushrooms on top, which were great sliced up with each bite. Both dinners had pasta on the side, and I chose rigatoni over spaghetti or vegetables.

This is a restaurant with some idiosyncrasies. For example, there is a short wine list, but with the exception of two Italian wines, the winery supplying the Chianti or cabernet, for example, is not listed. Those passionate about wine would turn up their nose at that. House wine by the glass is only $4.25, or $9.95 for a half carafe, and they do offer their burgundy either chilled or at room temperature.

The interior, though dated, is as comfortable as an old coat. The benches and metal chairs in the narrow dining room are close together, but not to the point that you feel your privacy has been violated. With the darkness and the dark wood paneling, it feels like something out of "Goodfellas." If Bakersfield had mobsters, they'd meet here, seated in the back and served the usual with minimal waitress contact.

Service is pleasant and cheerful from a staff that shows exemplary teamwork. The only snafu was getting the wrong bill initially on one visit, but that was quickly corrected.

Joseph's can be recommended for a fine dining experience.

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