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Goodbye Columbus, So Long U.S.

Zach Georgopoulos Oct 8, 2001 03:51 AM

Slowly recovering from Chowing With the Hounds, about 12:30 or so I was feeling a bit peckish. I suppose I could have broken out the left over cheese platter, but I had no bread in the house and felt like something hot anyhow, so I started going over the options. Sunday, bitter gray weather, too little energy, bombing in Afghanistan, what to do, what to do... Ecco! The paper sez it's Columbus Day! That means Italian sausage, soprasetta sandwiches, and lord knows what other goodies! Fire up the ol' Vespa for the occasion (Hmm, tons of smoke; note to self: fire up ol' Vespa more often), and head to North Beach, visions of sausages (grilled, cured and otherwise prepared) dancing in my head, suspended like marionettes from the deft hands of Giopetto-like street vendors, who kindly ask while proferring wine "you like-a mo' sausage?" But it was not to be. Not a single street vendor in sight. Usually they're at Vallejo and Columbus, but all I find there is some sidewalk chalk art (what the h*ll does that have to do with Columbus, or Italian heritage, or anything else for that matter?). Alright, they must be over by Washington Square then. Nope, just a bunch of parked, way too pristine Ferraris (and no Maseratis -- what's hapenned to the pride of the Italian people?). Sniffing about, I remember to tip my cap as I pass by the rather listless Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand and courtesans on the steps of Sts. Peter & Paul (they were clearly disappointed with the food situation as well, or maybe it was the Longshoremen's Precision Drill Team they were reviewing), and into the church playground. Meagre and unappetizing offerings. Some dull grilled chicken, hot dogs, and not a real sausage in sight. Sigh. Well, various restaurants are open, but I can eat at those any time. Panelli Bros. and Molinari are closed, as are Liguria and Danillo. It's the worst Columbus Day ever, and I'm thinking of heading to the Mission when I spot the U.S. Restaurant and figure "I haven't been in since they re-opened, why not now?" One meatball sandwich later I can tell you why not now -- the U.S. has lost more than it's charm in the move, it's lost its flavor and character as well. I used to live off the meatball sandwiches when I was a student, and they just ain't what they used to be -- the tang of cinamon is gone from the sauce and some spice or other (fennel?) was missing from the meatballs themselves. The fries, which used to be among the best in the city, were limp and greasy. No longer do the waitresses memorize your order without the aid of notepads and meet you at the cash register afterward just to recite it all over again (in fact, they weren't even friendly). Like Columbus Day, the U.S. Restaurant has become a casualty of modern times, bereft of tradition and quality. A parody of itself, really. Oh well, I guess you really never can go home...

  1. r
    Rochelle Oct 8, 2001 02:29 PM

    truly a grey day all around...

    11 Replies
    1. re: Rochelle
      Dixieday Oct 8, 2001 04:47 PM

      At the risk of sounding un-houndish, it was definitely a day to stay home and cook. In the throes of a pumpkin passion, I made pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, and some truly awesome ricotta gnocchi, made from Bellwether's fabulous cow's milk ricotta (made up in Valley Ford, in West Marin) served over sauteed Italian chard from Marquita Farms, down in Santa Cruz. Some grapes, some late-season strawberries, and so to bed.

      1. re: Dixieday
        Zach Georgopoulos Oct 8, 2001 05:00 PM

        Yeah, you're right. I had no business searching for sausage ;-)

        1. re: Zach Georgopoulos
          Rochelle Oct 8, 2001 07:29 PM

          no zach, not at all. hunger and comfort are basic human needs and yesterday we certainly needed both.

          1. re: Rochelle
            SLAP Oct 9, 2001 01:30 PM

            Actually Zach, one of the reasons I decided to move away from San Francisco was the disappearance of the U.S. Restaraunt. For me it was the straw that broke the camel's back. I mean at the time did North Beach really need another overly designed eatery? alas things change, but I'll be in SF this weekend and plan on heading to Mario's and see if their meatball sandwich is still as good as I remember it.

            1. re: SLAP
              Zach Georgopoulos Oct 9, 2001 05:41 PM

              Actually, the re-opened US is not overly designed -- it lacks character entirely! This isn't the chi-chi version that opened up at the same location as the old one, it's the one that (re)opened down the street after that went out of business. Supposedly it's run by the same family as the original, but nobody there looked familiar. Either way, you're right -- the closing of the original US was really the end of an era for North Beach eateries, though the failure of the abomination that replaced it is heartening (that's been replaced by a dim-sum place that I've never seen anyone go into).

              Mario's seems to be the same as always, though I haven't tried the meatball sandwich lately.

              1. re: Zach Georgopoulos
                MarkB Oct 9, 2001 10:34 PM

                'the closing of the original US was really the end of an era for North Beach eateries"
                I think that the closing of The Old Spaghetti Factory was the first ending of an era for North Beach eateries.
                What other restaurant/bar closings signalled the end of an era?

                1. re: MarkB
                  Zach Georgopoulos Oct 10, 2001 01:30 AM

                  "What other restaurant/bar closings signalled the end of an era?"

                  Amelio's and Ernie's. Nothing in SF today, no matter how high-end, comes close to the level of sophistication of either of those places.

                  1. re: MarkB
                    dixieday Oct 10, 2001 01:39 AM

                    Over in the Mission--when New Dawn, the grungy slacker cafe, closed and was turned into a Marina-style yuppie sushi joint. I loved New Dawn. The servers were cranky, the biscuits were as big as your pillow, a huge statue of Jesus stood by the coffeemaker, and as long as you had $3, you could get a huge plate of veggie scramble with potatoes and biscuits--enough to feed at least two hung-over people, maybe three. One Christmas morning, a friend of mine had a pajama party breakfast there--everyone in their pjs and robes, with the cook drinking Bailey's and eggnog behind the counter at 9 in the morning. Granted, the owners ran that place into the ground, but it was the beginning of the chi-chi overpricing of the Mission.

                    1. re: MarkB
                      Susan Blair Oct 11, 2001 05:34 PM

                      Wow, I had forgotten about the Spaghetti Factory. We went there as "college kids". My parents loved a place called Paoli's but I only went there as a child. It seems to be long gone. What I miss is Blum's in Macys on Union Square. Strawberry sodas, Cable Car crunch cake, Lemon Goddess Pie.......sweet nostalgia.

                      1. re: MarkB
                        Eric Eto Oct 12, 2001 09:39 AM

                        For me, it was the closing of the Scandanavian Deli on Market near Noe that signified an end of an era. Although I'm not even close to Scandanavian, the place reeked of comfort to me, the stews, the meatloaf, and the Thursday special -- split pea soup and waffles.

              2. re: Dixieday
                Rochelle Oct 8, 2001 07:28 PM

                what a lovely, lovely meal that must have been. i just love gnocchi and pumpkin and chard- yummmm!

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