- Dominic McGrath
Jersey Joe's on 6th bet. Campbell and Cherry is a tiny joint (recently expanded, actually) that has what I would call pretty authentic New Jersey (read excellent) Italian food in whitebread Tucson. The owner (yes he's from Jersey, yes he's named Joe) is as "entertaining" as the food is good. I can't even write a quote here without offending (so take him with a grain of salt). Try the sausage sub, and dream about the roast beef sandwich. He has recently started serving more elaborate dinners, and has recently claimed to me that he has the best steaks in Tucson, but I have yet to try.
I like Jersey Joe sometimes. Maybe I have spent too much time here in the West, but all the attitude just pisses me off. They do however, have a really great marinara that includes vermouth (i think).
For the real Italian American experience, go to Vivande. It's on Pantano and Broadway by the ABCO. Yes, it's behind Gavi. The owner's name is Harry and don't do anything until you go up to the bar and ask him what's good. Great prices, too!
Sorry, but I tried Vivande last week and was very diasappointed. The first mistake was soggy fried calamari with the breading falling off and greasy. It was at this point that I tasted the marinara and new things were heading downhill. It was bland, not tomatoey or garlicky, just bland (a little sweet maybe). I grew up in an Italian household and tomato sauce is the litmus test that few restaurants pass. I had a seafood special for an entree. It was mediocre at best. There was not enough sauce, and the linguine was kind of pasty. Others at my table had eggplant parmigian, chicken parmigian, and spaghetti carbonarra. No one was raving.
I have also heard "good things" about Gavi but am reluctant to try because these reviews were from Tucsonans. Any East Coasters with Italian backgrounds who've had good Italian in Tucson?
Jersey Joe's is still at the top of my list, but the list is not about thochange soon--I'm gun shy of trying Italian restaurant. Always have been because nobody makes it like Mama makes it.