Restaurant Review: Stogie Joe’s Tavern: “What you want however you want it.”
This week, I invited my friend and fellow actor Robert Eric, “Philly’s Piano Man”, to lunch at Stogie Joe’s Tavern – Moore St. and East “Pa-shunk” Ave – South Philly, of course. I was leading him into the same trap that ensnared me!
I had been there only once before and, following the teachings of my favorite Italian, Leonardo DaVinci – “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – I played it safe and ordered Linguine with Crab Gravy. My eyes rolled back in my head! It was Ambrosia, the food of the Greek gods. (In an earlier review, I mentioned I went to St. Joe’s Prep where we had to take Latin: I also had to take Greek. The teacher said it would help us speak in a more gentlemanly, refined fashion. I got straight A’s in both, but the teacher got an F. I still sound like I’m from South Philly, especially when I get excited. I gotta be me.)
The trap had been sprung. I knew that whenever I went back to Stogie Joe’s, I’d order the same thing, again and again, and never experience the other dishes. I’d be like Schrödinger’s Cat – satisfied and unsatisfied at the same time.
I figured, if I’m going into the vortex, I’m taking Rob with me. The conversation went like this.
Me. “Rob, do you like pasta with blue crabs? “
Rob. “Yes, I’ve had it a few times”
Me. “You should get the linguine with crab gravy. All the taste – none of the mess.”
Rob begins to tap dance. He’s not enthusiastic but I sense he is malleable so I give him my Mother’s killer line: “If you don’t try it, you’ll never know what you missed. Go ahead, try it, just for me.”
When Ceres, the Roman goddess of food, who answers to the name, Michelle, came to take our order, I told her of my dilemma. I wanted to try other things on the menu but, as Calypso did to Ulysses, the Linguine with Crab Gravy was calling me back with her song. (Like how I combined the Latin and Greek stuff?)
“Let your mind not be troubled”, the tall and lovely Michelle counseled: “If you look at our menu, we can send you home with a quart of crab gravy. You can have your own Linguine with Crab Gravy, any time you like, in the privacy of your own kitchen. Just don’t let the aroma waft out of your house or you’ll have unexpected company.”
Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Da, Zip-A-Dee-Ay, My Oh My, What a wonderful day.
With all fear and trepidation cleansed from my soul, I ordered the Italian salad for 2 (fresh greens, pepperoni, salami, and just the right amount of dressing. Then the square pizza for 2 (much like a rustic, thin crust tomato pie with the sauce on top) and the Stogie Joe’s Stromboli for me and the quart of crab gravy to go. The hesitant Rob finally succumbed to the Linguine with Crab Gravy. His plate was licked clean. He’s hooked for life!
Oh, before I go on, I want to correct any misconceptions. If it goes on pasta, its gravy. If it goes on pizza, it’s sauce. Like Tony Baretta said: And that’s the name of that tune!
Rob and I finished our libations, asked Michelle for the check and then, South Philly broke out. A lovely, smallish women left the rear dining area and neared our table. I don’t exactly recall what she said, but I responded and for the next 10 minutes hilarity ensued. Turns out this totally delightful lady, Linda (which means beautiful in case you didn’t know), is Michelle’s mom. One would think we had known one another for years.
On the way out, crab gravy in hand, we were introduced to a gentleman sitting at one of the outside tables. It was Sonny, the owner of Stogie Joe’s and I told him how much we enjoyed our meals. Then, South Philly erupted again. But among all the laughter, Sonny told me how his son makes the crab gravy (it’s involved) and he swore me to secrecy. “Don’t worry” I assured him. “At my age, I’ll forget it by the time I get to my car. Besides, Tony Soprano and I are personal friends.”
I’ll be back. Next time it will be the mussels and linguine with clams. After that, I’ll do a total vegetarian meal: Caesar Salad, Broccoli Rabe, Pasta Marinara, Garlic Bread, Long Hots and one Meatball. (In my house one meatball has been considered vegetarian ever since meatless Fridays.) And Crab Gravy to go.
And I’m also putting my order in for Sonny, Michelle and Linda
Stogie Joe’s Tavern
1801 Passyunk Ave. Philadelphia
Charley is a 25 year member of SAG/AFTRA with principal roles in TV series including The Wire, The Sopranos, Law and Order, Law and Order SVU, Homicide Life on the Street and Cold Case, and films including Liberty Heights and Two Bits. His professional theater credits include Guys and Dolls (Nicely Johnson), Fiddler on the Roof (Lazar Wolf), The Wizard of Oz (Cowardly Lion), Gangstertown (Mayor Big Bill Thompson) and Niagara Falls (Mr. Poletti). Charley has also appeared in Chicago (Billy Flynn), Annie (Daddy Warbucks), Damn Yankees (Van Buren) and Annie Get Your Gun (Charlie Davenport).