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[whitespace] Dough Tossing When the Moon Hits Your Eye Like a Big Pizza Pie: Jesus Palafox throws dough for one of Giorgio's signature pizzas.

Photograph by George Sakkestad

Ciao Time

Great food, generous portions and fair prices remain unchanged at Giorgio's

By Joseph Izzo Jr.

GIORGIO'S IS THE OFFSPRING of an Italian family that has fed this valley for over 40 years. Ninety percent of all restaurants fold up and go south within two years of opening. To survive longer than 10 years is a downright miracle.

The crowds today are as eager for the food at Giorgio's as they were when I first walked in during the autumn of 1973 with my friend Mike Boyle. Boyle was a family man at heart and always talked about the fair prices and generous portions at Giorgio's. Boyle especially enjoyed the family dinner that served (and still does) four to six with plenty of food including salad, pizza, pasta, chicken and beverage. We came here nearly once every three weeks and stuffed ourselves beyond redemption.

Like all of its siblings, including the famous Frankie, Johnny, and Luigi Too, Giorgio's understands the principles of the family hearth where food and comfort are essential components. There's nothing new here. What you get is simple Italian cooking--the rugged kind with Southern Italian leanings full of robust flavors and tangy tomato sauces. If anything, the portions have gotten bigger over the years and the prices are still fair and reasonable for what you get. The family dinner now costs about $46.

Décor, too, hasn't changed all that much. The rooms are more spacious and configured differently, with more colorful decorations. But the pea-green booths are still there and still the most comfortable places to sit. I like the ones with a view of the open kitchen where the young cooks maneuver around the burners with great dexterity. Artificial grape leaves in shades of red and green still hang from the ceiling like Halloween decorations at an elementary school. Murals in basic bright colors decorate the walls. The one in back depicts the owners and their families having repast and wine as they would at a holiday gathering. It's a happy scene that set the tone for our dinner on that chilly night.

Pizza at Giorgio's remains one of its most popular commodities and the main attraction for most customers who cram this place for sit-down or takeout. The night we came, the takeout patrons far outnumbered the sit-downs, filling the waiting area to near capacity.

And people like Giorgio's pizza for good reason. It's one of the best pies in town. The crust is made from good bread dough--which is the key--full of yeasty aromas and moist textures. The underside comes to you golden and crispy and topped with good quality meats and cheeses. My personal favorite is the simple fresh tomato, garlic and basil. Once in a while I'll indulge my craving for fat and spice with the special that comes with sausage, mushroom, pepperoni and salami. It'll kill you, but by God, it's delicious. Every bite goes down like ambrosia from Mt. Olympus.

Whatever you like on your pizza, you can get: roasted garlic, artichoke heart and black olive, or even the anomalous Hawaiian combo with ham and pineapple. Prices range anywhere from $9 to $21.

This visit, we opened with Pane de Salciccia ($4.95), a delicious house specialty of fresh baked bread woven with homemade Italian sausage and mozzarella. It comes with a side of rich, Sunday-dinner tomato sauce for dipping. Salads were very good--full of crunchy greens and doused with a dressing made with hearty wine vinegar.

This visit, we spread our table with the definitive dishes known and loved by devotees of basic Italian cooking: chicken cacciatore ($11.95), veal scaloppini ($13.95), Italian sausage and peppers ($10.95)--dishes that Giorgio's continues to base its reputation on. We liked everything that was served, on the whole. It was all hot and freshly made to order with appropriate flavors fully pronounced in the sauces. There were a couple problems: the cacciatore needed a little more time to simmer in the pan so that the good flavors of the sauce could penetrate the juicy meat of the half-chicken, and most unfortunately of all, Georgio's has forsaken the rules of the Italian table by shoving side dishes, such as vegetables and pasta, onto the same plate as the entree. The visual impact is unappetizing.

We had better results with our scaloppini. The veal had been sautéed to the point where garlic, shallot and Marsala wine had worked their way into the meat so that all flavors could be tasted throughout. The same with the sausage and peppers. The juices from the two plump links richened the sauce full of bell pepper, onion and mushrooms.

I took a chance with the Lamb Osso Bucco ($11.95) and won the bet. A huge, club-sized shank heavy with meat was slow-roasted to a nut-brown finish and moistened--according to the classic recipe--with natural juices and wine. The meat had a fresh taste of lamb--with no hint of mutton--that we all enjoyed and commented on throughout the meal.

Even though we were full, we tried dessert, hoping that the old wives' tale that dessert is good for digestion would apply here. Tiramisu ($4.95)--never my favorite on any menu--was fancier than the usual recipe, standing tall like Mile High Pie, with decorations and a white frosting I'd never seen on this dessert before.

The staff here at Giorgio's is comprised of young people who buzz about like worker bees, diving into their chores with unflagging energy.

Giorgio's remains the archetypal family restaurant where hard-working people can bring their kids and still eat well at prices that won't break the bank. It's a warm and joyful place today, as it was many years ago when I came here with Mike Boyle for family dinners and pitchers of beer. The portions and presentation may not be aesthetically pleasing, but they do nourish the body in a big way.

Address: 1445 Foxworthy Ave., San Jose
Phone: 408.264.5781
Hours: 11:30am-10pm Mon-Thur, until 11pm Fri, from noon Sat and Sun
Cuisine: Family-style Italian
Price Range: $8-$20.95

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From the February 8-14, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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