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Restaurants & Bars

PJ’S Ristorante – Cioppino, Secret Pizza, $3.50 Martinis

Krys | Feb 28, 200511:18 PM

Located on San Pablo Dam Road on the border of El Sobrante,

While I was looking over the menu, a fire truck pulled up. The firemen were picking up a pizza. One of the guys at the bar said “How’d you find out about the pizza?”

Not seeing pizza on the menu I asked if there was a pizza menu. There wasn’t. People just knew about it and you could order it with the normal pizza toppings. There are two sizes, individual and large. The dough is not house made but from Giovanni’s in Pinole. I didn’t try the pizza tonight, but the firemen said it was the best pizza in the area.

I was there for the cioppino. All dinners come with soup or salad. It was Friday, clam chowder night. Never one to turn down clam chowder, I chose that even though it made the dinner heavy on seafood soup.

PJ’s soup is house made. When I have a yen for clam chowder, I’ll head for PJ’s.

The chowder was filled with clams and a few potatoes in a rich broth. It was either milk or cream based. I couldn’t figure out how it was thickened. It didn’t have flour or cornstarch but was slightly thicker than just broth/cream. Whatever it was, it was one of the better clam chowders in the Bay Area.

The cioppino came with a large basket of toasted foccacia and a nice olive oil filled with pesto for dipping.

All these years in San Francisco and I’ve never had cioppino because I don’t like Dungeness crab. I enjoyed this rich tomato broth based cioppino filled with crab, clams, squid, perfectly cooked salmon, a slightly overcooked white fleshed fish, medium shrimp and tiny bay shrimp. Not having anything to judge it by, this version left me with an interest in cioppino. It seems like a good use of Dungeness crab. The crab itself tasted as though it was purchased from a supermarket and not a fish vendor.It came with a fresh lemon and they grated fresh parmesan cheese on top until you said stop.

I passed on the house made tiramisu and was too full to finish the meal with a glass of grappa Candolini ($3.50). There were pleasant, reasonably priced wines. To give you an idea of bar prices, Martini’s and Cosmopolitans were $3.50. The grappa candolini was also $3.50.

I went back to PJ’s because I wanted to try the steak, martini and grappa.

This time I tried the salad. Some of the salad dressings are bottled, but the blue cheese is house made. It has a nice vinaigrette with a generous sprinkling of crumbled gorgonzola on some nice butter leaf and romaine lettuce.

I would skip the cosmo. The martini was fine with a nice olive.

I knew the steak wasn’t the thing I should order here. However, the description for Bistecca San Cassiano interested me. It is described as a one pound NY steak, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and topped with shaved parmesan cheese.

I had fantasies of a steak I had once in Florence. It was an ok steak, but it wasn’t close to my dream steak. The regulars aren’t likely to order the most expensive dish on the menu and are probably more inclined toward the pastas, pizza and cioppino. If you go, my guess is to stick to those items.

The steak came with some excellent veggies, cauliflower, carrots and zucchini sautéed in garlic and topped with fresh grated cheese if you were interested. Some penne pasta was also served, but I thought the tomato sauce was only fair.

The grappa was actually decent and had a mild perfumy taste, but in a good way.

The house made tiramisu was sold out and since I made up my mind before going in, to have dessert I ordered the semifreddo. Not great. Drizzled with Hersey’s chocolate syrup and garnished with canned whipped cream. I’ll wait for the tiramisu.

This time I snuck a peak at the specials hand written on the back of the envelope. It seemed to be the same envelope, now a little water stained, with the same specials.

The rack of lamb, Filet mignon stuffed with gorgonzola and the mushroom ravioli looked good.

PJ’s is a comfy old fashioned bar with a restaurant attached. They didn’t have business cards or take out menus. When I asked for the phone number so I could order a pizza, they had to look it up. Hmmm … I asked if they were new since no one knew the phone number. Nope. As the waitress said, “We never call ourselves, so we don’t remember the number.”

It turns out that for years the bar was run by the owner’s father and the restaurant was leased out. The man who ran the restaurant died, so about a year ago the son took over operation of the restaurant. As the waitress said, “It’s a nice small place. Peter cooks each order”.

The specials were written on the back of an envelope and handed to people. Most of the regulars had their favorites and couldn’t be talked into the specials. I was told that on special occasions they made a wonderful Prime Rib. They made this for Valentine’s Day when the ladies got free roses and champagne.

The dimly lit bar has a tv above it playing news, sports or cable movies depending on the whim of customers.

The dining room is done in pale mint greenish colors. The cottage cheese ceiling in green and a lamp in the restaurant glows a faint green. Tables have white linen tablecloths and are graced with a single fresh carnation.

Most of the standard Italian dishes are served. There is sweetness and hominess about PJ’s for a bar. The waitress drives 65 miles every day to work there because she likes the people she works with and her customers. It’s a pleasant place.

Bar:(510) 222 - 0221
Restaurant:(510) 222 - 7600 (more likely to answer bar phone)


Closed Monday
11 – 10 Tuesday – Saturday
4 – 10 Sunday

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