Jersey Joe's Stadium Cafe Is One Helluva Joint.
By Rebecca Cook
OKAY, YOUSE GUYS, listen up. If you wanna submarine sandwich made with real cheese and quality meats, homemade pasta served with maybe meatballs and a marinara sauce that brings tears of joy to your eyes, or an honest-to-goodness hand-tossed pizza made with 100 percent fresh ingredients, Jersey Joe's is da place.
This nondescript little gem across from Arizona Stadium has been languishing in relative obscurity for the last two years. But, if quality of product is any indicator of success, Jersey Joe's is well on its way to a brighter future.
Owner Joseph Anthony Ascolese came to Arizona 12 years ago, but the migration westward neither ameliorated his audacious homestyle Italian cooking nor his Jersey accent. Inhaling fragrant scents of garlic and olive oil while listening to the steady banter between Ascolese and his cousins, the tiny space seems to defy the laws of time and space--it's like you've walked through a doorway directly linking Tucson to Jersey-New York.
Ascolese, who made a significant career shift at age 40 from auto body repairman to restauranteur, believes in cultivating a singular taste, a taste so delicious it keeps people coming back again and again.
"When I was growing up, people used to say I was stupid," says
Ascolese. "But my mother told me that it was okay if I couldn't do things fast--just as long as I did them right. What does that mean? It means my noodles are always cooked al dente. Why? Because that's right. It means that for your marinara sauce you have to have fresh basil, good olive oil and garlic. Why? Because that's right."
Ascolese scours local farmers' markets for the freshest ingredients and settles for nothing less than the best. The result of his efforts shines in every dish prepared at Jersey Joe's. Ascolese takes nothing for granted as he fills your order. From the deli meats he insists must be thinly sliced to the flawlessly balanced flavors of his marinara sauce, Ascolese embodies perfectionism in his kitchen at all times.
The Italian Combo ($5.89) boasts a delirious piling of imported Italian ham, pepperoni, American ham, salami, provolone cheese, roasted peppers, onions, herbs and Joe's café dressing, a deceptively simple vinaigrette concoction that enlivens everything from sandwiches to salads at Jersey Joe's.
The Vegetarian Combo ($5.89), thin slices of four cheeses, roasted peppers, fresh tomatoes, red onion and the café dressing is also outstanding, another example of things done simply but oh-so-right. All sandwiches are made with a fine Italian bread that offers just the right amount of chewiness and softness.
If the sandwiches at Jersey Joe's seduced me back into a between-the-bread habit, the ravioli ($6.75) sent me into orbit. Roughly six to eight of these spinach or cheese-filled gems are spooned onto a plate and topped with that intoxicating marinara sauce and a smattering of melted parmesan cheese.
And Joe's house garlic bread should not be overlooked: grated parmesan cheese, minced fresh garlic and lacy cuts of fresh tomato heated together on oblong slices of bread. Garlic lovers will be in heaven with this one.
Ziti, linguine and homemade meatballs can also be found on the menu at Jersey Joe's, although I may never be able to deviate from the ravioli platter that won my heart.
Ascolese, whose food rivals that of many supposedly more refined restaurants in town, is modest in his evaluation of his establishment.
"It's not a restaurant, it's a jerk joint," he says. "I cook from the heart, that's all. I cook the way Mom and Dad would do it. Why? Because I enjoy doing it that way."
Would unmitigated success change anything at Jersey Joe's? Not likely, according to Ascolese.
"Hey, my friends eat here," he says. "You know what I'm telling you? I can't cut no corners."
Jersey Joe's Stadium Café. 1628 E. Sixth St. 740-0461. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. (Hours are subject to change during the UA's summer semester and winter break). No liquor. Cash or checks with guarantee card. Menu items: $4.89-$15.95.
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