On our Stick a Fork In It blog a couple of weeks ago, I got in a bit of a tussle with some anonymous commenter. He took my trashing of a new Santa Ana eatery as somehow signifying that I want the most Mexican city in America to turn as sterile as Irvine. I defended Don Bren’s laboratory, reprimanding the commenter for relying on outdated stereotypes in besmirching the city’s cuisine, which is among the most ethnically diverse in Orange County. If Irvine-ness means more foreign dives, I argued, then let Larry Agran extend his oily reach to the county seat.
I’d rank Irvine among our top five dining towns, what with its Chinese and Persian treasures. But it’s still lacking in one category: Americana—no big shock given the city’s white population truly is as bland as its reputation. On that note, let’s hope more restaurants like JOEY’S PIZZA AND PASTA CAFE bloom across Irvine. It seems like any other Italian-American eatery on the West Coast: Pictures of New York icons on the walls, a wiseguy swagger even on the menus, Latino workers and a fluency in actual Italian no more advanced than the entrées or vaffancullo. But here is honest-to-goodness takeout food, as satisfying for a quick lunch as it is for a sit-down dinner.
This clean dive offers a more ambitious menu than your typical office-park smelly deli—12 pasta dishes alongside such complex meals as chicken piccata and eggplant rollatini. Though the fettuccine alfredo is properly sweet and savory, try the penne à la Joey’s, a great mixture of chicken, tarragon and mushrooms topped with a smooth cream sauce.
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Joey’s also sells a pizza with a taste that actually lingers. They sell it by the slice, in portions large enough to qualify as two pieces in most local pizzerias. It’s classic East Coast pizza: thin, with a crispy crust and a body that needs two hands to support lest the contents slip off. Basil is in the sauce, the cheese is milky, and an assembly line of pies goes one by one through an oven, ensuring a fresh batch almost constantly.
But the main draw for Joey’s is the sandwiches. There are 37 of ’em, ranging from heroes stuffed with hot sausages or any number of takes on parmigiana to French dips with a wonderfully done brisket, to a pastrami sandwich that nearly matches Tommy’s Pastrami’s (which, by the way, needs your business at its downtown SanTana location—go here instead of hipster tapas!). The folds of salty meat can last for days, but you’ll devour the meal in one sitting. I didn’t order any of the veal dishes—I’m sure they’re delicious, but eating baby cows is just mean! And I don’t particularly care for novelty sandwiches, so you tell me how tasty their eight triple-decker sandwiches taste—at $12 each, you’re a fool for buying them unless they fight cavities or something.
Joey’s Pizza and Pasta Cafe, 2626 Dupont, Ste. A-50, Irvine, (949) 553-8008; www.joeyspizzapastacafe.com.