Friday, August 1, 2008

Joe's Pizza: A Northampton tradition and home of Little Joe Scampi

I've been going to Joe's Pizza on Market Street on and off for 20 years now. It remains a Northampton fixture, and most folks who eat there for the first time are instantly hooked. "The Joe's photo," two examples below, must exist in thousands of homes by now. The faces change from one to the next but the familiar red and white tablecloth, the sideways glance, and the cheeks aglow with beery goodness remain a constant. The history of Joe's has been told many times but who ever really tires of hearing about the odd Argentinian (Not Mexican. Thanks Wylie.) decor in an Italian restaurant, the walls filled with horse racing ephemera, photos of a local professor holding up a big fish, out of scale but recognizable paintings of local landmarks, and some things that cannot and perhaps should not be identified. You'll notice the sign that reads "Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice." There is no reason for this sign to be there as it does not correspond to a beverage actually served (or squeezed for that matter) on the premises. The sign has always been there and shall remain. It may have been true at one time and that's good enough. Just like at Jake's, regular customers look at the Joe's menu if only out of habit, as if the entire thing isn't as committed to memory as our social security numbers. But every once in a while, a new selection is added. Not too long ago, I took a chance on the new scampi pizza. No one else would risk it, so I ordered the personal size; the "Little Joe." When I ordered, it sounded like the name of a shortstop from the '50s; Little Joe Scampi. This pizza is unfathomably delicious. The shrimp is actually the least important ingredient. The garlic and lemon partner to create what may be the best tasting cheese pizza EVER.

PHOTOS: The first photo is my father and my sisters and I celebrating his 70th and my sister Amy's 41st birthdays just last night. The second shot is one version of the Monday night gang, a loosely defined group with a few core members that meet every Monday at Joe's without fail. The special on Monday is chicken parm, with spaghetti, bread, and a salad. That's a lot of food so it's advisable to forego the spaghetti or the bread but always get the salad. You need your roughage! The chicken parm is just one of the many dishes that incorporate the secret Joes's tomato sauce into the recipe. This sauce is assigned it's own homeland security agent. If I go a few days without some, I start to sweat, shake, and nod off. The third pic is Jen, one of the legendary waitstaff who pretends we're funny and fields quirky requests as skillfully as Little Joe Scampi used to bag those tricky hops back in the day. The jukebox has a few winners on it too.

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