Papa Joe's Casual Italian is not for someone on a diet. They do offer an Italian salad, but even that is decked out with artichoke hearts, mozzarella and salami. Papa Joe's is, however, for someone looking to enjoy an unabashedly rich and filling Italian-American meal.
The restaurant itself is quirky and eclectic. Located on the corner of Capitol Boulevard and University Drive, the funky old green and brown building seems like it would be more at home in Hyde Park than at the busy and aesthetically devoid intersection by Boise State.
Once inside, I noticed my date and I were the only couple in the definitely group- and family-friendly restaurant. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the low ceilings and cozy booths muted the many conversations around us. And, Papa Joe's has not subscribed to the casual restaurant misconception that there must be a television in every corner and music blaring all the time. It was a refreshing change to be in a crowded restaurant and still able to chat with my date.
We mused over the lengthy list of hot and cold sandwiches, pizzas, pastas and appe-"teasers" and decided we'd order smorgasbord style and try a little of each. We chose the fried ravioli stuffed with artichoke and spinach ($5.95), a 10-inch two-topping pizza with shrimp and artichoke hearts ($11.64) and the evening's special, a spicy spinach fettuccine pasta dish tossed with mushrooms, chicken and feta cheese ($9.50). And although we were tempted to add the homemade meatball sub to the list, we agreed three starchy, cheesy items were enough for the evening and that we'd come back soon for lunch.
Our server was a little slow to get our order but was juggling a number of gregarious tables, and if she was feeling stressed, she didn't show it. She was casual and personable, and once she brought us water and took our orders, she basically left us alone except to bring us our food, which was a nice change of pace from the overly concerned "How are we doing?" server, or worse, the infamous disappearing waiter.
The fried ravioli appetizer came out a quick eight minutes later, golden brown and served with a chunky marinara dipping sauce. They looked the part of a delicious concoction and were satisfyingly crunchy and chewy, but ultimately their flavor lacked the pizzazz I was hoping for. Our pizza and pasta arrived a mere seven minutes later and was a delight to the senses. The presentation of the pizza was especially appealing. We were expecting bay shrimp and sliced artichoke hearts covered in cheese, but instead we were proffered a pie decorated with whole, medium shrimp and chunks of artichoke, oozing with cheese and topped with a sprinkling of oregano. Bella. The flavors complemented each other perfectly, and the deep-dish style crust was so buttery and flaky, my date described it as "eating pizza made with a croissant crust."
The aroma of the spicy pasta was enough to give me heartburn. It tasted as though the chef had made a traditional dish with a butter sauce and, on a whim, decided to dump a cup of buffalo wing sauce on top. For a buffalo wing fan like myself, it was an exciting dish.
In the end, the food was so rich we could only eat about half of each entree. Our server showed up just as we gave in to our groaning tummies and handed us a couple of to-go boxes. This did not, however, stop us from ordering a chocolate cannoli ($3.50) to go.
On our way out, I stopped in the adjoining cafe, aptly named Papa's Cup of Joe, and ordered a 12-ounce Americano ($2.05), happy to see they served Dawson Taylor. As I waited for my drink, I perused their breakfast menu. I will definitely be going back for a frittata.
—Anna Demetriades fritattas away the hours over breakfast.