On Dec. 13 at Joeseppi’s Italian Ristorante, two Tacoma food icons will go head to head in a battle to see which one makes the best authentic Italian meat sauce, and it’s up to you, the public, to decide. The event runs 4-8 p.m. and proceeds go to benefit Crimestoppers of Tacoma/Pierce County and Charlie’s Dinosaur in memory of Charlie and Braden Powell. In this corner we have Joeseppi’s owner Joe Stortini’s family recipe that he says can k.o. the time-tested sauce of his opponent in the other corner – Jerry Rosi of the famed Bimbo’s Italian Restaurant. Rosi’s recipe was also handed down through his family over the generations and will be stiff (and tasty) competition to Stortini’s, since Bimbo’s was a very big deal in Tacoma in its heyday.
Bimbo’s closed in 2001 after 81 years in business. Launched in 1931 by Rosi’s great uncle Vittorio “Bimbo” Perniconi, the restaurant became victim of the effort to jazz up downtown Tacoma when the city made plans to build the convention center there. Other businesses were affected too – some relocated, but Bimbo’s closed up shop after selling to the city its name and a handful of recipes that have been locked up in the city clerk’s safe all these years. Rosi bought the Bimbo’s name back last year, which he is very happy about, as are, no doubt, those who’ve missed that Bimbo’s goodness. Soon after re-securing the name, Rosi was in conversations with Stortini and other friends and colleagues about getting the famous name out there again. Discussions with Ed Troyer, Public Information Officer for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and Executive Director for the Tacoma/Pierce County CrimeStoppers, and Tacoma Weekly publisher John Weymer ended up helping Rosi and Stortini solidify a plan to have the upcoming Battle of the Sauces fundraiser.
“When I got my name back I figured it was time to do something,” Rosi said. When asked if he has any thoughts about opening Bimbo’s again, Rosi said he prefers retirement over working seven days a week. “It takes everything out of you. It’s the nature of the business.” Troyer noted that Joeseppi’s has an admirable reputation in town for allowing non-profit groups to take over the restaurant for fundraisers, so he’s looking forward to a successful Battle of the Sauces. “We’re always trying to think of ways to raise money and have fun while doing it,” Troyer said of CrimeStoppers, which also runs Charlie’s Dinosaur. “Some of my CrimeStoppers board members will be there bussing and waiting tables, and there will be some local celebrities there too so it should be a really fun event.” Charlie’s Dinosaur is 100 percent volunteer driven and with no administrative costs so every cent goes to the work they do. As a beneficiary of the event, the non-profit will put the funds to good use in providing children going into foster care for the first time with new school supplies, new clothing and other things to comfort them. Charlie’s Dinosaur was established in memory of Charlie and Brayden Powell whose father, Josh Powell, murdered them last year by blowing up their home, killing all three. Josh Powell was being investigated at the time for the disappearance of his wife Susan Powell who still has not been found.
Neither Rosi nor Stortini, good friends going back years, is taking the good-natured smack-talk lying down as Battle of the Sauces nears – after all, both men’s sauces are what have made Joeseppi’s and Bimbo’s two delicious symbols of Tacoma’s unique and colorful history. Rosi prefers the word “different” to “better than” when it comes to his sauce, but that’s the way it goes among Italians, he said. “Every Italian will tell you theirs is different – and every Italian says their mom makes the best so you can’t argue with that.” In this case, it was Rosi’s great uncle who brought the family recipe over to America from Italy when he immigrated here generations ago. For Stortini, his dad brought their family’s recipe to the states in the 1930s. “It’s the same sauce we’ve used (at the restaurant) all these years,” Stortini said. For those who partake in the “sauce-off” to help choose the winner on the big night, each ticket-holding patron will sit down to two pasta dishes – one with Bimbo’s sauce and one with Joeseppi’s – along with salad, bread sticks and dessert. Awards will be given in five categories: Best Pasta Sauce, Crowd Favorite, Local Celebrity Favorite, Kids Favorite and Food Critics Choice. Everyone holding a ticket will be a judge to determine the winner ($17 for adults, $7 for kids). Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus will be there, and there will also be silent auctions, door prizes and raffles. There are just 200 tickets available for Battle of the Sauces, and they’re going fast. Get yours at Joeseppi’s, 2207 N. Pearl St. or call (253) 761-5555.