January 7, 2022

North Beach’s Patrick Rylee: Thanks To A True Believer

by Joe Bonadio

We can’t say it often enough: we absolutely love our regulars. With that in mind, every once in a while here on the blog, I’ll take the time to sit down with one of our favorites for a little informal chat. It’s always entertaining, to say the least. You never know what you might learn from the people who come in all the time—and very often, have been from the beginning.

One of those people is longtime North Beach habitué Patrick Rylee. Known in equal measures for his meticulous appearance and irreverent sense of humor, Rylee found his place at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in the restaurant’s very first weeks. Since then, he’s become the ultimate regular, both there and at Capo’s around the corner.

I’ve known Rylee from the neighborhood for several years, and I had the pleasure of speaking with him just before Christmas; edited for length and clarity, our conversation is below.

Joe Bonadio: You’re one of Tony’s most ardent regulars. When was the first time you visited the restaurant?

Patrick Rylee: Probably the first weekend they opened. I was at S&S Market on Grant, and a bartender came in, by the name of J.P.

Patrick is often accompanied by his 15-year-old Jack Russell terrier Magoo, for whom he recently held a quinceañera at Caffe Trieste.

He was buying ginger beer, I remember specifically. He said they had just opened, and they had forgotten to order it for the bar. He told me to come on down, that it was a great place. I thought that was very welcoming, so I went down to see him.

And J.P. is still there—he, like many of the original staff, is still working at Tony’s. That’s one of the big reasons why people love the place, because it’s like family when you walk in.

JB: That’s so true. Can you tell me your favorite things on the menu?

PR: Well, I’m all over the place. I’ll tell you my favorite last, because it’s a weird favorite for a pizza place.

First, I always order the meatballs, and always get the fried green beans. The coccoli are amazing. The calamari is pretty much the best in the city. I get it 50/50, with one side spicy and the other not.

The Coal Fired New Yorker is the best pizza they have there, by far. It was described to me as lasagna on a pizza crust: it starts out with the tomato, then you’ve got the sausage, the pepperoni, the mozzarella and the ricotta cheese, which is nice and sweet. It goes in-and-out of the coal fire oven, and it is delicious. I always do that, when I’m getting pizza.

Really, I’ve never gotten a bad pizza there, and I could just start rattling off the different pizzas. You’ve got to get the margherita for sure, that’s what made Tony famous.

The one thing that I order which is not expected is the Calabrese hamburger—which is the best burger in town.

Meatballs photo

You can never go wrong with Tony’s meatballs, seen here on the bar at sister restaurant Capo’s in North Beach. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

JB: Is that still on the menu?

PR: No, it’s not on the menu right now. So what I do is, I get the Burrata Burger, no bun, and a side of Calabrese peppers. With the fried green beans, it’s sort of as carb free as you can be at Tony’s Pizza.

That, and I love the salads. I just had the Caprese salad, with great mozzarella, and these little tomato bombs that Tony gets from Italy in a can. They’re called Mini Reds, and they’re now up to $22 a can—but it is so worth it. I usually store a can in my house. Apparently they are dried and reconstituted somehow; they are certainly tasty.

JB: They sell them at Giovanni?

PR: Yeah, when they have them. The problem is they’re so popular at the restaurant, that they’ll run out over there, then come to Giovanni and clean out their stock! That’s why I always keep a can at home.

JB: So when did you first come to San Francisco?

PR: I’ve been out here 28, 29 years. I came out here in the early Nineties. I left Miami, I was down there for 12 years.

JB: Where are you from originally?

PR: Navy brat. We moved around a lot, high school up in South Louisiana, Florida State for college, then to Miami.

I loved Miami, but unfortunately, a lot of what San Francisco is going through, Miami went through. I see it happening, when the city doesn’t deal with the problems, and just tries to gloss them over.

I remember back in Miami, when they started shooting the tourists. There was an article in Time Magazine, and the headline was Paradise Lost. It was about Miami: all the problems, and the crime, and the danger of being in the city.

Tourism dried up to nothing. Had it not been for the movie Scarface, and then Miami Vice, which helped turn it into sort of this interesting place.

JB: Ironic. Maybe we just need to shoot a good cop show out here.

PR: Yeah, Nash Bridges could come back. That’s what we need, geriatric San Francisco cops on TV.

JB: That’s definitely not what I meant! (laughter)

Patrick, it occurs to me that I’ve never asked what you do for a living.

PR: Well, I founded an internet company back in the ‘90s; I now run a news curation site for the LGBTQ community.

I get up at 3:00 every morning, and I read through 4-600 news stories. I decide which are the top five that I like, and I post those on my website I send out a newsletter at 7:00 AM, then post it all on Facebook.

Most people in North Beach have no idea what I do, because I have my work done before they even wake up. I shower and walk down to Caffe Trieste by 7:30 every morning to hang out with my friends.

JB: So what are some of the other places that you like here in the neighborhood?

PR: I love Red Window. I love the tapas there. Elmer is a hard worker—he’s done a great job, and I’m happy to support him.

I love Il Pollaio for chicken, you can get some great chicken there. I recently discovered the minestrone at North Beach Restaurant. And I just love Mario’s amazing chicken pesto panini sandwich.

JB: Ooh, I haven’t had that for a while….

PR: It’s so good. Outside the neighborhood, I love Tadich, and John’s Grill and Sam’s Grill….but I want to back up a little bit.

JB: Okay.

PR: At Tony’s, they serve the best cannolis I’ve ever had. They fill them when you order them, so they aren’t sitting around getting mushy.

And they recently started serving chocolate cherry bread pudding. You know he’s got a bakery now, Toscano Brothers Bakery. He makes a sour cherry chocolate bread there, and they make bread pudding with it at Tony’s.

JB: I’ve heard tell of this…

PR: It is truly a religious experience. It is so good.

JB: I don’t eat a lot of sweets these days, but I’ve had that bread—and that pudding is definitely on my list. Thanks again for taking, the time, Patrick.