A generaton's food memories of John F. Kennedy are enderingly served tonight in a two-hour dramatization of his first election triumph 31 years ago. It is called "Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye" and airs at 9 on Channel 4.

Based on a chapter in the Kenneth P.O'Donnell-David F. Powers book of the same name, it recounts how the returned war hero, in the face of family doubts, took on a field of 10 in a Democratic primary for the 11th Congressional District in the spring of 1946.

Kennedy won, went on to a big November win in the general election and was started on his way to the White House.

It is a story told with wit and restraint, without a single mawkish reference to his destiny and it tells a good deal about the Boston Irish and the ward politics they thrive on.

Paul Rudd, who scored as the chauffeur in CBS' brief "Beacon Hill" a season back, is remarkable as the 29-year-old Kennedy. His face may be a bit long for the part but he has totally mastered the accent and cadences of Kennedy speech.

It is doubtful that the somewhat shy young Navy lieutenant who seemed to be overreaching in 1946 spoke as well at the time but it's a marvelous evocation of the later, "national" Kennedy.

For dramatic purposes, the other early JFK workers celebrated by O'Donnell and Powers in their memoirs are subordinated tonight to the role of the young Powers, the onetime newsboy who ran the millionaire's campaign in Charlestown, when "Townies" resented outsiders.

But otherwise the story sticks close to the facts as recalled in the book.

Kennedy, on returning from San Francisco and the debut of the United Nations Organization, where he had tried his hand as a journalist, decides to run for Congress.

It is a goal that his father, former Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy (played by William Prince), and his grandfather former Boston Mayor John F. ("Honey Fitz") Fitzgerald (Burgess Meredith), felt was beyond him at the time.

Reluctantly, they introduce him to "Uncle Joe" Kane, a Kennedy cousin and political boss who operated out of a restaurant near City Hall in Boston.

This leads to Kennedy's first meeting with Powers, back from the Army Air Corps and living on unemployment with a widowed sister at the top of a "three Decker" in Charlestown. It is January, 1946.

How Powers overcomes his loyalty to another candidate and leads JFK through the mechanics of beating his rivals at the docks, at the Knights of Columbus, with the VFW, from door to door - a task made easier by Kennedy's great natural talents - is the stuff of the evening.

It concludes with a victory chorus of "Sweet Adeline" from "Honey Fitz" standing on top of a table the night of June 18, 1946, in election headquarters, a very nice moment.

Well, make that, it should have concluded with "Sweet Adeline." Instead there is a brief coda featuring Powers himself and producer David Susskind in a brief reminiscience that, as usual, features much too much David Susskind.

That small mistake, and a scriptwriter's belief that the Boston Celtics had been established by the winter of 1945-46 are among very few flaws in a lovely two hours of remembrance.