Sunday, December 29, 2013

Buca di Beppo Food Review

Supremo Italiano

Sometimes the best places are right in front of you: All you have to do, is open your eyes. Take Buca di Beppo next to and atop the 24-hour Rite Aid at the corner of Connecticut & Florida Avenues, NW. I pass by it twice a day; yet I hadn't been inside in almost a decade (shame on me.) Tis' the season to make amends (not to mention, be jolly) so I stopped in for a massive lunch; and am pleased to report... I've finally found a new familiar Italian restaurant to replace Anna Maria's as my favorite place to relax & dine.

For years, Anna Maria's (coincidentally just a block down the street) was "my place" to take a first date, celebrate anything of note and eat good, authentic Italian food. It closed a few years ago (since replaced by a game room, of all things) and since then, I've traveled from place to place in search of a new "home away from home." Enter Buca di Beppo (yes, it's a chain... big deal, it sure doesn't look or taste like it) to the rescue. It has all the trimmings of an Italian-American eatery from decades ago... with updated takes on the food, and old-school charm. What more could a good Catholic boy ask for?


From the moment you walk in, it's hard not to feel transported to old Italy (the touristy kind, I won't lie.) Call me crazy, but I like it. Red & white tablecloths, tons of vintage photos, even Christmas lights. It's a deceptively large space, but manages to stay intimate thanks to strategic cornering & dividing. It usually holds up to 400 people a night, but you'll be hard pressed to see more than 50 at a time: With a 70% tourist rate, that's extra comforting to locals like me. A kind host delivered me to a booth for a late (2:00 PM) sitting, where I was warmly greeted by my server. I ordered a Diet Pepsi, was offered bread (made fresh every day, to Buca specifications) and took hold of a menu.

Fresh bread

Choices abound on said menu; but my server wisely turned me on to the Pasta with Soup or Salad combo for a steal of a price ($7.99.) You get your choice of Penne, Rigatoni or Spaghetti with three sauces, as well as a bowl of soup (or salad.) I opted for Rigatoni with homemade marinara sauce (when in Rome...) and the minestrone (over a vegetable soup-of-the-day.) You must know by now, salad was never an option. The minestrone arrived nice and hot (with a pack of Saltines... I love the subtle touches) and tasted delicious. There's not much heat; but it was far from over-salty (a big no-no for minestrone) and loaded with veg.

Rigatoni & Homemade Marinara

The bread comes pre-sliced, and is divine. You can't have a good Italian restaurant without good bread, and Buca is a close second to Bertucci's in that department. Pasta is pasta; but I'd be remiss if I didn't praise the tasty "snap" to the homemade marinara. I toss in a few crushed red peppers by habit, but this was one of the few times it wasn't necessary. After a kindly check-in by the floor manager (she stopped at every table, to see how things were going) my single meatball arrived... I just had to try one.


I hate to overuse the word "great," but how else do you describe a big, moist meatball with visible chunks of garlic and onion? This was formed by hand, in the kitchen (no frozen horrors here) and it showed in the taste. A plate of spaghetti with four or five of these bad boys on top? Score! Don't ask me how; but I still had room for the main event... pizza. Take a wild guess how much I liked loved it.
Enough to place it third in our revolving Top 5 best pizzas.

Let's start with the price ($9.49 for six generous slices, served rectangularly... don't you dare say Ledo's.) From there, it only gets better - beginning with an unreal crust (A+) that's almost cracker thin in spots, yet still nice & chewy. The sausage (A) is sublime, eclipsed by the best pepperoni (A+) I've had since I was a kid. The general manager stopped by to chat, and explained that even he sneaks into the kitchen and enjoys a few slices (without all the trimmings.) I asked if I could sneak in, and grab a bag for myself: Farhad just laughed... but you get the feeling that he would get it for you, if you were serious. That's where the small business feel comes into play... a feeling you never get at big chains (until now.) Getting back to the pizza, even the onions are top notch... generously cut & filled with flavor. Toss in the homemade sauce and a solid (B) cheese; and it's a testament to Pete's APizza and Ella's, that it's not #1. Don't be surprised however, if I bump it up another spot or two in the future: It's that good.

Mini Cannoli

I ordered so much, that I was given a complimentary dessert... a mini cannoli, dusted in sugar and laid atop a swirl of chocolate sauce. Lord only knows how I was able to "squeeze it in," but it cemented one of the best lunches I've ever had. It's possible that the joy of finding a suitable replacement for a long-loved favorite had something to do with it; but there's no denying that Buca gets all the basics, without fail. I felt cozy, comfortable and welcome. There doesn't seem to be any room for pretense here... just great food, served with love inside the confines of several wildly decorated rooms. It's a gushing review, I'll admit; but one that's genuinely given, with the hopes of similar revisits in the future.

Atmosphere: B+ (Bordering on kitschy‎, but totally appropriate.)
Service: A- (It's like eating at home... without the occasional squabbles.)
Crust: A+ (OMG. It's Get-out-of-here delicious.)
Toppings: A+ (Pepperoni, sausage and onions are out of this world.)
Value: A (I don't care how much it costs... It's delicious, but $9.49? A bargain at twice the price!)
Overall: A (Darn close to an A+. For a family restaurant, it doesn't get any better.)