The Gluttonous Gourmand and Group of 63 Dine at Buca di Beppo

Buca di Beppo, which, according to the restaurant’s website, translates to “Joe’s basement,” couldn’t be more aptly named—not because it is quaint, friendly and comfortable like your buddy’s rec room, but because it is exactly the kind of place that some asshole cooking meth in his aging and senile Italian grandmother’s crawlspace might think up. Ok, it might not be that bad, but it is the kind of place that relies more on kitsch than on quality food.

I recently had the “opportunity” to pay my second-ever visit to Buca di Beppo for a friend’s birthday party (the people at SLUG always pick the best places to hang). It was a Saturday evening and I was one of the first to arrive. The hostess allowed me to make the trek to the table unassisted, which denied me the pleasure of a guided tour through the kitchen and past the Pope’s table, a large round table with J. P. II’s bust in the center. With no trouble at all, I found my crew and settled in for a long evening.

The menu offers a variety of “family style” southern Italian fare. There are “large” and “small” family style portions intended to be shared, as well as a limited number of “individual” servings. A few of us decided to share garlic bread and a small order of spaghetti and marinara; this is when the trouble began. We were the second to place our order, while some little kids ordering mac and cheese were first. To be fair, there was a shitload of us, but I am convinced there could have been a better system for ordering. As far as I could tell, there were 30 or 40 different servers for our table, and another 30 or so for the four booths housing the rest of our party, and nobody was sure who they could order from. I didn’t expect the food to come quickly, but there must have been a lack of coke in the kitchen because we had to wait forever (over one hour and 20 minutes), not to mention the fact that our simple dish was one of the last to arrive out of the entire group.

That long wait was a great opportunity to get to know everybody else around me and get a little tipsy on a meager selection of beer, though conversation was made difficult because of the distracting décor. I am pretty sure the place was decorated by a blind schizophrenic on a bad acid trip and that a knick-knack shop vomited cliché photos on the walls. There was crap from floor to ceiling and the longer I sat there, the more claustrophobic I became.

By the time our food came, I was not even sure that I was hungry anymore, I figured it was costing me some hard-earned cash, so what the fuck? My understanding of the preparation of pasta is that a pinch of salt should be added to the water before boiling. Apparently, at Buca di Beppo, an entire case of Morton’s is dumped into every serving, and while even the small serving is large enough to feed most of the SLUG staff, I still think this might be a little bit too much salt. I made out better than the kids, though; the serving staff forgot to inform anyone that they were out of mac and cheese, and when pressed for the order by the parents, a bowl of noodles was brought with a side of cheese sauce. I was offered some mussels by the birthday girl, but thought better of it—no need to wash down fourteen cups of salt with a gallon-and-a-half of vinegar.

Overall, I had a great time, but I will need an ungodly amount of marijuana if anyone is going to drag me to that shithole again. Maybe then I could eat enough to actually talk about the food, and not just bitch about the place.