On Buca di Beppo

I have friends who hate chain restaurants, and well, have friends that love chains too. But for those that despise the mass-produced feel of “the chain restaurant”: I wonder how they feel about Buca di Beppo.

Even though there’s a Buca di Beppo 5 minutes from my house, it had been years (I want to say almost a decade) since I’ve been there. They used to only serve enormous family-style portions, so you always needed a large group to even think about going there. But recently, they’ve come out with the “Mio” portion: made for the individual diner, not accompanied by a family of 10 to share with.

It took me years and many double-takes at the Buca di Beppo advertisement on Chow.com to realize that the cozy Italian establishment just down the street was a national chain. To me, you would never know.

The place feels like an Italian family’s home with black and white old photos plastered all over the walls. Colored Christmas lights are strung just about everywhere you look, from the entrance to the wall beside your very own table. And the tables themselves are very close together, creating an atmosphere that makes you feel like…well, family. You forget you’re simply having dinner plans with a friend, and that you don’t actually know everyone else there.

This feeling was really cemented when the waitress called everybody’s attention for the little boy’s birthday who was conveniently seated right in the middle of our room. I’ve been around for the common friendly birthday singing at restaurants before, but this one seemed more heartfelt than usual. I felt like I was in a movie, and I almost wanted to say to my friend “Oh yea, it’s Johnny’s Birthday?” and then I realized…oh wait, I have no idea who this kid is.
Like I said, you’d never know it was a chain. And while I know that atmosphere can be mass-produced just like food, they really pulled one over on me.

But anyway, on to the food.

One of the dishes I distinctly remembered savoring from Buca di Beppo was their Chicken Cacciatore. Maybe as a child that was the first time I ever had such a dish and discovered I liked it, or maybe they just made a mean Cacciatore – but either way, I was in love. You can only imagine my dismay when after reading the menu five or so times – I saw no sign of Chicken Cacciatore.

I asked the waitress what happened, and she said if they had all the ingredients, they could certainly whip it up for me. Again, I was impressed. Would an ordinary restaurant offer to make something not on the menu? This wasn’t a simple “bowl of noodles.” But instead of bothering them, I decided to try something else. Maybe there was a reason it was no longer on the menu.

I was feeling adventurous so I went with something I had never heard of: the penne arrabbiata – penne served with spicy sausage, crushed red pepper and a zesty marinara. My friend ordered the lasagna.

The waitress brought out a huge hunk of bread and some olive oil for us to indulge in before our meals came. And dipping huge hunks of bread in a mixture of olive oil and parmesan cheese just happens to be one of my favorite parts of any Italian meal.

Next, she served me my side caesar salad (also a new perk of the Mio portion – you can add a salad for $2.99 instead of having to split a GIANT salad for $9.99). I was definitely pleased with this salad. I’m ordinarily picky with Caesar salads and this one was up to par – they even served it with a lemon; a definite plus!

And finally, out came the food. Said friend’s lasagna:

And my Penne Arrabbiata:

I sampled both and they were delicious. Both of the sauces were flavorful and rich. The flavors did not seem mass produced. The only bout I had with the whole dish is that I thought the sausage would be more incorporated into the sauce, instead of laid on top. I ordinarily do not order sausage so I wasn’t one for eating it straight up – but of course, this isn’t the restaurant’s fault. Abd though “mio” size, the portions were still rather large.

And, if Bittman and Batali had dinner together here (as if there were a chance of that happening), I think they’d both be satisfied with the ratio of pasta to sauce. Both were highlighted in my dish, and it was the perfect compromise.

-Hillary, still wondering what “Buca di Beppo” means…FreeTranslation.com translates it as: “it pierces of Beppo.” I’m not sure that’s what they were going for…
Editor, Recipe4Living

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  • http://aloshaskitchen.blogspot.com melissa

    on wikipedia it says it translates to “joe’s basement.” huh.

    I have one right down the street from me but have been hesitant to try it. maybe I’ll give it a shot. thanks for the post hillary!

  • http://www.recipe4living.com Hillary

    Ooh I see. Thanks for looking that up! You should definitely try it out at least once if you like Italian food. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! :)

    Thanks for always reading and making wonderful comments.

  • http://www.teczcape.blogspot.com/ tigerfish

    I will not purposely head towards a chain rest. but there are mushrooming all over. Sometimes, a family – sounding rest may actually be a chain :O
    If I were to pass by Buca di Beppo without any googling before that, I would not have thought it was a chain (but again, I’m always ignorant :O )

  • http://recipe4living.com Brenda

    Great article on Buca di Beppo. Even though you tout them as a chain, you never mention where one is. Everyone all over are just supposed to know? I’ve been to one in Florida. Wow! What an amazing place. The writing on the walls will keep you busy for hours. WE sat in the Pope room. Way cool.

  • Pam Jones

    We have always been big fans of Bucca de Beppo. We do usually go with a crowd, which makes it fun, but we’ve also gone with just my family and enjoyed it every bit as much. Try the lemon chicken. It is one of our favorites. Also, the veal parmesan with a layer of proscuitto is my husand’s favorite.

  • Mary

    Interesting……… I am not a big fan of Buca de Peppo, though I have eaten there a few times……. always with a big group of people.

    Since I always try to eat small portions, and stick with the healthiest I can find, the last time I was there, I ordered “Beans and Greens”……… and found a flavorful combination of cooked kale and white beans………. That along with tiny tastes from the groups family sized portions made a really great meal.

    From your pictures (which were a great addition, by the way) I think that penne dish would serve as about three meals for me!

  • Edward Beyer

    This restarant sounds like a very good place along with the food looking good. Where are these places located. I am in Illinios near Chicago. Thanks Ed

  • angela

    hi guys, bucca de beppo translate to “the mouth of the pope. ” i went for dinner about a month or so back and was surprised when i read that it’s a chain rest. it certainly didn’t look/feel like one. . i wasn’t impressed with the food, but it was ok. my brother in law ordered a tuscan style roast pork and it was good ! i’ll go back just for that dish, lol.

  • PJ

    I know of 2 of these restaurants in Las Vegas.

  • Mary Ann

    I went to Buca di peppo with my family. I thought the food was lousy. I actually left hungry. We did not get a lot of food. The chicken was so dry and well done. I would never go again. We went to the one in Alpharetta, Ga.

  • Lisa

    Always a family favorite. Our family of 6 usually reserves the kitchen table and it always keeps the youngest few entertained until the food arrives. Favorites are Salmon with the pesto cream sauce, Porchetta Rustica, and of course anything with the Marinara sauce. As for the name: Buca di Beppo roughly translates as “Joe’s Basement” (Beppo is slang for Joe in Southern Italy and Buca means basement (literally it means “hole”) in Italian). I purchased a cookbook from the restaurant a few years ago and it has a section on the history of the chain. Highly recommended by this Italian girl!

  • Joanne

    Buca di beppo means <> literally, but they intend for it to mean . Hole is the closest word for basement in italian. The place is a hole, I worked there. Servers eat off your plates, beware! Nastiest place I’ve ever worked and this is just part time bartending.

  • Joanne

    Oops, I meant to write Buca di Beppo means “big joe’s hole” literally, but they intend for it to imply “big joe’s basement,” with hole being the closest word to basement.

  • Lisa Courage

    I think it really depends on which one you go to as far as service. They are usually in big cities. I know there is one in Orlando, Fl and Austin, TX those are the only 2 I have been to. The food is ok, I’ve had just as good at Olive Garden. But, the real treasure here is their chocolate cake. We get it for take out on special occasions. If you love chocolate I highly recommend it!

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