Monday, January 24, 2011

The Restaurant I Wanted To Hate...

...But didn't.

On Saturday night, the Mrs and I were looking for something to eat after I had done a wine tasting in Chesterfield. Now, if you aren't from Saint Louis, this might not mean much to you. Let me explain. Chesterfield Valley is an area located on the very Western edge of the St. Louis metroplex, and is home to what is (I have heard, cannot confirm) supposedly the longest strip mall in America. Literally every convenience is here- Lowes, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Target, and Sam's are all located within less than a mile of each other. There is literally an example of every type of chain restaurant that you can imagine, and most have multiple examples represented. As someone who champions the small, independent, family owned businesses of our great country, it's areas like this that I really despise. It's the type of place where everyone drives a Lexus, but nobody owns it. Too much convenience, no soul.

We mentioned that we were hungry, and literally had Babbo's Spaghetteria recommended twice in 45 seconds by people at the tasting. "Surely there can't be decent Italian in the Valley" I thought to myself. But, hunger overtook pride and we made the trek.

Upon entering, my snobbery continued. No bar? No seating area? Great. The hostess was very pleasant, even though the place was busting at the seams at 8:30 on a Saturday night. She assured us that the wait would be "no more than 15 minutes" and asked us if we would like a glass of wine. I ordered one, and we stood at one of the two cocktail tables available to wait at. To my surprise, we were seated within the time it took me to take a second sip of wine.

The ambiance at Babbo's isn't for those looking for a quiet, white tablecloth date night. There is roughly seating for 100 people at mainly 4-top, wooden tables, and a visible bustle and energy in the room. The wine list is all-Italian, and even though you get a menu, it is also posted on a gigantic chalkboard on one wall. The tables were set with small water goblets- each containing the necessary fork, spoon, and knife, and water comes in a chilled bottle pre-set on the table. The rusticity of the table set up is actually charming, and doesn't come across as lazy or cheap.

Okay, so I was starting to gain confidence at this point. Our server was efficient, friendly, and didn't pull the whole "I like everything" when asked. He actually had an opinion and recommendations, which I followed.

The first course of Bruschetta was really simple, well made, and delicious. The diced tomatoes had been tossed in some sort of vinaigrette, and my wife and I literally fought over the scraps left on the plate.

Salads are enormous. I ordered the "Del Pietro", which was lightly dressed, not soaked, and had a nice brightness to it. Sure, it was Iceberg and Romaine, but that's okay- it was only like $3 or $4.

The real surprise came with the entrees. I followed the server's lead, and ordered the House made lasagna. One of the greatest compliments that I can give to lasagna is that it tasted like something you would eat at a friend's grandma's house. So many restaurants try to make these 18-layer, heavy as a brick lasagnas with all kinds of weird stuff. This one wasn't in that mode at all. It was a bit lighter, the beef had a nice crumble, and you could tell that they didn't just slop it out of a pan. They took the time in the kitchen to put the piece in the oven for a few minutes to get the edges crispy. It wasn't "gooey", and I really appreciated that!

The Margherita pizza was pretty darn good, too- fresh tomatoes and basil on top of slightly greasy cheese and crust that actually had enough salt in it.

At this point, we were almost to the point of conceding that the $10 lasagna and $8 pizza were well worth their price, but wait...what about dessert? The only item offered was tiramisu. A Ha! We would get them on this one! Nobody does Tiramisu well in the Midwest.

Dang, we were wrong. It wasn't frozen (my pet peeve) and it wasn't boozy (my Wife's pet peeve). We finished the piece before the server could check on us.

So, there it is folks- there really is well made food for a decent price, with just a touch of someone's Italian grandmother available in Chesterfield.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Thankfulness and looking forward to 2011

The rumors of my demise were greatly exaggerated. I know I have been quiet, but in retrospect, the last couple of weeks have brought some craziness:
I was in a tornado
I had surgery on my abdomen
We decided to step down from leadership of our church community group
I found out a dear friend has cancer
The weather has been less-than-spectacular

Frankly, I have every reason to bitch and moan. However, I will choose not to. I have noticed lately that people have been talking about how bad 2010 was for them. I can't say it was the best year I have ever had (per my last post), but some amazing things really did happen. In that spirit, I want to list a few of the things that I am thankful for, and looking forward to this year.

I am thankful for my beautiful, wonderful wife. During my surgery she was amazingly sweet and supportive. I am also proud of how she is starting to step out of her own personal comfort zone, and try Roller Derby. It's really fun to see her "find her voice" as she turns 30 this year.

I am thankful for my family. My father has proven to be a great business partner, and has done a great job selling for a guy that has never held a sales position before. My mom has also been very patient and understanding when I don't talk to her about "other stuff" during the day. My sister and her family are continuous examples of how to live within your means, and how to truly live a faithful life for God. My brother and his family have dealt with a job loss with faith and aplomb, and I look forward to a repeat of our BBQ Road Trip again this year.

I am thankful for Peggy, the first employee of Harsha Wines in St Louis. She works like a rock star, and is proving to be one of the smartest decisions I have made in running the company. I look forward to her building a successful route on her own, and achieving some of the wine educational goals she has set for herself.

I'm even thankful for those dogs. As much as I act like I don't like them to Nicole, she knows I'm joking.

I'm looking forward to building relationships with new accounts this year. We have already added Truffles, Scottish Arms, and soon Milagro to our business partners- This means we have even more fun, locally owned, quality places to eat! I'm thankful for the friendships that I have developed- people like Jeff at 33, Rich at St Louis Wine Market, Jim at Atomic Cowboy, Anthony at Five, Chris Spina, and a host of others are people that I now consider friends that I just happen to be lucky to do business with.

I'm looking forward to developing my wine, beer, spirit, and food knowledge even more this year. This will come only through my friendships with people in each of these communities that are incredibly generous with their time and knowledge. I also want to get my CWE and CSS (Certified Wine Educator, and Certified Specialist of Spirits) by the end of the year.

I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens with Harsha Wines this year. We were fortunate to turn a profit (albeit a infinitesimally small one) in 2010, and we hope to add another full time salesperson and a full time delivery person by the end of the year.

Finally, I'm grateful for the opportunity to get paid for writing for Avid Magazine. If you haven't seen it yet, check out for a preview- it's cool.

Let's make this a great year. It's up to you to decide to do so.