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.


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