Having a blast at Buca di Beppo with big portions
By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic
A reservation is highly recommended, especially if you wish to go during the weekend, when the restaurant can fill to its 500-person capacity (getting rather noisy in the process). We went without a reservation on a Saturday after an early movie, and the wait was close to an hour.
When you are shown to your table, you are taken on a walking tour of sorts, past the kitchen and the famed ("anybody can sit there") Pope's Table, winding through the establishment, while the host shares tidbits of information about the restaurant.
The walls are a visual treat, lined with posters, great black-and-white photographs, knick-knacks, sculpture and so much more. It's colorful and interesting.
The entire menu is on the wall and can be viewed from any seat in the house. (Waiters will bring you a menu card, too, if you wish.)
Known for huge portions, Buca does indeed dish it out on a large scale. Many of the dishes look a lot like catering platters that you'd see from other places.
Take, for instance, their salads. The mixed greens with prosciutto and gorgonzola ($12.95 for the small portion, $15.95 for the large) is piled high enough for several people, and that's the small version. The Caesar is $11.95 and $14.95, respectively. The salads were fresh, tasty and crunchy.
Neapolitan pizzas are huge, called "bath-mat sized" on the menu, and they are. The crust is the thin, crispy cracker style. The spicy arrabbiata ($19.95) is definitely a mouth-zinging experience, piled high with spicy sausage, pepperoni and caramelized onions. The calabrese pizza ($17.95) features tomatoes, potatoes, rosemary, olives, onions, prosciutto and pecorino cheese. The margherita ($14.95) is simple, topped with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil.
We had to try the famous spaghetti and meatballs ($12.95 and $19.95), topped with a chunky and fresh marinara sauce. The meatballs are about the size of tennis balls, and are moist and flavorful. The platter of pasta is made with two pounds of pasta per order.
Lots of other pastas are available; with meat sauce, with garlic, clam sauce, seafood and more.
The eggplant parmigiana ($22.95) is of the layered variety, taking breaded slices of eggplant, cheese and a smothering of marinara sauce. The chicken cacciatore ($21.95) is a whole chicken smothered in spicy tomato sauce, over garlic mashed potatoes. Ê
We loved the cannelloni ($22.95), wrapped in a crepe-like noodle, stuffed with a ground meat and spinach filling, and draped with cream sauce.
The veal marsala ($20.95), however, was too sweet, as if it was topped with maple syrup instead of marsala wine.
We tried the mussels marinara ($13.95) for an appetizer, but returned them. They were scrawny, not plump at all, and tasted washed out, but our waiter assured us they were fresh. Worse, the marinara sauce over the mussels was dusted with way too much red pepper, making the dish inedible.
We didn't try other antipasti, including fried calamari ($13.95) and three breads garlic bread ($6.95), with mozzarella ($8.95), and a bruschetta ($7.95).
Dessert offerings such as the cannoli ($8.95 for three large) in chocolate sauce, and the rum-and-espresso-soaked tiramisu ($8.95) are good ways to end the meal.
Despite the missteps, I liked Buca di Beppo. It's a place to eat a lot, to watch people and to enjoy the decor. The staff is expert (nine days of training) and helps to make the Buca di Beppo experience fun.
Reach Matthew Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.