On the back of the t-shirts worn by the servers at Babbo is a row of three circles, in the cheery red, green and white of the Italian flag. Each bears the image of a Vespa, and below them are the words:
EAT LIKE AN ITALIAN
This is a commandment I’m prepared to obey.
But what, exactly, does it mean? It could simply mean that we should eat a lot of pasta with tomato-based sauces. Or it could mean, eat like a person from Italy—always supposing that there’s any one way that Italian people eat. Or it could mean, eat like an American thinks an Italian eats; that is, like an Italian-American from Back East.
I’m not of Italian descent, but I grew up in the Northeast in an industrial city with a large Italian-American population and dozens of mom-and-pop Italian restaurants. I spent my youth eating at these places, and still binge out at them whenever I get back there.
And for whatever it’s worth, I think that, though Babbo Italian Eatery is in many ways much like other traditional family restaurants, it’s possible to eat like an Italian there quite enjoyably.
The specialty at Babbo is pasta, served in many shapes and covered in many sauces.
Recently I feasted on their basic spaghetti and meatballs.
The sauce had the thinner consistency and slightly more tart flavor I associate with certain restaurants back in my hometown, and the meatballs had a light, moist texture inside, avoiding the oppressive density that can ruin some of the meaty globules I’ve stumbled onto in other restaurants. On another visit, I had the Italian sausage over penne, with peppers—potently spicy, but hearty and satisfying.
One of my lunch companions had the penne with “marinara,” and it was here that we ran into some confusion—not with how Italians eat, but with how they speak.
I had always understood “marinara” to be a simple tomato sauce flavored with garlic and basil. My companion is a vegetarian, but a couple of bites into her lunch realized that the sauce had bits of meat in it.
We asked, and were informed that indeed, the marinara at Babbo is meaty; herbivores must specifically request the vegetarian marinara. To me, this is the equivalent of asking for vegetarian grape jelly, but no matter—we were quickly and courteously supplied with a dish of the meatless, which was yummy, and the meaty stuff went home with me, to be enjoyed for dinner that evening.
Others with whom I lunched at Babbo weren’t in the mood for pasta, but they had no trouble finding other delicious options, like the Brussels sprout and beet salad with raisins, almonds and goat cheese, or the smoked turkey sandwich with provolone and cucumbers on foccacia.
The latter came with a side of either pasta salad or “zucca chips,” a thinly sliced version of fried zucchini I found surprisingly addictive. There’s also full selection of pizzas, ranging from garlic hummus to sweet roasted pear and grape to good old pepperoni.
After all this, we decided to split a tiramisu.
Babbo’s tiramisu is the less cakey, more pudding-like sort, with a sublime flavor and a delightfully granular texture. So at Babbo, it turns out you can also indulge your sweet tooth like an Italian.