Like Michael Del Pietro’s other spaghetteria (Sugo), the new Babbo’s in Chesterfield Valley serves rustic Italian dishes in a casual atmosphere. Del Pietro keeps it simple: a few appetizers and salads, about a half-dozen thin pizzas and an equal number of basic pasta dishes: Bolognese, meatballs, Alfredo, lasagna, etc. There are also three nightly specials: a fish, a veal and a chicken. Portions are generous, to say the least, and prices are mostly $10 and under.
There’s no question that this formula works, and the crowds prove it. While there is little true variety in the offerings (lasagna, spaghetti Bolognese and spaghetti with meatballs are all basically the same flavors, for example), the food is all house-made and very good.
The decor is also simplified, with warm gold tones on the walls, cool ceramic tiles on the floor and heavy plank tables as seating. As at Sugo, a large country cottage table in the front serves as the bussing station, laden with dinnerware, bottles of wine and water pitchers. The place is noisy, more acceptable in a restaurant that is more about family dining than a romantic evening.
First, diners are served good, dense country bread with olive oil for dipping. For appetizers, we chose the eggplant parmigiano ($6) and the daily special, roasted asparagus. The eggplant is wonderful. Served thin and with the skin on, it is not breaded but rather floured and pan fried to a delicate brown crust. The flavor is excellent, offering a light olive oil taste that lets the eggplant shine. It is topped with some chopped canned tomatoes, thickly shaved parmigiano and slivers of fresh basil.
The asparagus was also very good, consisting of a generous portion of about eight thick spears, oven roasted to release their flavor and turn barely brown. They, too, were topped with thick slivers of parmigiano.
A funghi pizza ($10) was less impressive. It had a decent thin crust and its presentation was nice: a coating of lightly bubbling parmigiano cheese, oil, sautéed mushrooms (button and portobello) and wonderful whole roasted garlic cloves. But the toppings simply didn’t add enough flavor, so I felt like I was eating mostly crust. It was supposed to be drizzled with truffle oil, but that flavor did not come through.
Our entrees, however, were all quite good, and were amazing values. The lasagna ($10) was rich, meaty and humongous. The layers were generously laden with ground pork and beef, and some ricotta—and they weren’t too cheesy. The big portion sat on a bit of thin tomato-cream sauce, and the edges were nicely browned, as if it was finished under the broiler. My only complaint is that the noodles were a tad too soft.
The fish special, pan seared tilapia ($14), was also very good. The fillets were nicely browned and came with delicious sides of sautéed spinach with roasted garlic cloves, and sautéed mushrooms. The pollo Alfredo ($10) was the classic rich cream sauce over ferttuccine noodles, dotted with strips of tender white-meat chicken. It was a good combination: dry white meat mixed with creamy sauce. Bits of parsley added color and a little herb flavor.
Pasta tutto mare ($14) was generously laden with seafood, about six good-sized and tender shrimp, along with some clams and crabmeat. The sauce was broth-y with a hint of garlic.
If you like dessert, you’re pretty much out of luck here. There is only tiramisu, and it isn’t house-made, or even homemade (and, unfortunately, it shows).
Overall, Babbo’s offers a terrific dining option for inexpensive, casual fare. It’s good, homemade food, and the place is pleasant, with plenty of windows and a fun vibe.
PASTA POMODORO FROM BABBO’S
Babbo’s recommends this easy-to-make dish, accompanied by a salad, as an ideal mid-summer meal.
1 ounce olive oil
8 ounces chopped tomatoes
2 pinches salt and pepper
1 tbsp. fresh, finely chopped garlic
¼ cup water
2 cups tomato sauce
½ ounce sweet basil
1 lb. dry spaghetti
Heat olive oil in a hot skillet. Add chopped tomatoes along with salt and pepper; sauté. Add chopped garlic; sauté until golden brown. Add water and simmer about a minute, then add tomato sauce (owner Michael DelPietro recommends his mother’s, but any high-quality canned sauce will do), followed by sweet basil. Then cook and drain spaghetti and add to sauce.