Cafe Reviews

Second Helpings

Buca di Beppoed: Readers may recall the food fight in New Times' letters section several weeks ago over my review of Buca di Beppo. Some correspondents bashed me; others sided with me.

Let's give the final word to Lane Schmiesing, Buca di Beppo's vice president of marketing, whom I invited to write a letter.

You told me [over the phone] that one of your first impressions of Buca di Beppo was that it was entertaining--you said, "This place is a hoot." . . . Yet, that bit of good news didn't appear in your review.

[Y]ou also mentioned to me--though not to the New Times readers--your positive impression of our staff's knowledge and service. . . . I would think your readers would be interested in the fact that we have an excellent staff. . . .

Regarding what did appear in print, I guess what struck me most was the disconnect between your perception and the overwhelming positive reviews we've received from other critics and reporters--including the New York Times, Bon Appetit, the San Francisco Chronicle . . . and numerous other publications. There's also a divide between what you wrote and how our guests vote in readers' polls throughout the country. (You called our salad a pile of "useless greens," for example, just a few weeks before Indianapolis Monthly readers gave Buca di Beppo the award for "Best Salad.")

You also questioned why anyone would order a pizza at Buca di Beppo. However, the readers of Chicago Magazine named ours one of the best pizzas in a city known for great pizza. And then there's the chasm between your allegations of inauthenticity and the countless unsolicited compliments we get from Italian-Americans who marvel at the way Buca di Beppo evokes their own experiences.

Remember, Howard, that Buca di Beppo honors the immigrant Southern Italian experience. Instead of transporting you to Italy, we take you to Little Italy. Our chef, Vittorio Renda, immigrated from the southern Italian region of Calabria. Our president, Joe Micatrotto, grew up in the predominantly Italian neighborhood of Murray Hill in Cleveland. Our menu is a combination of recipes handed down over generations, along with dishes Vittorio has created since emigrating to this country. This is not food you get in Italy; it's Italian food you get in America. By this measure, no restaurant is more authentic than Buca di Beppo.

We don't try to be anything other than what we are, and neither do we try to be all things to everyone. Buca di Beppo is an exuberant, gustatory dining experience, best appreciated by people who prefer to eat family-style, like to pour their own wine, and have a healthy appreciation for tongue-in-cheek fun. We're not a fancy, high-end restaurant, but we do take our food very seriously, as most critics have reported. Yet while I appreciate the numerous accolades we've won, I guess I prefer to measure our restaurant's performance by the guest response: "Io sono venuto, io ho mangiato, io ritorno"--I came, I ate, I shall return.

--Howard Seftel

Suggestions? Write me at [email protected] or New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,

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Howard Seftel