A Buca di Beppo Christmas!

Almost 18 years ago, a young Texas girl with very limited food interests married a young Italian guy... and when I say "Italian", I mean 'family around the table for a few pounds of pasta every Sunday' kind of Italian. It was quite a cute love story, with one serious flaw - the girl loathed Italian cuisine. This made many a Sunday and holidays very awkward, to say the very least. Then one day, quite out of the blue, something magical happened. That girl woke up with quite the taste for Italian delights! It's true - suddenly, she craved baked ziti, lasagna, ravioli, manicotti, even eggplant parmigiana! Since then, it's been smooth sailing for this couple in their edible pursuits. 

Yes, that girl was me. I've come to realize that I didn't like Italian food because I had never really been exposed to good Italian food. After many years of being led to some of the best examples of authentic Italian cuisine in Florida, I've come to consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur. After all, I am still a picky eater. 

While my husband, children and I live in Orlando, our family is a little further south (Ft. Lauderdale region). We make the three hour drive down every Christmas Eve for his family's annual holiday dinner. This is usually held at the home of whichever family member is best equipped to accommodate the group, and the menu has somewhat evolved a little here and there over the years. I have to admit, I was mortified at the primarily-seafood menu of my earlier years with the family. Tradition or not, I can't go there - sorry. Every now and then, we have dinner out. Personally, I prefer those years. We get more quality time visiting each other since we're not cooking, cleaning, serving or staying out of the way... and everyone is sincerely content - even my impossible kids! This was one of those years, and the restaurant we chose to host our happy holiday brood? Buca di Beppo (Davie location)!

Our reservation was for 5:00, as we planned to end the evening with gifts, coffee and dessert at a relative's house afterward (and we still had a three hour drive back as well!). We arrived a few minutes late, and the rest of our party had already been seated. Nice - no wait! Frankly, it wasn't all that crowded, really. There were a few other larger parties I noticed, but that was about it. Our party of 11 immediately ordered drinks and cheese bread. I can only comment on my Pina Colada... it was good, but the ice could've been blended down quite a bit more. Aunt Debbie ordered a Creamsicle, which went horribly awry (at this time, they don't have flavored Vodkas, which happen to be what our family is on a kick with). This was rectified, and after a bit longer of a wait than necessary, we received some fantastically yummy cheese bread to begin our yummy journey. This was about the point where we placed a salad order as well. Though I wasn't partaking in the healthy stuff this time around, the Apple Gorgonzola seemed to be a hit with the family!

We placed our dinner orders as quickly as possible when we saw the crowd building up. We had experienced rather lengthy waits for everything up to this point, and it was getting to be near the time we wanted to be getting on to phase two. Did I mention that we had other family meeting us back at the house? Yep, keep that one in mind!
Photo:Buca di Beppo menu
Soon after the salads, a cheese pizza that my son had ordered came out. It was obviously exceptional - the kid devoured it like it was a Tic-Tac! He jokingly mentioned ordering another, but he soon began to seriously consider doing just that as we all sat waiting for the other entrees to arrive. 20 minutes, 30... by 40 minutes, we had a family representative (kindly) asking for some sort of explanation. By now, it was nearly 7:00! Our server was exceptionally gracious and apologetic, although he definitely seemed to be struggling with an explanation. The rest of the food did arrive soon after. While we were a bit miffed over the time, I must say that the result was worth waiting for! Wow! 

Entrees at Buca di Beppo are served family style. This means, you serve the family from the community entree dish - small serves 2-3, large serves 4+. We ordered Baked Ziti, Lasagna and Fettuccine Alfredo - all large sized. My daughter ordered her own Chicken Parm with Spaghetti, and being her finicky self, she wanted simply the plain chicken patty. This order came out as requested, and Miss Picky was beyond satisfied. The nine of us remaining sampled amongst the three entrees. Everything was full of tantalizing flavor! The sauce and cheese were of exceptional quality, tangy and creamy, respectively; and both were abundant! Lasagna is something I really only love when Aunt Debbie makes it, but Buca does give her competition! I took a second helping - shhh, our secret!!!

Although we had all been practically drooling over the dessert menu, no one quite made it there. In fact, we even left a bit of dinner behind (that may be a sin). I'd like to go back just for desserts at some point. I mean - Colossal Brownie Sundae? Homemade Cheesecake?? Tiramisu??? Hang on while I wipe off my keyboard! If these are portioned like everything else ("Buca-sized"), this definitely deserves its own visit!! 

The atmosphere at Buca di Beppo can't be beat. Fun things crowd the walls. Pay close attention to the details for a chuckle or three. The "Pope Room" rather fascinated me, though I only caught a glimpse of it passing through to our table. The bar was hopping and lively, and in true Italian fashion, there was even the coveted semi-circle table of honor in the kitchen. Love this place! Very much like an Italian grandma's house - with just enough room to seat two full Italian families comfortably. (tee hee) It's a fun and friendly place, but most importantly, Buca showed us that they valued our business. Nowadays, my experience says this is SO very rare, so I have to give serious praise to Assistant General Manager, Jason Selwood. Upon discovering our extensive wait, and the complications this placed on the evening, he authorized a 30% discount to our entire check. I have to say, that was very classy, and it spoke volumes toward the integrity of the company. Overall, this was not a tragedy, so we very graciously accepted this Christmas kindness before moving on with our holiday festivities. 

I know we have a Buca location nearby in Maitland as well. I'm now truly anxious to get by there for another delectable, tasty adventure. This time, I'll be saving room for dessert!

To find a Buca di Beppo near you, visit BucadiBeppo.com