Buca’s entrees are delicious, but service is lacking

hduncan@macon.comDecember 28, 2012 

Don’t go to Buca di Beppo for dinner unless you are taking a crowd or your dining partner’s taste in food mirrors your own.

That’s because all the dinner selections are intended to be shared by at least two people. (It’s written on the menu.)

This made dinner much more complicated for my husband and me, who don’t have identical tastes, although I can see how it would benefit a large family or a party. But I find this a strange moment for such a concept, as America’s increasing obesity problems create a backlash against soft drink companies and restaurants that encourage “super-sizing.”

Buca di Beppo opened at The Shoppes at River Crossing in October to much fanfare. Some, but not all, of that is deserved. Ranked against other Italian chains, it’s better than Olive Garden but not necessarily better than Carrabba’s.

The atmosphere is rather chaotic. The restaurant is a warren of rooms, which are loud (and in some cases, way too hot) even when they aren’t full. The tables are decked in red checkered cloths and the walls are crammed with photos that are supposed to depict scenes and people from Italy. It’s a little overwhelming and not entirely conducive to conversation.

Buca di Beppo offers a wide selection of pasta dishes as well as salads and pizza. Its lunch menu (which allows for single serving sizes) includes a few sandwiches and frittatas, too, as well as a pasta/salad combo deal. There’s also a kids menu. Many of the lunches cost $10, but they involve a huge amount of food. We found the wine selection better quality than most chains’.

Our first visit to the restaurant was on a Saturday night. I was annoyed to find that even with a reservation (which was needed) made days in advance, we got stuck at a high-top table next to the bar.

For an appetizer, we tried the shrimp fonduta, basically cheese fondue with shrimp on the bottom. The combination didn’t fully work and I suspect the presence of Velveeta in the dish, which cost as much as an entrée. By the time the main course arrived -- a combo plate of four Italian mainstays -- my expectations weren’t high. I was pleasantly surprised.

The chicken cannelloni filling was a little sweet and the chicken was perfectly combined with the sauce. The shells with spicy sausage and cheese filling were terrific. The ravioli and cheese manicotti, dishes I usually find rather boring, clearly used a higher-quality or fresher cheese than usual.

On a return trip, we sampled the chicken Parmesan, which was juicy without being soggy. My husband said it was some of the best he’d ever had. The lasagna came a little burned-looking and dry. The chicken carbonara was a little bland, but it seemed to be an authentic carbonara sauce rather than the poorly doctored alfredo many restaurants produce. The garlic bread includes big garlic shavings.

Unfortunately, the service is mediocre at best. This didn’t seem to be due to a lack of enthusiasm from the servers. I think it’s a combination of poor organization and too little training, which will hopefully work itself out once the restaurant has been open longer.

On one visit, servers couldn’t seem to determine who was in charge of our table, the appetizer came after the main course, and the server never remembered to bring the menus I requested. On another visit, a server and her trainee were obnoxiously attentive at the beginning (swooping in to ask how the food was before we had tasted it) but nowhere to be found when it came time for drink refills or getting the check.

Buca di Beppo

Address: 5080 Riverside Drive, Suite 324, Macon

Phone: (478) 471-1246

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays

Payment: Cash, credit, debit

Smoking: No

Alcohol: Yes

Kids Menu: Yes

Noise Level: High

Health Rating: 100

Price range: Entrees up to about $20 (serves two), lunches mostly $8-$10

Rating: 3 stars

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