Babbo Grande1731 University Ave.Hillcrest619-269-8038“Isn't this a happy table?” Tony, our waiter, chirped as he came to say hello at our wonderfully large corner booth.
We'd just been seated by the hostess, whom we'd almost run into as we walked up from the car. At first, we wondered why she was hanging out on the sidewalk—until we entered the restaurant and gasped with laughter at the ludicrously tall podium, which could be used as a functional hostess stand if said hostess was of Guinness Book of World Records height. My friend made a joke about the late-'60s show Land of the Giants, and I pointed out that I'm too young to get that reference.
Tony's peppy greeting referred to the champagne-bottle-sized brown paper bag on our table, and he knew exactly what we had in mind, leaving and returning quickly with a half-pitcher of orange juice and two wine glasses. Babbo Grande, which means “Big Daddy” but sounds ever-so-much nicer in Italian, currently has a BYOB policy, at least until it receives a coveted liquor license. While it opened as a breakfast and lunch spot early last year, in December it extended its everyday hours through to dinner service, when the bring-your-own-bottle offer still applies.
As we poured ourselves two generous mimosas, we checked out the menu, which is still predominantly breakfast and brunch fare, though there are a handful of basic pastas that could make for a simple dinner. Though owner Carmen Lucci completely remodeled and redecorated the restaurant after taking over the space from the previous tenant, Crepes de Paris, he asked the main crepe chef to stay on, and you can see him steadfastly working a wide, round crepe griddle in the large and open kitchen.
They do both savory and sweet crepes, in flavors that are not exactly authentic French, from chicken pesto to caramel apple. We chose the Chasseur, filled with chicken breast and mushrooms and topped with a wine sauce, which is lighter than an eggy hollandaise or a creamy mornay. The brunch menu also features a list of frittatas, so we ordered a spinach and bacon one to share.
We sipped another mimosa while waiting for the food, which arrived on huge platter-sized dishes; the crepe plate held two big, stuffed crepes, and the frittata was easily six eggs large. The crepe came with some slices of grilled baguette, with the option of adding a salad for a complete lunch, and the frittata included a side of potatoes and a delicious, but mild, homemade salsa.
I like crepes that have gotten a little brown and mottled on the griddle, with even a tiny bit of lacy crispness around the edges. These were very soft and tender, almost fluffy in texture, and uniformly pale beige. Conversely, I like my frittatas, basically open-faced omelets, to be just barely set on the top, and Babbo Grande's are served pretty well-done, but it's all personal preference. My friend polished off every crumb and morsel on his plate, although I'm not sure if that was because of sheer hunger, the flavor of the food or the influence of the mimosa.
For dessert, I thought it wise to order a cup of coffee, and then we finished with a Lemon Drop crepe, unadorned but for a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a sprinkling of powdered sugar. It alone was tasty enough to return for, and the service was so welcoming and neighborly that we want to go back for a meal on the new Bella Terrace, a roomy covered balcony decorated with hanging plants, twinkle lights and a fountain, which extends out over another one of Babbo Grande's gifts and a truly rare commodity in Hillcrest: a private parking lot.