Atlanta has many high-end Italian restaurants with grand atmospheres and grandiose service. But there's no fat grandma back in the kitchen simmering soup. Instead, some chef du jour delicately places a single ravioli on a truffle-dotted gilded plate. Pretty. But it's pasta lost in space.
Where are Atlanta's Italian-American "mom and pop" stops where piles of pasta are sold for a pittance? Where the atmosphere is almost as cheesy as the gooey mozzarella and marinara that covers plates?
When the moon hits your eye: There is still some prurient pasta to be found at BiBa's, located in, yes, a suburban shopping center in Lawrenceville. The restaurant lacks the classic comfort kitsch of some Italian holes-in-the-wall, but it provides hominess and hearty meals for a steal. And it can't be blamed for having some class.
There are no Chianti candleholders or plastic checkered tablecloths here. Instead of opera muzak there is just generic easy-listening "pop" and soft kitchen clamor. You can watch the scores on one of the many highly hoisted TVs. The atmosphere lacks romance but is ambient nonetheless. BiBa's is that sort of medial place that works for executives who want to impress without the wait or weight on the wallet. And it's a blue-collar escape from fast food.
Bada Bang! The food does sing. The naturally classy cuisine is served competently by a young, smart staff that knows the regulars and wants to make you one, but without the annoying cheerleading.
At lunch, the rigatoni puttanesca is a heap of pasta with olives, capers, anchovies, fresh basil and marinara. Served with butter-drenched garlic rolls (yes, breath mints are available), it's a deal at $6.95. BiBa's Italian sub ($6.50) is stuffed with ham, salami, capicola, provolone, veggies and signature dressing (no, Nexium is not on the menu).
Pizza comes in New York and Sicilian styles. There are stuffed-crust specialty pizzas as well as homemade braided stromboli. Try the immense fisherman's pie ($18.95, but enough to feed many) topped with shrimp, mussels, clams, garlic and blessed with olive oil.
Catchy Cacciatore: Dinner specials are always a best bet for the freshest fare and flare of the day. The house marinara is a proper slow-cooked sauce with just the right hint of herbs and low acidity. Don't miss the meatballs, if only as a side.
The veal dishes are worthy but pale in comparison to the shrimp parmigiana ($13.95). Though I used to think seafood and cheese were two delights that should never be blended, this dish changed my thinking. A slew of jumbo shrimp is served standing upright and slightly crusted with asiago and herbs, but flash cooked. The result is marvelously moist shellfish. Calamari Fra Diavolo allows fresh-cut squid to shine. The texture is the perfect palate for the spicy diavolo (devil's) sauce. Eggplant rollatini, rolled roasted eggplant, filled with ricotta cheese and covered with sauce and gobs of mozzarella, is great for vegetarians who still want to indulge.
You won't find Mafia kingpins or your fictional Italian mama, but BiBa's promises high quality covered in sauce that will stir your soul.
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