This restaurant is closed.
Serge and Danielle. Always liked them. They were Uptown’s crêpe royalty. They had this uptown crêperie called Deli France.
So, today I’ve come back. Boy. Be so mad if they’re gone. Call it the Crêpes of Wrath, heh heh…but yes! The place is still here, except with a new name. And someone has put in some beautiful varnished woodwork on the outside. Inside, they’ve knocked through walls and doubled the size. Plus, I see a plant-filled patio out back, one that’s “dog friendly,” it says. But I stay inside. Cream and earthy colors on the walls are easy on the eye. So is Marilyn Monroe. Posters of her and The Godfather hang on the wall. The other wall’s filled with a nice big mural of balustrades and green countryside and a church dome. Chain-hung lights dangle above the tables. The tables and chairs are really smart, all varnished bamboo, and all built by the older guy sitting in a corner where — talk about The Godfather — people seem to be coming to be introduced, to get work orders, and talk business.
He’s Carmen, the owner. “ ‘Babbo Grande’ means ‘Big Daddy,’ ” says Ray, the waiter who shows me to a seat. “He’s had the place about two years. He’s a carpenter as well.”
It’s around 1:00 in the afternoon, but jeez, got up late and was hoping they’d still be serving breakfast. “Oh, no problem,” says Ray. “We do breakfast from 7:30 in the morning till 10:00 at night.” He pours me a coffee in a classy glass cup and leaves the menu open at “breakfast.” Ooh. Lots of goodies, like the Bear: ham, sausage, bacon, and home fries, going for seven buckeroos. Or the breakfast special of ham, sausage, or bacon with eggs, home fries, toast, $5. A deal. Or the “Al Caponcho,” a Mexican-leaning dish, a scrambled-eggs-and-cheese crêpe with salsa ($6). Carmen’s got his own special, too, the “Carmen Scramble,” with bell peppers, onions, home fries, and toast ($7). Breakfast crêpes, like the Benedict (poached eggs, ham, cheese, under hollandaise) are up there a bit at $10, and a mega-crêpe called “the Lumberjack,” with scrambled eggs, ham, sausage, bacon, cheese, hollandaise and mornay sauce, plus home fries, goes for $13. Frittatas, basically open-faced omelets, are all $9.
So, I’m doing my usual “on the one hand…” dithering when Ray pipes up. “There’s breakfast, or, if you were interested in lunch, we have…”
He turns back to the first page with a flourish.
Wow. I blink, rub eyes, look again. It’s a bunch of lunches — “Weekday Features” — all at $5 a plate. Mondays and Fridays, it’s “traditional spaghetti with marinara or meat sauce, garlic bread, and mixed-greens salad.” Tuesday is a plate of “pasta pesto” with onions, mushrooms, garlic bread, and mixed-greens salad. Wednesday is beef stroganoff with mushrooms, sour cream, wine sauce, and the same bread and salad sides. Today, Thursday, is “pasta primavera with fresh veggies, olive oil, Parmesan cheese,” and bread and salad. For $3 extra, you can add meatballs, sausage, chicken, or prosciutto. This all happens 11:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.
Just as I look up, Tony, one of Carmen’s sons, passes by with a plateload of two huge meatballs, no pasta, no bread. Three-inch monsters.
“I can see size matters here,” says a customer at the next table — Mike, who ordered them.
“What is that?” I ask.
“Actually, it’s a ‘Carmen’s Meatball Sub,’ ” Mike says, “but I’m diabetic, so I told them to hold the bun.”
And now Carmen speaks up. “I’m diabetic too. Also, I’m completely vegetarian.” He says these meatballs he makes weigh 4 1/4 ounces. “They used to weigh 5 1/3 ounces, but people said they were too much. Even now, you add the sauce and cheese, you’re up to 8–9 ounces.”
Hmm... What a deal. I’m tempted. But can’t resist trying the straight $5 lunch. I order the pasta primavera. Looks like I’m eating vegetarian too. Nice big plate of garlicky pasta mixed in with steamed broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms, a salad on the side, and a crispy-tender chunk of garlic toast. Steamed broccoli and cauliflower ain’t usually my thing, but the flavor carries them through.
What the heck, I’ve only spent five bucks, plus $1.50 on an endless coffee. Could do with something sweet. So, I order up a “Sidewalk Crêpe,” the cheapest of all the crêpes at $7 (and Carmen says he hired back Serge and Danielle’s crêpe chef, Alfonso, so I know it’s gonna be good). It’s stuffed with strawberry jam, topped with whipped cream and powdered sugar. For $2 more you get a dollop of vanilla ice cream. Oh, man, tender is the bite.
I’m just about wrapping it up when a crowd of kids and women and men appear through a side door carrying a big square birthday cake. “Happy birthday, Grandpa!” says a little girl, Cara. “My granddaughter,” Carmen says. He’s 64 today. “And this is my wife, Diane. Forty-six years married. Our family is from Sicily, near Palermo.” He introduces his son. “This is Carmen,” he says. And his grandson. “This is —”
“Carmen?” I say.
The Place: Babbo Grande, 1731 University Avenue, Hillcrest, 619-269-8038
Type of Food: Italian-American
Prices: Breakfast special (Monday to Friday), ham, sausage, or bacon with eggs, home fries, toast, $5; the Bear breakfast (ham, sausage, bacon, home fries), $7; “Al Caponcho” (scrambled eggs, cheese crêpe with salsa), $6; Carmen scramble (eggs, bell peppers, onions, home fries, toast), $7; Benedict breakfast crêpe (poached eggs, ham, cheese, hollandaise), $10; “the Lumberjack” (scrambled eggs, ham, sausage, bacon, cheese, hollandaise, mornay sauce), $13. All frittatas, $9; “weekday features” (Monday to Friday daily lunch specials) include spaghetti, pasta pesto, beef stroganoff, pasta primavera, all $5 a plate, including garlic toast and salad (add meatballs, sausage, chicken, or prosciutto for $3)
Hours: 7:30 a.m.–10:00 p.m., seven days
Buses: 1, 7, 10, 11
Nearest Bus Stops: University and Park