Ed Bedford 11:44 p.m., June 19
Fact: my former neighbors owned the Gulf Coast Grille that was on Park Boulevard at the border of University Heights and Hillcrest. Gulf Coast is no more and the building is now home to Babbo's. My neighbors, as far as I know, live in Julian now and run a bed and breakfast.
According to the bartender (and logic) Babbo's Bar and Grill is the present incarnation of Babbo Grande, which used to be down on University Avenue. Since the Gulf Coast vacated, the building has gotten a bit of a makeover and it's more open in front and a little brighter and less moody. The atmosphere (and the food as well) seems very family oriented. When I was in there the majority of parties were multi-generational. A $5 kids menu hammers that point home.
The menu is the odd, but not unpleasant, combination of crepes, breakfast, and pasta. There are a few sandwiches too, but the fact that breakfast is served anytime is going to draw attention away from sandwiches for a lot of people. People in the mood for normal dinner will find a selection of pasta dishes that start under $10 and can climb to around $13 or $14 with the addition of meat.
I tried an order of beef stroganoff, which proved to be absolutely enormous. The huge, shallow bowl was filled with egg noodles, beef, and mushroom sauce. A few slices of garlic bread accompanied the dish. It was not a particularly sophisticated dish--indeed none of the food inside looked like it was trying to take any cues from haute cuisine--but that's not a strike against it by any means. For a family restaurant, I would place it somewhat above the average in terms of both quality and value.
Interestingly, Babbo's has a pretty well-stocked bar. I spied a bottle of pisco (a South American brandy) behind the bar and I asked the bartender to whip something up for me. He tried his damnedest to make a sour with the spirit. The end result was heavy on the bitters and a little bit overzealously shaken (and thus watered down), but it was a worthy effort and I anticipate that some really good cocktails might come out of this bar in the future.
And Carlos the bartender was the nicest guy. Ever. In fact, the entire staff seemed to be just about the most cheerful group of people I've seen work a restaurant in a dog's age. They were, to put it mildly, completely in the weeds on a weeknight, but they were all chatting with each other as amicably as could be and working together as well as they could. It was actually inspiring, seeing such a good vibe on a restaurant floor. Major kudos to the staff at Babbo's for that. I would have expected rage and bitterness, being smacked around by a sudden influx of big tops, but I only saw smiles and that was pretty awesome.
4130 Park Boulevard
Open daily 9AM-10PM