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Sicilian Disneyland

Beppo's
Christopher Gardner

Walls of Fame: Familiar Italian faces watch from picture frames as diners tackle Beppo's humongous portions.

Beppo's hits the eye like a big pizza pie

By Christina Waters

Cross a Sicilian kitchen with a Vatican designed by Disney and you've got Beppo's--one of Palo Alto's least-kept dining secrets. Guests go through the kitchen to get to the tiny bar and stairway leading to the really rollicking second-floor dining rooms. But what they travel through on the way to a booth in the upper back is an Italian-American fantasy, circa 1950, in which Dean Martin still rules the vinyl trade and Sophia Loren's cleavage is the subject of much visual comment.

The expression "over the top" was made for Beppo's aggressive blend of clutter, joy and high spirits. From our booth, we were watched over by several popes, myriad movie stars, the Blessed Baby Jesus in a variety of poses, even a version of the Mona Lisa done on velvet. In short, it's an explosion of eye candy, with Frank Sinatra crooning in the background.

To set foot into Beppo's--a dining concept launched in Minneapolis and poised to infiltrate the entire country--is to feel that you've come to the right spot. But heed the well-trained young server's cautionary asides about portion size. Put it this way: Never, ever arrive at Beppo's without at least three friends--or better yet, an extended family--in tow. Stuffed to capacity, we left carrying two shopping bags filled with leftovers.

After a little spiel about how Beppo's serves immigrant Sicilian family-style dining and all dishes are designed to be shared, our wait person returned with an entire round loaf of focaccia and two tumblers of house red wine ($5.95).

From the display of jug red wines lining the stairwell to the red-and-white checked tablecloths, Beppo's has its act down. Even the bathrooms have been decorated with zest, the men's featuring lots of little boys doing you-know-what and the women's festooned with pink tulle and oodles of cherubs. Fun. That's what this place is. Sheer, exuberant fun.

Every wall sports its own large menu board, so diners can gaze and ruminate as long as they like before selecting. But order early, before those large parties arrive. Our main dishes took quite a while to make a guest appearance.

It was when we saw our "small green salad" ($6.95) that we began to grasp the Beppo's concept. "You could really eat well here for cheap," my companion observed, shoveling what appeared to be three entire heads of iceberg lettuce and one head of romaine--all shredded and slathered with a light vinaigrette--onto one of a stack of resident platters. We were speechless in the presence of that much vegetable matter. As smiles and laughter bathed a table of 14 diners nearby, we realized just how much emotional connective tissue there is in the ritual of passing plates from person to person. This is what we miss when we rush in and out of a fast-food palace, we observed, while the moon hit Dino's eye.

Three-pound cans of tomatoes arrived at our table. "That's to put your pizza on," our waitress chirped, placing an industrial-sized plate of spaghetti alio y olio in front of us ($9.95). Perfectly cooked, the pasta was also overloaded with raw garlic, enough raw garlic to turn the entire dish almost fishy with its intense perfume. Not much finesse, I observed. "Yes, but you sure get a lot," my dining partner winked.

A slab of pizza arrived along with a main dish of country-style chicken with white beans and sausage. This monument to bigness contained beautifully roasted whole chicken, an acre of white beans (which could have used more in the way of seasoning) and many a fat, hot Italian sausage. At $18.95 it could have served six people. Easily.

Like the chicken dish, our pizza selection ($14.95) arrived topped with paper-thin slices of fried potatoes--a terrific concept in both cases. In addition to a very thin, very chewy crust, the pizza involved layers of fresh tomatoes, crumbled pecorino cheese, pickled Bermuda onions, prosciutto, olives and rosemary. No gooey boring mozzarella, no generic cloying tomato sauce.

"I wonder if the desserts are as big," my companion mused, as we struggled out into a Palo Alto nightlife scene that can now carve "Beppo's" into its overendowed dining belt.


Beppo's

Address: 643 Emerson St., Palo Alto
Phone: 415/329-0665
Hours: Mon.­Thu. 5­10pm; Fri.­Sat. 5­11pm; Sun. 4­11pm
Price: Moderate
Ambiance: Sicilian carnival at Christmas. Terrific spot for parties of all kinds.
Cuisine: Non-designer Italian-American specialties
Service: Very smart, helpful, sharp


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From the July 31-Aug. 6, 1997 issue of Metro.

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