In our house, comfort food is Italian. I grew up blessed with a Scandinavian mom who learned to cook Italian early on, and my first cooking efforts were Italian. My grandmother was the co-owner of an Italian restaurant in Daytona Beach, Fla., that is a family favorite to this day.
Garlic courses through my veins.
So arriving at BiBa's Italian Restaurant in Hixson brought all of those great memories flooding back. It's cool and dark (but not too dark), and the welcoming smell of garlic and herbs embraces you as you walk in the doors.
This is a good thing.
Where: BiBa's Italian Restaurant, 5918 Hixson Pike.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Price range: $3.25 (house salad) to $26.99 (Zuppi de Pesce).
Alcohol: Full bar.
Unless you dislike any Italian dish, you'll find something to enjoy at BiBa's. Traditional Italian dishes, such as Baked Ziti ($9.95) and Veal Piccatta ($13.95) populate the menu. Pizza, with all of the usual topping choices, is another option.
They also offer specialty pizzas, such as the Fisherman's Pie ($18.95) which sports shrimp, mussels, clams, garlic, oil and cheese. Those who prefer a spicier fare could choose the Mussells Fra Diavolo ($13.50) or Calamri Fra Diavolo ($13.50).
We opted for traditional dishes; my date ordered the Rigatoni Putanesca ($10.95), and I selected the Chicken Parmigiana ($12.50). Most entrees are served with a house salad, which we found to be better than expected; crisp mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and pepperoncini with a balsamic vinaigrette.
We noted several interesting things as we enjoyed our salads and watched the servers deliver meals to tables.
Ample portions were served steaming hot, and slight changes to orders (presumably dietary or personal preferences) were handled with aplomb. BiBa's servers are quick to point out that all dishes are made to order.
The rolls, baked in-house, were served with a gentle amount of garlic and butter; enough to impart the flavor of garlic but not so much that you feared for your neighbors' safety.
The Rigatoni was fully flavored with a variety of fresh olives, capers, fresh garlic and anchovies. The strong-natured ingredients were balanced and, in combination, created a hearty and satisfying dish.
The Chicken Parm arrived with a side of rigatoni with the house sauce. A large, butterflied chicken breast, pounded thin and sautéed with Italian bread crumbs was topped with the same house sauce and bubbly mozzarella cheese, with a nice browning. The chicken was tasty and properly cooked.
BiBa's menu offerings include catering and takeout. The takeout menu was getting a workout when we visited, emphasizing the restaurant's popularity in the area.
We finished our meal with a Cannoli ($5.50) stuffed with sweetened ricotta cheese and chocolate chips. This helped neutralize the garlic and spices enjoyed earlier in our meal.
Our attentive server was simply great. She quickly greeted us and shared the daily specials, took our orders and kept track of us throughout the meal without hovering or getting in the way. As we asked about dishes, she knew the menu well and had direct, complete answers. Brava!
We also entertained the manager as he came by, checking on our meal. An empty water glass was silently noted, and a replacement arrived in seconds, followed by our server who also noticed at nearly the same time. The manager worked the room, welcoming new patrons and recognizing returning customers. He also garnered a fair amount of hugs from his customers.
Sporting a full bar, BiBa's doesn't have the loud bar feel when you enter. The interior is calm and friendly, and the table layout is not too crowded. We witnessed several on-the-spot table adjustments as families and larger parties were accommodated. There also are two larger booths that could seat six to eight people comfortably.
Like any Italian restaurant worth its garlic, BiBa's patrons seemed to be friends with one another, with greetings exchanged between tables and hugs shared as parties sauntered toward the doors.
Everything we sampled hit on the mark. Pastas were cooked well, sauces flavorful and fresh-tasting, and service was spot-on. The only sour note we found was the institutional-grade parmesan cheese on the tables. BiBa's food deserves better.