As we travel for food shows, conferences, to give speeches and even on vacation, we write reviews on those restaurants where you’ll find the locals—one of the first questions I ask when visiting a city for the first time. This is another in that series of reviews, this time covering Bambino’s Café, a local favorite from the community in which I live.
Something For Everyone
Springfield, Mo., is corridor to the West (old Route 66 runs right through the middle of town, host to the Route 66 Car Museum); to Branson, its theaters and family attractions to the south; and is a destination in its own right, with the Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium, voted the nation’s best new attraction by USA Today readers in 2018, Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World headquarters, the Japanese Garden, a multitude of caves and national forests, a thriving restaurant scene, outstanding regional arts groups, and a downtown that has gentrified over the past few years into a vibrant after-hours playground.
Bambino’s Café has been a fixture in the historic Phelps Grove neighborhood in Springfield, Mo., for many years. It’s nestled seamlessly within the community by which it’s surrounded, a place where you go to enjoy the atmosphere almost as much as the food—almost.
I visited early on a recent Saturday evening and the dining rooms and covered patio were already filled with a diverse group of patrons, ranging from college students, to young couples and families, to older adults. The conversation is lively, but not so loud that it distracts or overwhelms your own.
It’s no wonder the restaurant receives accolades from Missouri State University, 417 Magazine and the Springfield News-Leader. It does have a sister location on Battlefield Road and both are open until 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. My favorite will always be the original on Delmar. I’ve enjoyed many lunches and dinners there with friends and family over the years, and its blends perfectly into the surrounding neighborhood.
A Menu of Italian Delights
On my last visit, we enjoyed a sampling of appetizers and two different entrees. Well, one-and-a-half. The pizza is so tempting and, since they come in personal size, we had two of those and a pasta dish.
The toasted ravioli appetizer is a must. They’re breaded, baked, and stuffed with beef, served with a marinara side. Speaking of the marinara, it’s full of chunks of tomato with a flavor and quality you’d expect from an authentic Italian restaurant.
Since this was family and not a date, we also enjoyed the Garlic Cheese Bread. It, too, has the depth and flavor that you’d expect to come from your grandmother’s kitchen. The portion size was more than enough for four people to share.
Pizza may have been a painless choice, but it’s one of my favorite food groups—not to mention comfort food—and all of us had a rough week. There are 15 different toppings from which to choose and you can order from one to three toppings. There are the usual suspects, with some welcome variations including Kalamata olives, shrimp, spinach and artichoke hearts.
The pizza crusts are oven baked, thin and crisp, with a homemade texture and taste. Rich and dripping with flavor, it’s honestly hard to finish one by yourself, but we soldiered up.
Our other entree was The Fredo. Fettuccini Alfredo is my litmus test for an Italian restaurant and I wasn’t disappointed. Rich, creamy and full of flavor, it was warm and filling with just the right level of spices. We added chicken for an extra $1.00. For this one, we did take about half of it home in a to-go box.
Unfortunately, we didn’t leave room for dessert, but I felt anything but cheated. I’ve often gone to enjoy coffee and dessert after a performance at Springfield Little Theatre or Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts.
Bambino’s Cafe offers a kids menu, and it’s a very kid-friendly space, and a welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone. The patrons are diverse, eclectic and fun.
And not to worry, in addition to sodas, coffees (try the Mudhouse Bambino’s Blend), and sparkling waters, they have a good selection of red and white wines, and beer, both bottled and on tap, even a few selections from a local craft brewery.
Walking The Talk
This is a restaurant that takes its position within the community seriously, actively supporting the arts, education, public broadcasting, diversity and inclusion, and a host of other nonprofit organizations.
You can order online or even carry out, but you’ll do yourself a great disservice if you don’t sit down, inhale the aromas and enjoy the community created within this Ozarks gem.