Since the day rumors started to fly about the possible return of Bambino’s Italian Restaurant, taste buds all over Columbia have been patiently waiting for what they thought would never happen again — a bowl of delicious Pasta ala Bambino. Thank goodness the rumors were true.
If you don’t have plans for dinner tonight, the chefs at the new downtown location will be more than happy to fix you that bowl of shells, hearty meat sauce topped with hot melted provel or some other old school Italian favorite you’ve been missing since the original closed its doors in 2013. That’s not really that long ago, but my tummy thinks otherwise. Many a local Bambinos craving has gone unanswered in the last four and a half years.
Fans of the original place will be happy to know that the menu hasn’t changed much. The Springfield, Missouri, location has been loyally caring for the brand during its absence here in Columbia. A seemingly unlikely owner of an Italian restaurant, country musician and owner of the Broadway country music venue Nash Vegas, Justin Conrad seems to have made a fair effort to please the restaurant’s Columbia following, and understandably, not quite everything is the same. The restaurant’s creator, Brian Ash is a Cubs fan and loyal patrons might remember being greeted by a larger-than-life painted sign of Harry Carey in the original Hitt Street location.
However, you won’t find any Chicago Cubs memorabilia in the new place. Instead of baseball and old Hollywood movie posters, you’ll find vintage photos of Italian families around the dinner table, images of Italian scenery and even some black and whites of the mafia. Perhaps not as cozy as on Hitt Street, but the makings of a romantic date night are present and accounted for and odds are very good that you’ll be able to order your favorite meal from Ash’s menu of the 1990s.
Chef Martin Kidd, as well as the Springfield kitchen crew, have handled those recipes with care and my Pasta ala Bambino confirmed that — it is exactly the same. And the house salad dressing is just as I remembered, light and lovely. If the Bam wasn’t your dish, you can still get your fix of Pasta al Poppa (or Momma or Nonna or Zia) but sadly, the Diana did not make the new location’s cut. Also different is the bread. Perhaps if we diehard Bambino’s fans cry foul loud enough they will bring both back. But we can’t be too hard on them, Ash’s beloved original makes for big Italian shoes to fill and Conrad has the menu and the recipes to do it.
And while the new location at 904 Elm St. is lovely, and a half dozen tables on an outdoor patio, Columbia homebodies are probably wondering, will they deliver? I don’t know about you, but at our house the Bambino’s menu was always on our fridge and the phone number on speed dial. We will cross our fingers that the new crew will be able to hire some drivers and get those noodles to our doorsteps so that we can enjoy them on our couches while we watch “The Godfather” in our pjs.
If Brian Ash was still here and still on our city council I would be starting a petition to enact this very thing, which I consider to be a vital public service. Noodle “emergencies” are not uncommon on my street and I suspect your neighborhood could benefit, too. Until then though, I’m happy to venture downtown and order a glass of sauvignon blanc to enjoy on the red and white tablecloths as Martin tosses my shells in the back. Menu? No thank you. I know what I want.