With Café Barbosso, Chef Joe DiMaggio Jr. serves up minimalistic, home-style Italian meals.
The sign on the door at Café Barbosso sets the tone before customers even enter the building.
“Eat, Laugh Love,” it reads. “Or Else.”
Chef Joe DiMaggio Jr., who opened the restaurant in the former Cosimo’s off Clark Road, says he modeled the restaurant on the peasant-style Italian home cooking he grew up on in New York City.
But DiMaggio, a distant cousin to the baseball great, says it’s about more than food. As evidenced by the sign and other elements of the restaurant’s branding, DiMaggio hopes to pay tongue-in-cheek tribute to the fast-talking wise-guy-types who helped him get his start as a chef.
The menu features some of his favorite traditional Italian recipes from his grandmothers, as well as his original takes on the cuisine, informed by his world travels.
We sat down with DiMaggio to talk about minimalistic cooking, art and his passion for food.
“We wanted to do something unique here, so we have a stage, and every night, two or three artists are painting, and people buy them off the wall. Watching art come to life in front of you on an empty canvas is pretty intoxicating.”
“Our food is minimalistic — maybe four ingredients in most dishes. Everything we do is not masked by tons of sauces. It’s like the old Italian concepts.”
“It’s inspired by both of my grandmothers’ food. One is from northern Italy, and one is from southern Italy. Growing up, I spent six months a year in New York and the other six in Italy. With an Italian family, everything is based on food. You’re eating breakfast, talking about what you’re going to have for dinner.”
“Both my grandmothers had this simplistic approach to food. Peasant food is all about how much flavor you can extract from the least amount of ingredients. So I’ve taken my grandmother’s meatballs, eggplant and pizza and put them on our menu.”
“This kind of food is comforting to people. It’s recognizable to them. There are a lot of transplants here, and they all grew up on some sort of really choice Italian food in their neighborhoods.”
“This food reminds of me of my youth. The best part of this job, to me, is when people connect with that. Food brings people together.”