CVIndependent

Fri11152019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

What: Nonna’s Meatballs

Where: Birba Palm Springs, 622 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How Much: $10

Contact: 760-327-5678; www.birbaps.com

Why: The tomato sauce and the high-quality meat.

Birba Palm Springs is one of the most difficult restaurants in downtown Palm Springs at which to get a table on a busy night. No joke: If you walk in without a reservation and try to get a table on an in-season Friday night, be prepared to wait for an hour, or perhaps even longer.

So how did this outdoor restaurant that almost exclusively uses a wood oven to cook its food—the little kitchen does not even include a stove, a server told us during a recent meal there—become one of the west valley’s most-popular joints?

For one thing, the outdoor vibe is lovely. Tall bushes keep the hubbub from Palm Canyon Drive to a minimum; strings of lights add ambiance; and seating is offered in a variety of options—tables and bar space are supplemented with club-style couches.

For another, the menu is fairly simple, yet packed with delicious options: Eight appetizers/salads are joined by pizzas and a handful of other options, listed under the heading “Wood Oven.”

One of those “Wood Oven” options has left us coming back for more: Nonna’s meatballs. Four medium-size meatballs—made with both Berkshire pork and grass-fed beef—come covered with a delicious, perfectly seasoned tomato sauce and some large hard-cheese shavings. The fact that Birba’s chefs don’t just use any old ground meat in these meatballs is evident: The flavor is fantastic. After the meatballs were all gone, we had some of that savory tomato sauce left over—so, of course, we had to ask for bread with which to sop it up. However, this being Birba, we received pizza-crust triangles to use—and they did the trick.

The vibe, the friendly service and those meatballs have us so enchanted that we’re almost willing to wait an hour or more for a table. Almost.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Tuesday-night spaghetti with meat sauce

Where: Bongo Johnny’s Patio Bar and Grille, 214 E. Arenas Road, Palm Springs

How much: $6.95

Contact: 760-866-1905; www.bongojohnnys.com

Why: It’s delicious, bottomless and amazingly inexpensive.

The website announces: “Bongo Johnny's is one of the best neighborhood restaurants in Palms Springs.”

The strange “Palms Springs” reference aside, I agree with that assessment—especially on Tuesdays, when this Arenas Road, gay-friendly restaurant offers its “Italian Night” special.

For $6.95, one can get all the spaghetti with meat sauce that one can snork down, as well as either soup or salad. (If one wants to add a large, tasty, house-made meatball to the plate—and one probably should—add $2.50. For some out-of-this-world garlic bread, add another $2.50.)

The thing about the spaghetti with meat sauce is this: Not only is it a smokin’ deal; the food is actually quite good. The meat sauce is made by people in the kitchen who know what they’re doing; it’s flavorful, meaty and satisfying.

Can you find better restaurant spaghetti with meat sauce out there? Perhaps (although you won’t find it at those mediocre Italian-ish chains in Palm Desert or Rancho Mirage). Will you find all-you-can-eat pasta this good, and this inexpensive? I sincerely doubt it. (And if you do, let me know where, please.)

Unless you’re a vegetarian or in a 12-step program for gluttony, there’s no reason not to check out Bongo Johnny’s on Tuesday night. The service is friendly; the liquor is moderately priced; and the outside patio is a people-watching bonanza. (If you are a vegetarian, there are other items on the menu that’ll please you.)

For more on Bongo Johnny’s, check out the aforementioned website, or visit the restaurant’s page on Facebook, even if the page is impersonally robotic and features only two posts, repeated verbatim. (Every Tuesday, the page touts Italian night; and every Friday, it announces the Friday night ribs special.) It’s oddly creepy, for some reason.

So, yeah, Bongo Johnny’s online presence needs help. Thank goodness the restaurant’s spaghetti and meatballs plate does not.

Published in The Indy Endorsement