Breaking the chain
Original Pete’s keeps it simple in a friendly atmosphere
Chico, CA 95928
In all honesty, before my first visit to Original Pete’s, I wasn’t expecting anything too original. Pete’s is a franchise restaurant, at first glance similar to an Applebee’s or Olive Garden-type establishment.
I had to choose a restaurant for a quasi-business lunch, and it served its purpose as a not-too-fancy, comfortable eatery serving Italian and American food. While the menu isn’t too imaginative, and the wine list is short and cheap, there are certain aspects of Pete’s that make it quite nice for a relaxed lunch or dinner. On subsequent visits, I became more and more enamored of Pete’s.
For starters, the servers are über-friendly, in that bubbly, effervescent way. From the hosts to the bartenders to the wait staff, the employees treat customers exactly the way they should be treated: courteously, kindly and with respect. My reaction to experiences at too many local eateries as of late has been that of disbelief and incredulity at the service sans smile, with an extra helping of rudeness. Not at Pete’s. You may not be a regular, but you’ll feel like one.
On my first visit, I sampled a bowl of minestrone soup ($4.75), which is 100 percent organic and made with vegetable broth, and the spinach salad ($8.99). The soup, full of vegetables, was served piping hot, and the salad, piled high with mushrooms, bacon, tomatoes, pine nuts, chopped egg and parmesan cheese, came with a delicious Balsamic vinaigrette. Both were superb and I was impressed.
I went back for a quick take-out lunch and was dismayed to see the staff in the throes of a lunch rush of business people. Resigned to wait at least half an hour for my veggie sandwich and house salad ($6.99), I was happily surprised to be in and out within 15 minutes. The sandwich, served on a cheese-topped roll, was full of artichokes, olives, zucchini, green peppers and mushrooms topped with melted cheese. It comes with mayo and mustard, but in the future, I plan on asking for marinara sauce instead. The small house salad comes with carrots, garbanzo beans, red beans, black olives and croutons, and a choice of dressing.
Since the sign touts “pizza, pasta and grill,” on my next visit I sampled the spinach and three-cheese ravioli in Alfredo sauce ($11.99), while my companion tried the spaghetti aglio olio ($9.99), a plate of spaghetti tossed with fresh basil, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, red peppers, roma tomatoes and fresh parmesan cheese. Both were liberally spiced with black pepper, which may pack too much zing for the average palate. But we didn’t really mind, because our friendly server Natasha treated us like royalty.
The difference between the standard server and the exceptional server is paying close attention to the small things that could conceivably inconvenience a diner; she passed the exceptional server test with flying colors.
Our meals came with toasted garlic cheese bread and soup or salad, so we took our dessert to go. I lamented over the lack of Italian desserts ("No tiramisu or cannolis?!"), but happily chose the cheesecake, served with strawberries and whipped cream.
While we listened to Dean Martin croon away, I looked around at the interior, painted in varying shades of yellow and decorated with pictures of wine and Italian scenery. (As you enter the large dining area, remember to take a gander at the mural of the gondolier on your right painted by Chico artist Christine Fulton.)
I was already thinking about my next visit—maybe I’ll try The Purist, a sauceless pizza pie topped with sliced tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and cheese—when Natasha’s smiling face came around the corner, holding our cheesecake.