A certain kind of corporate corruption is so slick that it just sneaks up on you. You’re 6,000 miles from home, cruising down Italy’s Autostrada A1 and, when the call for coffee or something to eat comes, you start looking for Starbucks. Which in total may not be that bad of a choice, but is it the best choice? And more important, is that the best gustatory choice that could be made given Italy’s long history of grand creativity when it comes to things you put in your mouth?
“I’ll pull over here.” The speaker, tour manager Augusto Mascarello, nicknamed Ago, spins the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter into a dirty, rock-strewn parking lot jam-packed with what feels like every single truck in Italy — as well as some from Slovenia, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain. Their drivers are all beating a path to the seven steps out of the lot and into a stone building. An inauspicious sign declares this is the Bar Hotel Veranda Barabasca. “This is the best truck stop in Italy,” Ago says, and were it not for the legion of trucks, this might not be believable at all.
The reality of it is, Barabasca is what it is without pretense to be anything else: not-super-expensive food for working men and women.
Until you sit down amidst tight knots of truckers, heads bent over their plates, chowing down like chowing down was going out of style. Which in some places it may be, but sure as hell not in Fiorenzuola d’Arda, right off the Brescia A21 exit, the place Barabasca has been since the 1960s. Holding almost 300 people in three pretty big rooms, Barabasca serves what exactly?
“Italian food,” Ago smiles slyly. If you’re in Italy, you know this means subtly and not so subtly different things depending on where you are. Just like a Waffle House in North Carolina is different from a Waffle House in South Carolina, it — wait … actually, it’s not like that at all. But the point remains that the Emilian cuisine — Emilia-Romagna is the home of Parmigiano-Reggiano — that Barabasca is known for tastes different to the developed palate. Fresh tortellini, lasagna, prosciutto di Parma and other pastas are on the menu and are exactly what’s ordered by our traveling party of six, all in one capacity or another on the road with what the Italian Rolling Stone called a supergroup, a post-punk band called Buñuel.
“The Autogrill? Bullshit multinational corporate food,” says Pierpaolo Capovilla, the band’s bass player, as the waitstaff pours him a glass of Trebbiano, a basic, not-fancy-at-all-but-sometimes-pleasantly-surprising white wine. “But since we must eat, eating not-shit is much better.”
Which comes to mind again when the food comes. Lots of meat, and if you don’t eat meat, not a lot of frutti di mare, or seafood, but after first, second and main courses come and go, each as flavorful as the last, you wouldn’t notice if you’re a vegetarian. And if you’re not? No harm, no foul. Though online you’ll find an occasional complaint about the aforementioned wine, the reality of it is, Barabasca is what it is without pretense to be anything else: not-super-expensive food for working men and women.
“Most of our customers are truckers,” the waitress smiles, speaking only Italian. “But we still have to cook better than their mothers if they’re going to keep coming here.”
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