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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bella Pasta Cafe, Greece

Bella Pasta Cafe on Urbanspoon
Bella Pasta CafĂ© opened last March in a small plaza on West Ridge Road, across from Ridgemont Plaza in Greece. It’s a family affair, owned and operated by two brothers, Randy and Danny Connor, with other relatives pitching in or employed there.
I ate dinner at Bella Pasta on a recent Sunday evening with my family. As we approached the entrance, all I could see on the inside was a walk-up counter near the front door, and I began to wonder if this was a less formal restaurant than I had expected - one of those places where you order at the counter and they bring the food to your table on a tray.
Thankfully, it wasn’t. It’s just that Bella Pasta has kind of a split personality, with a takeout counter on one side, separated by a partition from the dining area on the other.
The food offerings reflect the same dichotomy, with takeout staples like wings and subs sharing the menu with more substantial, mostly Italian dishes, many of which were mainstays at the old Portico Restaurant on St. Paul Street, where Danny Connor used to head-chef.
But we know what I was here for: the pizza. I ordered a medium (I always like to order at least a medium for review purposes), and though Bella Pasta bills itself as the “home of the 4 free toppings,” I went with straight pepperoni.
The thin to medium crust was fairly pale - “golden brown,” shall we say - underneath, but surprisingly crisp. It seemed a bit shiny with oil, but was not particularly greasy to the touch or in flavor. It was dotted with a number of small puncture holes, which I assume is done to keep the dough from bubbling up or blistering as it rises or bakes. The crust was not especially bready, but it had a pleasant, freshly-baked flavor, and was enjoyable. The outer edge was crunchy and formed into a thin, narrow lip.
This was a verrry cheesy pizza. It was topped by a thick layer of melted, stringy, slightly browned mozzarella. The cheese might’ve overwhelmed the whole thing had it not been balanced out by the sauce, which was also pretty generously applied. Like nearly everything else on the menu, the sauce is made on the premises, and it had a pronounced tomatoey flavor, neither very herbal nor too sweet. The pepperoni was of the cup-and-char variety, though sliced more thinly than I’m used to seeing it. It was just a bit crisp along the edges.
The plentiful sauce and cheese made this the kind of pizza that might best be eaten with a knife and fork. My silverware, however, stayed clean, though I can’t say the same for my napkin, as I stuck with the hands-only approach.
Bella Pasta offers 12 pizza toppings, and seven specialty pizzas, including a calamari pizza. Somewhat surprisingly, given the takeout and counter service, they don’t serve slices, even at lunchtime, though I suppose that ensures that when you do get a pizza, it’s going to be fresh, not something that’s sat in a warmer for an hour or more.
As for the entrees, all the usual Italian favorites are here, such as lasagna, Chicken Marsala, eggplant parm, shrimp scampi, and veal french. On that note, though I generally try to stick to the pizza, the food in general seemed to be of very high quality here. My wife raved about her Chicken Asiago, my daughter’s steak fries were crisp but not greasy, and my tiramisu was among the better examples I’ve tried around here. Service was good too - our waitress handled our six-year-old’s spilled chocolate milk with aplomb, and the owner checked in on us during our meal and gave us a warm goodbye upon leaving.
As I mentioned in my post on Rizzi’s, there tends to be a certain difference between the pizza you get at a restaurant and what you typically get from a takeout pizza joint. That held true here. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but this was “restaurant” pizza. But it was good restaurant pizza, and that’s the important thing. I can’t say I’ll go back for more of it, if only because I want to check out some of the other items on the menu. I will, however, give it a solid B+ for its crisp crust, tasty sauce, and ample but balanced toppings, enhanced by friendly and efficient service.
Bella Pasta Cafe, 2846 West Ridge Road. 340-6100
Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun. 1 p.m. - 8 p.m.

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