Every neighborhood should have a good, casual and reasonably priced Italian restaurant, and Hyde Park is lucky enough to have Bella’s Italian Café. A fixture in South Tampa for thirty years, Bella’s continues to dish up great food in a cozy atmosphere, and the crowded parking lot and frequent wait for a table are testaments to Bella’s knack for pleasing customers.
I love this place. They have a thing for “fresh,” making their bruschetta sauce, pasta, sauces, and salad dressings on-site and often per-order. They deliver a complementary bruschetta slice when you sit down, and a bread basket with a delicious hot mini-loaf of Italian bread – yes, you can get more bread, and I know you’ll want more to dip in the sauces from your meals.
The menu is extensive, from pizzas and calzones made in their beautiful oak-fired stone pizza oven to a wide variety of pasta-based dishes and the pricier “Secondi” that feature chicken, fish, or veal with sides of pasta and veggies.
I’ve lived in the neighborhood for thirteen years and I’ve still not tried all the menu items because I’ve fallen into a trap of ordering favorites again and again. I know if I try more items, I’d have yet more favorites.
My favorite pasta dish? If I had to pick just one, it would currently be Salciccia Al Forno, a generous bowl of penne pasta with slices of Italian sausage and mushrooms in a tasty ricotta tomato sauce under a blanket of mozzarella cheese. This is true comfort food! That’s what I had last night . . .
Second on my list of favorite pastas would be their Pollo Au Gratin, which features orecchiette pasta, juicy chicken pieces with mushrooms and leeks in roasted tomato cream sauce and an Asiago-panko crust.
Of the “Secondi” I strongly recommend the Salsa Marsala (tender veal scallopini in Marsala and mushroom sauce) and Pollo Romano (chicken breasts with Romano cheese breading, sauteed). But I’ve yet to try them all. More favorites await.
For our meatless friends, Bella’s has very good salads, Melanzane (eggplant) Parmigiana, and several meatless pasta dishes. For some reason I just cannot make eggplant well at home, so I enjoy indulging here. My wife always checks the “specials” board for the seasonal appearance of Butternut Squash Mezzaluna; she’s not a vegetarian, but the dish is just so good that she forsakes other menu choices when it is available.
Bella’s has been doing this for a long time. The kitchen, visible to the dining room, runs like clockwork and the servers, some with Bella’s for years, are pleasant, attentive, and efficient.
My guidance on Bella’s desserts is somewhat lacking, as I am usually too full to order them. But, I have shared the Vesuvio molten chocolate cake and ice cream. If you have room, do it. You won’t regret it. Call me and I’ll come over and share it with you.
In celebration of their 30th Anniversary, Joanie Corneil, owner of Bella’s Italian Café has compiled more than 75 handcrafted classic Italian recipes in her first cookbook, Bella’s. The 224-page coffee-table–style book shares stories from her culinary journey as well as some of the many adventures that we’ve had with you, our Bella’s family.