Authentically Italian

Short Pump is known for its share of chain restaurants and strip malls, but diners looking for something more distinct can certainly find it without heading downtown or to nearby Charlottesville.

In fact, local husband-and-wife restaurateurs Valeria Bisenti and Doug Muir brought a taste of Charlottesville (and Italy) to Short Pump when they took a chance and opened Bella’s second location in the same shopping strip as Wal-Mart and Peter Chang China Cafe. (Bella’s original location is on Main Street in downtown Charlottesville.)

For a local Italian restaurant, Bella’s is as “Mom and Pop” as its gets. Valeria is Mom, and Doug is Pop. Since its opening about six months ago, diners have been eating rich comfort foods and drinking Italian wines.

In the space that formerly housed Payless Shoes, the restaurant is expansive with seating for 150 and a lengthy bar. The space is so large that the close-knit, brick-oven warmth of a family-owned Italian restaurant is missing, but the hospitality is certain. According to Muir, the ample space is beneficial on weekends when there is a wait to get in the door. It's recommended you call ahead to make a reservation.

Without any prior knowledge, I was taken by surprise by the restaurant’s white tablecloths and family-style menu. Dishes are served for two or four people.

The wine list includes Italian whites and reds ranging from $6-11 a glass and up to $130 a bottle. Prosecco ranges from $7-9 and cocktails include the Espresso Martini ($10) and Limoncello Martini ($10).

We started our meal with the Italian garlic bread brushed with olive oil, roasted garlic and topped with fresh mozzarella ($8). The bread was seasoned perfectly and not too greasy.

Next up, we shared Bella’s house salad: Romaine, red leaf and radicchio leaves tossed in house dressing topped with fresh bell peppers, marinated artichokes, chopped scallions and marinated olives. Although this salad boasted many bells and whistles, in reality it was an oversized mound of lettuce with a few spare olives lying around. Its dressing was faint, but in a good way.

I ordered a Gorgonzola Grilled salad, grilled romaine hearts topped with a house made gorgonzola dressing, diced tomatoes, crispy pancetta and scallions finished with a balsamic drizzle. The perfect combination of flavors, textures, cheese and meat could have stood alone as a whole meal.

We headed into our next inning ready for something heavier – Arancini, or herbed fresh mozzarella stuffed inside lemon risotto, breaded and fried ($10). Basically, fried cheese balls loaded with Italian flavors and risotto to boot. For fear of filling up on this hefty appetizer, I ate one and called it quits. I could have eaten 10.

The ultimate entree came to the table piled six inches high and requiring the help of owner Doug Muir to cut, assemble and prepare it for us. We shared the Porchetta for two ($19), a whole pork arrotolato stuffed with a mixture of fennel, rosemary, sage and garlic, then slowly roasted with fingerling potatoes, vidalia onion, carrots and celery.

The outside was as crispy and tasty as bacon and the inside as juicy and tender as ham. I’m a bit picky about fatty pieces, and this entree was loaded with fat to be separated from the meat and skin. My friend, however, loved every bite from the outside in. Between two people, we only ate a third and packaged the rest.

We ended the meal with the tiramisu ($9), but in retrospect I would have ordered the Limoncello Poundcake, a butter cake soaked in Limoncello, layered with a mascarpone cream and topped with lemon icing ($9). The classic, homemade tiramisu was gigantic (a five inch square) and topped with chocolate chips.

If you’re lucky enough to dine on an evening when Muir is greeting each table, you’ll hear tales of Italy and the story behind each photo on the wall. You may even try a taste of his favorite Limoncello, brought back from his recent trip to Rome.
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Henrico Business Bulletin Board

October 2017

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Tom Leonard’s will again host its free Friday Night Movie at the Pumpkin Patch at 7 p.m. in the outdoor haybale theater. Tonight’s movie is “Sesame Street – A Magic Halloween.” There will be cider and hot chocolate. Friday night movies are held every Friday in October. Tom Leonard’s is located at 4150 Tom Leonard Dr. near Short Pump. For details, call 364-5800 or visit Full text

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