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A Trattoria for Today

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At first glance, Bella Coast looks like any ordinary blur of a restaurant along U.S. 202—one of many, where you have your pick of casual cuisines. Burgers, subs, chicken nuggets, tacos. They’re all there. But take a closer look. This self-proclaimed “Simply Italian” eatery isn’t your typical, mass-produced franchise.

For starters, it’s part of the Big Fish Restaurant Group, which has been redefining the meaning of good food in Delaware from Rehoboth to Wilmington with its custom, eponymous restaurants and others like Salt Air and Crab House. Last December, Bella Coast joined the growing restaurant empire, overseen by brothers Norman and Eric Sugrue, offering hearty, comforting Italian fare in a chic, mod-industrial setting with bare tables, lots of wood, a skylight and strings of friendly, tiny white lights.


Photographs by Steve Legato
 

Lasagna al carne

Bella Coast offers comforting Italian fare in a chic, mod-industrial setting.

The service is just as congenial as the ambiance. Matt, our waiter, was personable and well-versed on a menu that features house-made standards you’d expect. Executive chef Michael O’Hare has a firm grasp on the Old Country’s traditional favorites. The meal starts with the kitchen’s rustic focaccia, the perfect foil for the olive oil and red-pepper flakes on the table. We continued with a big bowl of fried calamari, tender and succulent on its own but bolstered by an olive tapenade relish and marinara sauce.

But the “Oh, wow” moment came when the antipasto board was heaved onto the table. The rectangular, wood block was an overflowing smorgasbord of salumi like coppa and braseola, cheeses from mozzarella to Piave, pickled vegetables, fruit jams, crostini and more. We could only make a dent in the abundant offering and happily took leftovers home. Matt thoughtfully had the remaining items
individually packaged.

An antipasto board.

We soldiered on gastronomically, continuing to be impressed with the caliber of the meal. The buttery crust of the 12-inch crispy meatball pizza was adorned with red sauce, oregano, provolone and mozzarella cheeses, and juicy rounds of cooked ground beef, the size of Fireballs—the candy, not the whiskey. A test of any Italian kitchen is its Bolognese sauce, and Bella Coast’s gets an “A.” The long-simmered, flavorful ragu was paired with al-dente rigatoni for a simpatico supper. The generous, reasonably priced portion ($16) resulted in another welcome, take-home container.

The pièce de résistance, though, was the roasted pork Bella Coast. This lovely hunk of garlic-fragrant loin was wrapped in pancetta and perched like an island atop leafy-green broccoli rabe in a sea of pork au jus. It’s a meat lover’s delight. A thoughtful assembly of mostly Italian wines by the glass and bottle complements the food. The drink list also includes a half-dozen wines on tap (a Pinot Grigio is in the mix), craft and can beers, and clever cocktails with names like Al Capone and Amalfi Coast.

An artsy chalkboard explains cheesemaking.

No matter how sated you think you are, you need to find room for dessert. The pastry chef, Maggie Cellito, should have a special place in heaven for her mascarpone mousse cake alone. The crunchy biscotti crust is topped with the thick, rich cheese and strawberries, and artistically staged in a decorative swirl that looks like chocolate. But you soon realize the drizzle is balsamic vinegar—a surprise taste discovery that adds tangy sweetness to the ensemble. The luscious cake is also sold in the restaurant’s take-out market, essentially a cold case sandwiched in the main dining room, along with other temptations like cured meats, cheeses and various condiments.

We also ended our meal with two scoops of house-made gelato—salted caramel and chocolate—that left us sighing contentedly. Bella Coast is worth hitting the brakes for as you cruise along busy Concord Pike, whether for dinner, lunch, Sunday brunch or takeout. The Sugrue siblings continue to win us over, one restaurant at a time. 
 

 

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