By NINA GODLEWSKI, Special To The Courant
The Hartford Courant
9:51 AM EST, January 18, 2013
896 Whalley Ave., New Haven
Tucked into the Westville section of New Haven, there is a neighborhood café with a cozy international feel. But don't let the word "café" fool you, Bella's Café has much more to offer than coffee and a bagel.
THE VIBE: With black ceilings, mustard-yellow walls, rich brown wood floors and bar, and music parked on jazz, Bella's draws diverse customers. Its patrons range from young families, to hospital workers in scrubs, to retirees, so it's safe to say once a customer, always a customer. Wrought-iron chairs along the outside of the restaurant suggest that in warmer weather there is outdoor seating, to take advantage of the quaint downtown area. The all-black uniform of the waiters lends an international feel along with the Italian interior design and wall décor.
THE FOOD: Breakfast, brunch, and lunch foods are the specialties at Bella's. When ordering my breakfast I shied away from traditional eggs and bacon, or pancakes, opting for the "Old Fashioned" Cinnamon Sugar Donut French Toast. I was pleasantly surprised when my dish arrived with roasted apples in sauce, brie cheese slices, and whipped cream along with my "Old Fashioned" Donut drenched in a rum toffee sauce. Breakfast was a perfect match for the peppermint mocha latte that tasted just how the holiday season smells. Being slightly over ambitious I ordered sweet plantain on the side. When only half of the main dish and the side were gone, I was full.
My breakfast companion ordered the stuffed cinnamon raisin French toast, which arrived at our table tiered, beautifully presented with mounds of whipped cream also, and fresh raspberries and sauce adorning the plate. The presentation and size of the breakfasts meant that each of us began with a "Where do I even begin with eating this?" feeling. Our second side order was the chicken and apple sausage. It was enough food to feed four, at a table of two.
THE BILL: The traditional breakfast menu ranges from a stack of buttermilk pancakes that cost $5.25 to breakfast sandwiches under $5 to omelets between $10 and $15. , The daily specials cost a bit more. The stuffed French toast and "Old Fashioned" donut were $11.95 each. But it is money well spent. The lunch menu includes dishes that are far from ordinary. The Grilled Potrabella for example, according to the menu, is "grilled with oven dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, crushed avocado, melted Finlandia Swiss, and sautéed baby spinach on Rosemary olive Oil Focaccia" anything but boring. The dishes are quite filling and fairly large, so if you were to split a plate with someone chances are you would both leave well satisfied, ( there is a $3 charge for splitting a plate). Brunch features more filling dishes that branch the meals of breakfast and lunch. Lunch offering salads, wraps, sandwiches, and burgers under $15 for the most part. The specialty drinks cost more than a traditional cup of coffee ($2.25) and can cost a hefty $8, including a delectable vanilla chai latte.
THE PARTICULARS: The staff is attentive but leaves plenty of time to enjoy breakfast. Bella's is closed on Mondays. Breakfast is served Tuesday to Friday 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.; lunch also Tuesday to Friday 11:30 a.m until 3 p.m. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m until 4 p.m. There are about 10 seats at the bar and the indoor tables collectively seat about 30. Strollers not allowed, although the staff helped a couple folded theirs up and they settled into a table with their baby one recent morning. There can be lines at this popular eatery.
THE VERDICT: Bella's was featured in Connecticut Magazine's 2010 list of 23 great places for breakfast and brunch and it's no surprise. Wonderful food in a small comfortable atmosphere at a fairly reasonable prices makes Bella's an ideal breakfast, brunch, or lunch spot.
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