My mother had one of those milestone birthdays recently, though she claims that she is still 39 years young. Ahh, the things people do to make themselves feel young. To get to the point, however, her birthday celebration was held at Bella Vita in Easley, SC. One great meal later, and I have my second post for this wonderful blog. Bella Vita, 119 Gulf St., Easley, SC 29640, http://bellavitaeasley.com
The Bella Vita website boasts that you can test the validity of the saying, "good things come in small packages" by dining in Chef/Owner John Dioguardi's "inconspicuously located tiny gem of a restaurant." The only problem I have with that invitation is that it doesn't do the experience justice. The meal my family (all 22 of us) shared was the best meal I've had this year hands down in terms of quality of the food and atmosphere.
I was the first to arrive for the party as it was a surprise to my mother and I needed to ease a couple of seating concerns for other members of the family. When I arrived, I was greeted by an exceptionally nice hostess/server and the Chef's wife. They provided several choices of Italian red and white wines and plates of hors d' oeuvres, all of which were delicious. After giving our group some time to arrive and chat, the Chef came out and explained the menu he created especially for us. Shortly thereafter, the food began arriving.
We started with a grilled caesar salad. It consisted of a romaine stalk literally grilled with a fresh balsamic reduction, fresh grape tomatoes, mozzarella, and capers I believe. The salad was served with fresh bread baked in the restaurant's bakery, Bella Dolce. I was told it was delicious as well. I've never had the pleasure of a grilled caesar salad, but I can ensure you that the pleasure was all mine!
For the antipasta course, the Chef went beyond what could have possibly been expected. You see, my mother and I are both allergic to wheat, so we can't eat regular pasta. So, the Chef made gluten-free spinach pasta from scratch for both of us. It was by far the best gluten-free pasta I've ever had (no offense intended to the great people at Tinkyada foods whose products I also enjoy). The pasta was in a white wine cream sauce with shrimp, bacon, onion, and garlic. Man was it good!
For the main course, the Chef offered stuffed pork tenderloin cooked perfectly accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes and fresh asparagus. It was magnificent just like the rest of the meal. During the main course, the Chef came out of the kitchen, turned on his vinyl record player and serenaded the whole group with his version (backed by Dean Martin) of "That's Amore." It was great fun for the whole crowd and he even went cheek to cheek with my pop, who is a gristly, retired Full Bird Colonel and former Chief of Staff of the South Carolina Army National Guard. The shade of red he turned was worth the 3 1/2 hour drive from Charleston I made that day and the day after!
We finished with a homemade gluten-free cheesecake topped with fresh berries and coffee. I don't want to diminish the quality of the cheesecake by writing less about it than the other courses, but it was simply delicious. Enough said.
So, I had a big time experience in a tiny little restaurant in Easley, SC with my family. I felt like we transported to Italy or a small, out-of-the-way Italian spot in New York, NY. I'm sure you will feel the same way if you take the time to visit Bella Vita. Now "That's Amore"!
Adam W. Howell, Esquire