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Bella of the ball 

Bella's Pizzeria proves good pizza doesn't have to be chichi

Even though I've just swigged down a pint of Bass Ale and I'm considering a second, I feel like a middle-schooler. It's Sunday afternoon at Bella's Pizzeria in Smyrna, and I'm surrounded by throngs of kids climbing on and off the red pleather booths, their mouths shiny with pepperoni grease. Moms' and dads' eyes are glued to a game on the monster-screen TV. Posters of the usual Italian suspects hang on the walls: The Sopranos, Goodfellas and The Godfather. I'm eating garlic bread for the first time in many years and I'm loving it.

What big balls you have: The grown-ups have their own fun at the full bar toward the back of the restaurant, capping off pitchers and gnawing on slices. Bella's has a surprisingly good beer list, including selections like Iron City and Samuel Smith, as well as high-alcohol brews and fabulous Terrapin Cream Ale on draft. With the aroma of tomatoes and garlic heavy in the air, waiting patiently for pizza without starters is much too difficult a task. Homemade meatballs with cheese ($6.50) are meatloaf-dense, moist and oh-so-beefy, slathered in a garlicky, thick tomato sauce. Garlic knots ($2.25), crispy-chewy twists of pizza dough drenched in garlic butter and dusted with Parmesan, are perfect swabs for mopping up the meatball sauce.

I like it meaty: Who says good pizza has to come out of a wood-fired oven, $12 a pop for a disc not much bigger than a dessert plate? I love the greasy pepperoni and sausage beast as much as I love the chantrelle-topped sylph, and I'm happy to report that Bella's bakes up the former quite nicely. The Veronesi ($16.50 for a sizable small) is a carnivore's cheese-covered dream, featuring slices of pepperoni, sausage and meatballs. Bella's crust is exemplary -- cushy and airy, yet solid enough to be picked up by the slice. The cheese is wonderfully stringy. A sauce that seems a bit bland under all the meat comes around with a lashing of pepper flakes. An Alfredo spinach and artichoke stromboli ($8.50) is the sort of food you hate to admit loving to eat: Enormous, crusty, toothy, saucy, sloppy and as Italian-American as you can get.

No wedge between us: I can imagine the eggplant Parmesan wedge (sub sandwich, $8.75) is something pregnant women and the severely hungover would drive cross-county for. With its combination of deep-fried eggplant, hefty hand of tomato sauce and copious mozzarella goo, it's the blessed bride to a playoff game -- meant to be eaten with a knife and fork, plenty of napkins and cold beer out of a can. Although I live nowhere close to Bella's, I'd certainly revisit for a couple of slices and a tall cold one. I might even put on a pair of acid-washed jeans and slip a note into my husband's jacket asking him if he wants to go steady.

cynthia.wong@creativeloafing.com

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