Our friends Lauren and Ben joined us for a double date night at Cucina Bella, a new, upscale pizza place at the corner of Lesnett Road and Pennsylvania Avenue.
Owner and head chef Carmen — formerly of Cestone’s Pizza in Mt. Lebanon —wanted to create a sit-down, upscale, pizza-centered eatery where patrons would enjoy premium ingredients on handcrafted pies in a comfortably chic atmosphere. He has done just that.
The dining rooms are crisp and bright — large windows face the quiet Pennsylvania Avenue, and the simple black tables and booths are comfortable and spacious. Glass jugs full of water one each table compliment the clean, minimalist menus and napkin-wrapped cutlery.
Cucina Bella is a BYO, with a corking fee of $5/bottle or $3/person for beer. They also have a selection of Italian soft drinks, tea, espresso, cappuccino and lattes. Jeremy’s Limonata made me wishing for an outside table at a café in Venice. Sigh. At least the sun was out.
We hadn’t seen Lauren and Ben for a while — between Ben’s work travels and their beautiful two-year-old daughter, dinners out are a rare treat — and Lauren and my rapid catch-up chatter took precedence over actually looking at the menu. The men took over (no real surprise) and ordered the Antipasto Carmenucci plate and requesting a brief convo-time-out for pizza selections. The small ($11) antipasto plate was plenty for four of us with salami, roasted red peppers, artichokes, spicy salami, provolone, olives, prosciutto and shaved parmigiano reggiano. The boys nearly reenacted the spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp but turned shy at the last minute. The plate was cleared within minutes.
We decided on two pizzas between the four of us, which worked perfectly; each 6 cut pizza comfortably serves a hungry duo. We decided on the classic Margherita with fresh tomato and mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, basil and olive oil ($12). The boys made the meat selection: the Salsiccia, essentially the Margherita with sausage. While the meat-lovers would have liked a bit more kick to their sausage, the ingredients were fresh and quality, the thin-crust was crisp and the cheeses warm and melty. The mozzarella and fresh basil alone make this place worth another visit.
We had some time to spare before our movie was playing, so clearly that meant we needed dessert. Tiramisu is the only thing on Cucina Bella’s menu, but they don’t need anything else. Their tiramisu could singlehandedly represent desserts everywhere and the world would be happy. The bottom layer was gooey and moist, the top light and fluffy, and trimmed with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and raspberries, it’s the perfect almost-summer treat. (I would love to tell you about how wonderful the berries were, but Jeremy hogged them all. He pretended he was going to nicely feed me the last one off of his fork, then did a 180 and devoured it himself, laughing evilly. I hope his mom reads this — he’ll be in for it.)
We ended the evening at the movies, another rarity, and saw “Water for Elephants,” based off of the fantastic Sara Gruen novel of the same name. It’s absolutely worth a visit — for once, I was pleased with the film adaptation of a novel, and Jeremy in particular loved the final scene of the flashback. It’s playing in Bridgeville, so check it out, and stop by Cucina Bella before the film — both are worth the trip!
Editor's Note: Cucina Bella is in the red building of the former Aurelia's Coffee Shop and Cafe.