I love discovering small, new, out-of-the-way restaurants that so few people know about, but the food and story behind them are so good that everyone should.
This is one of those places, folks, and it has me smiling from ear to ear. I am madly in love with Bellissimo Pizza and the charming, heart-of-gold Egyptian brothers who run it.
This is one of my best restaurant “finds” in some time, and we need to keep them in business. So I’m asking — no, begging — you to make the short 10-minute drive from downtown Charleston for a delightful casual dining experience at this tiny spot along Route 60 in Belle.
As much as I adore this place, though, you should know ahead of time that it’s nothing fancy. Located in a small cinder-block building with a gravel lot, right up against the main road, it may not look very special at first glance.
But inside, you’ll find a simple and clean cafe setting, really good Italian food and the nicest, most passionate chefs/owners you can imagine.
“We cook with emotion,” brothers Amr (“Andred”) and Mohamed Elassal like to say, and I swear you can taste that in every bite.
And with a menu this big, there are lots of bites to try.
Bellissimo is known for pizza (both thin crust and Sicilian deep-dish style) and there are a handful of different ones to try. But there are also dozens upon dozens of appetizers, salads, burgers, gyros, hot and cold subs, calzones, stromboli and a whole bunch of pasta options.
For families, there’s even a monster 28-inch XXX-large pizza (currently with unlimited toppings) and you should see the box this baby comes in. Size of a small tabletop!
During my first visit for lunch a few weeks ago, I had one of the best cheesesteak hoagies I’ve had anywhere. A warm, fresh sub roll was stuffed with a melt-in-your-mouth blend of chopped steak, cheese, lettuce, onion, tomato and mayo that I couldn’t stop eating. Fries on the side were good, not great, but the homemade ranch they offered for dipping made them better.
This past Saturday, I took some of the fam back for a lunch for the ages where we ate our way through so much of the menu — and even tried a few things off of it.
We sampled a plate of hot-from-the-oven garlic knots stuffed with melty cheese and dusted with herbs, garlic and Parmesan cheese. (So good.) We tried the Hawaiian pizza with ham, pineapple and mozzarella. (Also a hit, although I would’ve loved the thin crust to be a bit crisper.)
We devoured a sausage Parmesan sub topped with sauteed green peppers, onions, mozzarella and tangy marina. (Wonderful.) And we dug into the Tour of Italy sampler platter so we could try three pastas at once: chicken Parmesan (fantastic), spaghetti with housemade sausage (really good) and lasagna (OK).
But the highlights of our meal came at the very beginning and very end.
Wanting to try some good eggplant, we asked Mohamed for a recommendation. That’s when he started describing how he prepares “Egyptian eggplant” at home, cutting an eggplant into thick slices, frying it up without breading, blending it with sauteed peppers, onions, spices and handmade marinara, then tearing off pieces of flatbread to scoop up all of that goodness.
Our mouths about hit the floor.
“It’s not on the menu but I can make some for you if you like, maybe with a little flatbread?”
My God is this stuff good. Earthy, toasty, fragrant, phenomenal. We couldn’t shut up about it and kept begging them to put it on the menu so we could send everyone we know out to try it.
“Whoever comes in,” they said, “we make it for them.” These guys.
Then, to end the meal, they brought us a platter of fresh-baked, made-from-scratch mini cinnamon rolls topped with toasted walnuts and the most luscious cinnamon cream.
As we savored one incredible bite after another, Andred and Mohamed told us how they came to West Virginia from Egypt, how they prepared some of the dishes we were tasting, how they make some of their own favorite dishes at home, how their late mother, Fatin, so inspired their love of cooking that they almost named the restaurant after her.
And how they’re not cooking to bring attention to themselves, but simply to bring joy to those they feed.
We were moved by their stories, their food and their warmth, so much so that we left on a high we still have not come down from.
“They’re living the American dream right there,” my wife, Amy, said as soon as we got home. “I feel honored to have been a part of it.”
We can’t wait to go back to Bellissimo (which means “beautiful” in Italian, making it perfectly named) not just for a great meal, but to support the beautiful people who provided an experience that lifted our souls.
We need more passionate business owners like this, but they need our help to keep their doors open. I’m only asking you to try it once, though. I guarantee you’ll go back on your own after that.
And be sure to talk to these guys when you do. It will make an already good meal all the more satisfying.
Truth be told, I really had to review this restaurant — just to stop my phone from ringing off the hook. Over the past several months, I had received so many calls from readers asking, begging, in some cases nagging me to check out this “great little spot” in what many call DuPont City.One woman, I’m convinced, had me on speed dial.
I did put Bellissimo on my ever-expanding list of restaurants to review — just as I do every reader tip — but it kept getting bumped higher and higher with each new call of praise.
“I have contacted you in the past and have a new great place to alert you about just in case you aren’t aware of them,” reader David Gurley told me, adding that it was glowing reviews from others that prompted him to check it out as well.
“The place is Bellissimo Pizza, and they have a very good menu that goes way beyond pizza into great Italian dishes. I tried the baked spaghetti with a sausage sauce, baked with mozzarella cheese and full of many meatballs! From the first bite I knew this was going to be special, and when the owner/chef came out to ask how we liked our food, I told him it was the best Italian food I had ever tasted — and meant it!”
David said before long he needed a carryout box to take his leftovers home, because the amount of food was way beyond his capacity to finish at one time. (That was our experience, too — we probably came home with more food than we actually ate in the restaurant.)
“So if you want a treat, excellent food, very reasonable prices and a nice experience, try them. He is on the top of my list for a great Italian meal.”
I so agree, David, and I can’t thank you (and other readers) enough for encouraging me to review a restaurant that has now become one of my obsessions as well.
IF YOU GO: Bellissimo Pizza, 3433 West DuPont Ave. in Belle, is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday through Thursday and 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday. For more information, call 304-926-0332 or visit www.Facebook.com/BellissimoPizzaWV.