The penne, spaghetti, and linguine at Pastori's Restaurant & Bar may be the only pastas that are actually imported from Italy, but every bite of manicotti and alfredo tastes authentic. Yet the Italian specialities only claim a small portion of the menu. There are also burgers and grinders, wraps and pitas, and seafood dishes, such as sea scallops tuna steak. Plus, the bar promises cocktails, beer, and wine, as well as games broadcast on TVs and regular karaoke.
The Stone and Paddle’s California-style thin-crust pizzas acquire their subtle crunch while baking atop a hot stone in a 600-degree oven. Gourmet toppings such as hot sausage, shrimp and artichoke, and spinach and gorgonzola grace the pies, which share table space with flatbread sandwiches that are also stone-baked. Though chefs must return nightly to the steel-encased bunker where they safeguard their secret dough recipe, guests can enjoy a new location in Rocky Hill, linger on the shaded patio at the Vernon location or watch sports on Manchester's flat-screen TVs.
Owner Randy Price curates a creative menu of New Haven–style "apizza" in more than 30 styles. His team crafts fresh dough daily using unbleached flour, creates sauce from handpicked Italian and Chilean tomatoes, and sprinkles pies with cheese from home-schooled cows. The famous Challenger—a 22-inch pizza stuffed with a mélange of vegetables and meats that weigh in at nearly 10 pounds—presents the hungriest visitors with a challenge to conquer the hot wheel in an hour or less, a feat that has earned a place on the Travel Channel's Man Vs. Food roster of surmounted food battles.
Bella Pizza loads its menu with thin-crust New York–style pizzas, calzones, salads, subs, wraps, and pasta—all made with classic Italian ingredients. Silence the stomach's grumbling and backhanded comments about your sweater with a starter of crispy fried clams ($5.25), or nosh on a dozen honey-barbecue buffalo wings ($6.95). Dough doyennes and dudes, meanwhile, can feast upon gourmet pies ranging from the small 12-inch ($10.95) to the party-size 24-inch ($24.95). The eggplant special's light blend of broccoli, olives, and ricotta balances the meat storm of Bella's house special, and the Hot Wheel flame-throwers unsuspecting taste buds with potent hot peppers and garlic. To keep one hand open for impromptu hadoukens, chow on a cheese calzone ($7.95) or a chicken-cutlet sub stuffed with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and cheese ($4.95). A slice of carrot cake completes the meal on a sweet, comfy note ($2.95).
In 1909, Frank Pepe immigrated to the United States from his native town of Maiori, Italy. He was poor, illiterate, and just 16 years old—but he had a strong work ethic. After a stint in a New Haven factory and service as an Italian solider in World War I, he settled down for good in New Haven with his wife, Filomena, and started a bakery delivery service. But because he couldn’t read, he had trouble deciphering the orders. So he started having his customers come to him, and in 1925, he and Filomena added a simple item to the menu: Neapolitan-style pizzas.
To this day, the staff still heats up coal-fired ovens to bake the original tomato pies that Frank and Filomena first made famous. They can also add toppings such as bacon, Italian-imported anchovies, and house-roasted red peppers to their pizzas, or create specialty pies such as their signature white clam with olive oil, fresh garlic, and oregano. Diners can pair their pies with Pepe’s salad, tossed in balsamic vinaigrette, or have the server tap draft brews such as Sam Adams Boston Lager and Peroni. They’ve served Foxon Park soda since 1925, so diners can request bottles of cream soda or diet white-birch beer made from only the sveltest birch trees.
The pizza purveyors at Sorrento's sling thin-crust pies into a brick oven in between assembling noncircular savories such as hot grinders and calzones. An appetizer of fried dough jump-starts gustatory glands with an accompaniment of powdered sugar and cinnamon or savory marinara sauce ($4.95). Anchor levitating dinner tables with the 12-inch house special, which is a topping-heavy pizza that bears pepperoni, meatballs, sausage, bacon, and chopped vegetables ($10.95). Mouths can admire the 12-inch mozzarella pizza ($7.50) uncovered or conceal its bareness with a choice of regular or premium toppings that include sausage, eggplant, hot peppers, crispy chicken, and clams ($1.25 each). Sorrento's culinary artisans also craft hot grinders into five different flavors of parmigiana, such as veal ($5.50+) and eggplant ($4.95+).
For more than 50 years, Bellini's has been serving up homemade, authentic Italian dishes using fresh ingredients. Start dinner with the Salsetta ($8.95), a mix of Italian cheeses and artichoke dip, or the Arrosto Gamberetto ($13.95), prosciutto-wrapped shrimp with greens and beans. Wood-fired artisan pizzas such as the Salsicce ($11.95)—which pairs sweet sausage and roasted peperonata—and the Rustica ($12.95)—which nestles grilled eggplant alongside zucchini, fontina, and red onion—feed fanatics for flat fare. Those thirsting for 3-D eats can soar into pillow-y clouds of gnocchi ($14.95) topped with marinara, cream, and Pecorino Romano with veal meatballs. Each entree can be upgraded to Nino's 1959 Supper Club, a four-course dinner menu ($20+), which includes wood-fired mozzarella garlic bread, a soup or salad, and a mini homemade dessert, in addition to your entree. Daily chef specials are also available.