Roses, shrubs and trees, beautifully decorated, Restaurant La Bella Cucina rests along an almost century old railway rampart. Built as a route for steam engines around 1916, the New York Connecting Railroad splices together all places north, via the Bronx, across the Hells Gate Bridge, to Long Island and the rest of New York City. Hidden from view, an occasional resonant, droning whistle of a diesel train can still be heard as freight cars rumble and clank through a 30' deep channel that cuts through Middle Village on the Juniper Valley branch. And situated next to the 69th Place overpass, expert/owner restaurateur Joseph Passanante (photo upper right) created a masterpiece, an Italian restaurant that combines exquisite food, ambiance and decor.
Since 1951, the triangular building housed various businesses and notably the Post Scientific Instrument Company. Besides inventing Countercurrent Distribution apparatus (compound separators), for medical research, Otto Post shared war stories, gave friendly advice and showed simple experiments to locals.
Where once stood rows upon rows of test tubes, motors and machines, restaurant patrons now fine-dine surrounded by beautiful red mahogany tables, walls and molding. Once a space for rubber hoses and vacuum experiments, transformed by tile and parquet, stone and brick, glass and mirrors, Kristin Quigley now serves beverages over a thick Black Granite counter. Padded like all the seating, mahogany stools line the bar for comfort. And not far from the furnace where Mr. Post blew glass rods into test tubes and flasks for neighborhood children, Sal Cannella or Paul Zummo now serve children incredibly delicious Wood-Burning Brick Oven Pizza through a massive window that opens onto a lovely patio with tables and umbrellas encircled by Eastern Cedars.
Joe gestures, and makes his point, It's quality and taste that matter most. Fresh pasta and ice cream homemade on site, temperature controlled display cases keep hot food hot and cold food cold, the idea: Top quality everything. Fresh mozzarella, Portobello mushrooms, roasted peppers, basil, artichokes and sun dried tomatoes, that's pizza.
The menu, full of delicious appetizers, soups and salads makes choosing a favorite unfair. Perhaps, Baked Clams Oreganata, then, the Signature Special entree, Spaghetti Puttanesica served in an Anchovy tomato sauce, Black and Green Olives, Capers and Garlic. Round out the meal with a homemade dessert such as Italian Cheesecake, Cannoli or Tiramisu. (Top Chefs: William Sanfilippo and Frank Sausa)
Cappuccino, maybe espresso? Don't forget Frank Zanca's homemade Gelato, flavors include chocolate, hazelnut (noccila), vanilla, strawberry, pistachio, coffee and almond (torrone).
You don't need to hop onto a freight train to get to The Beautiful Kitchen, there's parking. Basta, Mangiamo! (Enough, let's eat!)
Photo: David Pambianchi