Bella Frutteto menu inspired by orchard's bounty
Bella Frutteto's terrace view belies its humble strip-mall location. The restaurant is situated just high enough above bustling Brandt School Road to obscure it completely. Cars flying down the road in the early spring rain sound a bit like crashing waves.
Across the road, high above wispy puffs of pink cherry blossoms, sits the craggy expanse of Soergel Orchards, inviting patrons to slip into a Tuscan daydream.
Owners and friends Jeff and Sandy Rook and Neil and Lillian Komorowski were enchanted with the setting after looking at several locations and concepts. Their dream was realized on June 3, 2008, when the Franklin Park restaurant opened.
"The inspiration is the orchard," Jeff Rook says. "We wanted an upscale Italian restaurant that people could feel comfortable in on a first date or in shorts and a tee after golfing, if need be."
The Rooks and Komorowskis are veterans of the food business, which helped them eliminate a lot of trial and error. Jeff worked for Bravo!, Applebee's and the Hard Rock Cafe; wife Sandy had 25 years of experience with Eat'n Park; Lillian worked at Del's Restaurant, CC's Cafe and Pizza Roma; and Neil bartended from time to time.
Both couples' teenage children, Corey Rook and Emily Komorowski, also work at the restaurant.
Playful ribbing and the cozy family dynamic extends to the servers and bartender, who refer to Jeff and Sandy as Mom and Dad.
The saturated colors of the Italian countryside are interpreted in a contemporary way inside.
Walls are coated in dusky plum and gold with an undulating wave pattern of orange wood. Sculptural art in muted shades of red, plum, gold and green creates a pleasing array of organic shapes on the walls, echoing leaves, nautilus shells and beach pebbles. Dappled red glass light fixtures resembling sliced apples hang above each table, casting a soft glow on the gold tablecloths below.
A stately polished dark wood bar sits near the front of the restaurant.
Soft jazz is punctuated with the occasional hearty laughter.
"The owners make it feel like home, and I enjoy the freedom to do pretty much whatever I want," says executive chef Jessica Headrick, a graduate of the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts. She specializes in pastries but has branched into entrees.
She works with executive chef Nathan Behling, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, to incorporate Granny Smith and Red Delicious apples from Soergel's into the complete dining journey, beginning with appetizers.
Appetizer offerings include Fried Macaroni and Cheese ($7.95), fried penne pasta with parmesan cheddar and cream cheese spilled over tomato cream sauce. The Crab Cake ($9.95) is served with Dijon cream sauce and field greens. Stuffed Zucchini ($7.95) offers strips of fried zucchini filled with provolone cheese and prosciutto, nestled in a spicy marinara.
On a recent visit, the Apple Ravioli ($6.95) was a standout dish, and the popularity surrounding it is well-deserved. Four sun-shaped cheese raviolis are smothered in a golden sauteed medley of Granny Smith apples, amaretto, golden raisins, and balsamic figs in sage butter sauce. The figs and raisins provided fleshy, tart bursts of texture against the soft cheese, calling to mind a decadent late-summer harvest.
The tiny toasted ovals of the Bella Blue Bruschetta ($6.95) were the perfect size -- not too filling. We had the freedom to scoop as much as we wanted of the palate-cleansing mix of roma tomatoes, roasted red peppers and Gorgonzola cheese swirled in a garlic vinaigrette.
My Spinach Salad ($5.95) arrived with an elegant Roman arch bridge of apple slices spanning Gorgonzola cheese, dense spinach and a stream of roasted-garlic vinaigrette.
Picking an entree was daunting, as we had a good variety of house specialties and traditional Italian dishes to choose from -- offering chicken, veal, ahi tuna, pork and steak selections.
Steak Gorgonzola ($16.95), a house specialty, was a good-sized portion of penne pasta and medium-rare sauteed filet tips in a Gorgonzola cream sauce, drizzled with a balsamic glaze. The tips were tender and pink in the center, and the juices spilled easily with the slightest cut.
My dining partner chose Sausage Stuffed Chicken ($16.95), a blend of spicy Italian sausage and mozzarella cheese tucked inside a tender breast crusted with light breading. The slight fire of the sausage was balanced by the heavy cream tomato sauce and linguine beneath it.
There are plenty of desserts and specialty drinks to round out a meal, including Cheesecake of the Day ($5.95), Tiramisu ($5.95) and the Fruttetotini ($8), an apple martini garnished with a spiced apple ring.
We were enamored with the Chocolate Bombe ($5.95), a chocolate cookie crust brimming with frothy chocolate mousse and a chocolate brownie and dripping with a Frangelico cream. The light cream drizzled into every crevice and was a refreshing complement to the heavier ingredients.Additional Information:
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays, noon-10 p.m. Saturdays, noon-8 p.m. Sundays
Entree price range: $14.95-$22.95
Notes: Major credit cards accepted. Specialty martinis and varied wine list. Early bird specials Mondays-Thursdays. Outdoor dining terrace and private dining room for parties.
Address: 2602 Brandt School Road, Franklin Park
Details: 724-940-7777 or Web site