Thursday, May 10, 2012

First Bite: Bella Nashville Pizzeria at Nashville Farmers' Market

Posted By on Thu, May 10, 2012 at 7:58 AM

Over the past couple of years, the Nashville Farmers' Market has really done a great job raising the bar for the eating establishments inside the Market House. In their latest vision, they expressed the desire for a good wood-fired pizzeria to fill the spot next to Louisiana Seafood Co. Their commitment to that sort of build-out and the realization that installing a wood oven and hood system would not be cheap is very commendable. (Now if we can just get them to put some $$ into upgrading the restrooms. ...)

Dave Cuomo and Emma Berkey jumped at the chance to open a small restaurant in the space, and started to work on creating Bella Nashville. You might recognize those names from their accordion/guitar combo Chicken Little which they describe as a “half-pint-folk-punk band.” You can check out some of their music and videos here on Reverb Nation.

Fitting right in with the market's commitment to sustainable practices, they built out the space with old barn wood and built a granite counter out of recovered sample tile for diners at enjoy their personal-size pizzas.

Cuomo is the head pizzaiolo at Bella Nashville and makes each pie to order before running it quickly through the infernal oven made from organic Terre Blanche white clay, which was imported from France. His experience cooking at Patterson House prepared him well for this venture, as his speed at making and dressing the individual pizzas kept up with a clamoring crowd the day I went to visit during their first week of operation. The fact that the pies only need to spend scant minutes in the intense 900-degree heat of the oven doesn't hurt efficiency either.

The pizza varieties are creatively constructed with options that include locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. This week's special features Dante cheese from The Bloomy Rind, sage sausage from Porter Road Butcher and Whispering Creek's mushrooms. Their Meat Pizza is dressed with Benton's Country Ham, mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. There are plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans as well, with a cheeseless Marinara Pizza and a traditional Margherita.

The real standout on my first visit was the ingenious vegan Hummus Pizza. Since you wouldn't want to cook the hummus and break down the oils in it, Cuomo cooks the crust plain and then tops it with creamy hummus, zatar, mint, chili oil and some wonderfully crunchy toasted nuts. It was truly unique.

As many people have noted about other wood-fired pizzas in town, the more wet ingredients like tomatoes and cheese that are used as toppings, the more likely the crust is to be a little soggy in the middle. This is what I discovered with my meat pizza, but I was neither surprised nor disappointed. The outer ring of the crust was the perfect chewy/crunchy consistency with a nice light char on the bottom. The Hummus Pizza was crispy from center to rim and would probably even please fans of cracker-style thin crusts.

Prices are very affordable for lunch, with pizzas ranging from $7-$11, and fresh house-made lemon and orange sodas made with cane sugar are available for $2. On weekends they also bake loaves of excellent sourdough bread that they sell for five bucks apiece.

Bella Nashville prepares its own mozzarella in-house from regionally produced curds and are working toward growing their own San Marzano tomatoes for use as our main sauce tomato. If the weather permits, they'll be sourcing those locally by the end of the year. But don't wait that long to try this excellent addition to the Farmers' Market's stable of restaurants. Like go today! As always, report your findings back here in the comments.


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