Bella’s Italian Café Hyde Park has been a South Tampa favorite since 1986. They were a favorite long before the South Howard (SoHo) Tampa district became the hip food and dining destination it is today and they seem to be still going strong.
The place was popular even on this extremely stormy Friday evening. The parking lot was full (as usual) but you always have the option of their complimentary valet service. Patio dining wasn’t even an option today with the cars racing by on the wet roads, so we headed inside.
The restaurant was busy, but we were seated at a nice booth immediately. Looking around, Bella Italian Café Hyde Park wants you to feel home and the décor nails it. Soft lighting and wood and tile floors look sleek and clean. The walls are faux marble and the soft curtains and booth patterns add to the relaxed vibe. We did notice that with a full dining room, it can be a bit louder than expected, so plan on a more ‘family style’ experience during peak times.
We were greeted by our friendly server and were brought over a few bruschetta pieces to snack on as we reviewed the menu and specials. While they had a nice fresh flavor, the actual crouton was a bit soggy from sitting a bit too long. But, aside from that, it was a pretty tasty bite.
Fresh bread is also served once you order. We found that although the bread didn’t have that nice ‘crust’ it was soft and fresh that went quickly at the table. The pre-packed butter pats were deliciously salty.
We had signed up for their online Email program and received a ‘Buy One Get One FREE’ offer, so that made the visit extra special.
This had to be one of the best values we’ve seen on an email program in years. It allowed us to splurge a bit on soups too.
Asparagus soup (Zuppa di Asparagus), cup ($5.25) – A creamy asparagus soup . . . without the cream. Made with fresh chicken stock and topped with mascarpone cheese and fried pasta strips. The soup was fresh and packed with asparagus flavor. We both liked they didn’t add cream to the soup and I could have easily polished off a whole bowl.
Panna D’Aragosta, bowl ($9.99) – Creamy lobster bisque with flavors of saffron, tarragon and thyme; topped with puff pastry and baked. Finished table side with a garnish of caviar and sour cream. If you order this, you HAVE to go for the bowl. Only that size comes with the puff pastry and that’s a must.
This was a huge, impressive looking bowl of soup. The server cut into the puff pastry and added the caviar and sour cream just as the menu stated. While the top of the puff pastry was a bit overcooked, you really could tell once you started eating it. The soup was very rich with lots of lobster flavor. The addition of caviar and sour cream was a unique twist and Jeff liked this version quite a bit.
Chicken Saltimbocca ($22.99) – lightly breaded with semolina and Romano cheese and seared. Topped with prosciutto, provolone cheese and fresh sage leaves and served in a white wine butter sauce. When the dish was presented, it was obvious that one of the pieces was a bit overcooked and almost black.
While it didn’t interfere with the flavor, the expediter at the kitchen should be on the lookout for these inconsistencies. The coating on the chicken was a bit on the bland side, but once I ate and got closer to the cheese, sage and prosciutto, it all came together nicely. The sage was a nice unique twist as you usually get basil in an Italian restaurant. The side of angel hair pasta with tomato basil sauce was excellent.
Linguine con Vongole – fresh clams in a garlic white-wine sauce and fresh parsley over linguini pasta. The pile of clams was impressive and they were very fresh. The sauce was infused with enough garlic for Jeff, so that’s a bonus.
The only down side was that one quarter of the pasta was stuck together and not really incorporated with the sauce. A minor issue that can be easily solved. Also when serving any shelled food, the guest should be provided an extra dish to place the empty shells. Call us trash, but we ended up using the bread plate for the discarded shells.
Overall our experience at Bella Italian Café Hyde Park was enjoyable. While there were a few consistency issues with the entrees, but they were minor. The service was friendly and prompt and we just like the overall atmosphere here. Add in the email club and you have a pretty good Hyde Park Tampa Italian restaurant.
Bella’s Italian Café is located at 1413 S Howard Ave #100, Tampa, FL 33606