Restaurant Review Roulette: Bella Mia

September 29, 2010

Most of the places that Greg Cox reviews are restaurants I’ve never visited, and all too often, I’ve never even heard of them.  I try to guess how many stars the place will get based on the restaurant’s website and menu, and then I look at Yelp and Chowhound to see if there’s been any discussion.  And then I guess.

This week is different, as Greg will be reviewing Cary’s Bella Mia, a coal-fired pizza joint.  I sort of know this restaurant.  Quite honestly, I’m a bit obsessed by it, having eaten there 15-20 times since they opened back in June.  I’ve become personal friends of the family that owns the place, Rick Guerra, his sons Louis and Anthony, and Rick’s sister, the ever-charming Lucie Guerra.  I’ve tried just about everything on the menu.  I’ve drunk their beers.  I’ve sampled Lucie’s desserts.  I’ve declared Bella Mia to be the best pizza in the Triangle, if not the state.  There are others who disagree, as they might not get what Bella Mia is trying to do, with their 900 degree oven, fueled with oak and anthracite.  They might not like the pizzas that are cooked in two minutes, with a thin crust slightly charred on the bottom.  But of the dozens of people I’ve introduced to Bella Mia, at least two-thirds agree with me that it’s the best pizza in the area — by far.  There will never be unanimity, but that many people cannot be wrong.

So now Greg Cox has visited Bella Mia several times and is ready to write about it.  Greg has an unwritten rule that 4 stars is as high of a rating he’ll give to a casual place, and although Bella Mia is far nicer than one would ever expect for a pizza joint, it’s still a pizza joint.  Yes, the pizza is amazing.  Yes, the beer selection is solid.  Yes, I had a clam and lardo pie last week.  But will Greg give this place more than 4 stars?  I know he won’t give it 5, because that rating is reserved for the more formal, high dollar establishments.

Bella Mia is transcendent, and it deserves more than 4 stars.  No one does anything like it in the area, and so I’m really hoping it’s a 4.5 star review.  That’ll send a message to the restaurant community that if you do something extraordinary, you’ll be rewarded.  We’ll see on Friday.

Here are this week’s odds:

5 stars — 22 to 1

4.5 stars – 5 to 4

4 stars — 1 to 2

3.5 stars — 4 to 1

3 stars — 12 to 1

2.5 stars — 20 to 1

2 stars — 100 to 1

1.5 stars — 5,000 to 1

1 star — 1 bazillion to 1

I really hope they get the 4.5 stars, but I’m expecting 4.  Let’s hope I’m wrong.


Edit: October 1, 2010 — It’s a very strong 4-star review for Bella Mia.  Greg Cox had nothing but praise for the pizza, calling it “flawless.”  And this demonstrates the problem with any star-based review system: a place like this is unable to get any more than 4 stars.  That’s why it’s important to just read the damn review and not focus on the number of stars.  And then go get you a pizza.

Coal-Fired Pizza Finally Here

June 30, 2010

I love pizza, and even mediocre pizza is pretty damn good.  But great pizza is so hard to find — the Triangle has not had a great pizza place.  And when I say “great”, I mean the pizza is hauntingly memorable, where you can’t get the taste out of your head.  I’ve had great pizza in New York, New Haven and Phoenix.  This pizza is all about the crust, with a slight char, where the toppings almost melt into oblivion.  Moreover, these pizzas (or pizze) are inevitably cooked in super-hot ovens, typically 900 degrees or more and fired with coal.  Most pizza joints have gas-fueled pizza ovens, which can get up to 500 degrees or so, but still far cooler than what’s needed.  Wood-fired ovens get a bit hotter, but not quite enough.  Coal is where it’s at.  And we now have a coal-fired pizza oven in the Triangle.  In Cary, of all places.  And very close to my home.

This place is Bella Mia, in the Arboretum at the corner of Weston Parkway and Harrison Avenue.  The place is owned by Rick Guerra, a New Yorker if there ever was one.   Guerra is friendly and passionate about what he does.  His sons man the two ovens that are fueled initially with oak, and then hard coal to bring up the heat.  The flour is imported “00” grade.  The tomatoes, San Marzano.  The mozzarella, from water buffaloes.  This place doesn’t put second rate ingredients on its pies, and damn, the crust is so good.

We’re talking fairly thin-crust Neapolitan-style pizza here.  And as I said above, it’s all about the crust — perfectly charred, with just the right amount of texture and salt (and not even the slightest bit of sweetness, thank you very much).  I’d prefer it just slightly thinner, but I’m not complaining.  This is the real deal, folks, and I suspect Bella Mia will soon have lines snaking out the door, as NO ONE in the Triangle has a pizza this good.  Just order the Margherita and enjoy.  I just finished an hour ago, and I’m already wanting to get back.

Bella Mia
2015 Renaissance Park Place (in the Arboretum off Westin Pkwy)
Cary, NC

Fig Pizza

August 11, 2009


We have a fig tree, but it’s in a shaded area and doesn’t produce much fruit.  My in-laws, however, make up for that, as their fig tree can produce over two pounds a day of harvestable figs.  What to do with all that fruit?  A fig pizza, of course. Read the rest of this entry »

Best Pizza in Alaska

August 6, 2008

OK, OK, I know you’ve read the title and are saying, “The guy takes a 2-week trip to Alaska — the largest state in the nation — and he has the balls to declare a restaurant as having the best pizza in the land of the midnight sun???”

Yes I do. Read the rest of this entry »

Well Done Pizza Done Well

March 18, 2008


We all know that you can’t really get a great pizza in the Triangle and Raleigh in particular. You can get a decent one, but nothing like the great New York establishments like Patsy’s or Grimaldi’s, with their ultra-hot coal burning ovens. When I took my family to Grimaldi’s last year, the six of us at five large pies. Were we that gluttonous? Not really. Those pizzas (pizze?) were amazing, with limited amounts of toppings and sauce and a heavenly crust — light, a bit of spring, and charred a bit on the bottom. This is a very light pizza, and we don’t have anything like it around these parts.

Now I could just deal with the reality that I’ll have to eat pretty crummy pizza wherever I go in Raleigh, or I could go the extreme route and cut off the cleaning-cycle lock on my oven to cook my own pies at super-high temperatures like this guy. A friend of mine in Durham did this, and his pizza is clearly the best I’ve had in the Triangle. I need to get invited back! Or I could just change the way I order my pizza at places where they do a decent job. Read the rest of this entry »


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