Location: 1810 Baltimore, KC MO
Food: Wood-fired pizzas
Service: Unremarkable waitstaff
Atmosphere: Tiny. Somehow vibrant & cold at once.
Price: $9 - $14 pizzas. A little steep.
Rating: One napkin. Barely.
Kansas City doesn't do pizza very well.
Now that I have your attention, let me qualify that statement. In other cities across the country, Neapolitan pizza (pizza napoletana) has had a huge uprising. We're talking freshly made crusts, pies with simple, artisinal toppings (and not too many of them), cooked in a brick or wood fire oven at super high heats, not a pizza conveyor. We're talking freshness, chewy-but-crispyness, and hints of char flavor. We're talking long handled pizza boards that slide delicious pies into and out of ovens with a learned dexterity. We're talking pizzas made with love.
Kansas City has a lot of Americanized chain pizza places, but there are really only about three different Neapolitan-style pizza places here: Spin!, Blue Grotto and Pizza Bella.
So when I found a discounted gift certificate for Pizza Bella online recently, I jumped on it. And last Saturday evening, after taking in "The Social Network" (really good and interesting movie), we went for a long-awaited visit.
Pizza Bella's status has been a bit shaky lately. Its ownership may have changed, but I haven't been able to confirm. Those familiar with Rob Dalzell's other establishments including 1924 Main, Souperman and Yummo know that a run of unfortunate circumstances have led all three to close, so there were lots of rumors Pizza Bella would bite the dust, too.
Those who seek it out, however, find a quaint little spot with big front windows and a modern-chic interior of tasteful wood, painted concrete, white curtains and bright red accent chairs. A tiny bar sits just inside the entrance and the hearth of the restaurant, its wood fired oven, is in the southwest corner wafting delicious aromas that immediately induce salivation. For my taste, the place could use a little more of the wood accents on the walls for increased warmth, and sound deadening materials would be nice, too. But overall, this is a tastefully designed dining environment.
Needless to say, attention to our needs was lacking. Eventually our water arrived in a pretty bottle and we hastily ordered beers (Boulevard Pale Ale and a Stout). We were elated to find Brussels sprouts among the appetizers and upon our server's recommendation, ordered them plus the Butter Lettuce salad. The server was wrong about the portion of the Brussels sprouts, though, which was large and incredibly filling. By the time we finished them and the salad, we were full.
The salad was, unexpectedly, overdressed with a creamy white dressing. Described as "anchovy lemon vinaigrette," we thought it would have been less... opaque. Maybe it was the anchovies? Regardless, there was too much of it. Otherwise, the butter lettuce would have been nicely crisp and we could've actually tasted the shaved fennel, sliced radish and chives also mixed in. Great recipe, poor execution.
Pizza Bella has all the earmarks of a good restaurant concept that just hasn't been maintained. Nearly everything in our trip was lacking. The entire experience felt like competing in a sports match in which we were losing by an insurmountable margin and failure was a foregone conclusion.
Walking out, we agreed that despite a theoretically good menu and mostly nice dining room, we weren't likely to return. At least not on our own dime. I'd love nothing more than to hear scuttlebutt that a new owner or new chef was pumping life back into the place, but I fear it's more likely I'll hear of it closing instead. I like Pizza Bella, but I'm not sure Pizza Bella likes me back.
Rating: one napkin. barely.