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La bella Bella's
A meatball sub done right: Not too much or too little marinara and cheese

Savannah is rich with restaurant traditions: The Olde Pink House for crispy scored flounder, Johnny Harris Restaurant for fried chicken and pit smoked barbecue — and Bella’s Italian Cafe for Italian cuisine.

I know families who have a standing lunch or dinner gathering at Bella’s every week, with no exceptions. This stalwart little eatery has anchored the Habersham Village district for years — long before many of the newcomers earned additional attention for the two–block retail village.

I loved the baked ziti: al dente pasta rich with chunks of tangy tomato and spicy Italian sausage. A warm layer of gooey, melted Mozzarella blanketed the dish and help bind together bites that were sometimes too big, but were just to comforting to delay.

I went back for lunch and scored a big meatball sandwich. The emphasis was not lost in the kitchen — the great flavor of the meatballs was not doused by too much marinara or cheese — it was a dish that exemplified balance.

On a previous visit, I reluctantly shared the big antipasto salad with Ms. T.J. The big bowl of Romaine lettuce is topped with Genoa salami, Mortadella, Prosciutto and Capicola.

Add a duo of cheeses — Provolone, Fontina — and then brightly flavored artichokes hearts, olives, giardiniera (a spicy mix of pickled vegetables) and cherry tomatoes. It’s a meal, even for two.

Bella’s has a nicely rounded wine list, present in a novel way on labels glued to wine bottles on each table.

The list is broken by pricing and offers by–the–glass or bottle prices ranging from budget friendly to special occasion prices.

Our servers on both visits were attentive and knowledgeable about the menu.

The cozy dining room is soothing and inviting — a perfect escape for a special meal out.

Bella’s Italian Cafe/4420 Habersham St./354–4005

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It’s easy to forget about little mom–and–pop joints that are off the beaten path. I visited two of mine last week, and encourage you to troll the archives to read my original stories.

La Xalapena at 2308 Skidaway Road doesn’t have beer or frozen margaritas. What is does have is made–to–order Mexican classics and specials straight from the family cookbook of owner Ernestina Ortiz.

The kitchen is tidy and clean as a pin. The enchiladas and open face soft tacos I saw being made looked awesome, but not nearly as intriguing as the steaming, savory bowl of chicken soup — complete with two big skin–on pieces of dark meat.

Late last week, I watched out the windows of Desposito’s Seafood as the setting sun warmed marsh grass and Spanish Moss — and the neon beer lights sprang to life inside this seafood honky–tonk in Thunderbolt.

It’s tough to find, tucked behind the boat dealer nearly underneath the Thunderbolt Bridge. I had a cold beer and the Lowcountry Boil basket.

It was very fresh, and so hot on arrival I had to wait a few minutes to handle my first shrimp.

The menu also includes crab legs, blue crab, oysters and the restaurant’s popular shrimp salad sandwich. The concrete floor is polished smooth by repeated scrubbings. Jukebox, big screen TVs, cold beer, fresh seafood — yeah.

Lost? Call ’em at 897–9963 to be talked in.