Cafe Bella has been nestled in Fort Worth's cozy Westcliff neighborhood for 12 years, serving up spaghetti and eggplant parm to legions of TCU students and families alike. In fact, owners Sal Kaba and now Eli Golemi have created such a popular restaurant that customers routinely drive from across the area to dine at the small neighborhood joint.
Add Cafe Bella's BYOB policy to the mix, and virtually any night of the week you visit, you'll find family-friendly revelry -- not to mention a heckuva lot of good eats going on here.
Just like in any neighborhood, people move on, and about a year ago, Kaba gave up day-to-day operations of the place (he's still part-owner), leaving veteran Golemi in charge. With a warm smile, she frequently greets you at the door. A change in wineglass, an added garden outside ... these are all the new manager's touches. Soon, new paint will dress the walls, lending a gentle update to the surroundings. But the one thing Golemi won't change is the food. And grazie to that.
The menu is not groundbreaking, it's just simple Italian food you can find on menus all across town. What's different is that these classics are reliably solid. We started with the garlic bread with cheese ($2.50), French bread smothered with garlic, olive oil and densely packed mozzarella. It was as good as it sounds; the cheese half-melted, half-chewy in texture, and the garlic subtle in flavor. It hit the spot after a stressful week.
Our entrees were also spot-on. Torn between the lighter entree of cappellini broccoli ($8.95) or comfort-food-on-a-plate -- eggplant parmigiana ($6.95) -- I chose the latter and wasn't sorry. Thinly cut pieces of eggplant stud the tangy marinara sauce, and the melted cheese (do you detect a theme here?) binds it all together deliciously.
My companion, who claims to be the "healthy one" in the relationship, usually gravitates to chicken and vegetable entrees, so he ordered the chicken castalini ($10.95), a mix of sauteed chicken, artichokes and portobello mushrooms in a light cream sauce. Spaghetti and a salad (which he substituted for the side vegetable) rounded out the dish. Permitted a few bites of his meal, I noted that the artichokes could have been cooked longer, but the mushrooms were tasty, as was the chicken.
The junior eaters of our family, whose favorite food group happens to be cheese, were charmed by the kids' personal pan cheese pizza ($6.95), which the menu says can feed two. It turned out to be larger than you think -- so big that we were reaching for a slice, and there was nary a complaint. The underside of the pizza had a nice char and the crust was surprisingly crispy. All in all, it was a better-than-average, flavorful effort, especially since its only topping was cheese and tomato sauce.
In good weather, diners happily flock to the great covered patio, and the restaurant also has a dining room for private parties. All of it adds up to a homey, comfortable place, whether you're a TCU football player (we've seen team members there on many occasions) or just eat like one.
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