ROCKLAND – Three’s a spot on the South Shore that serves huge portions of family-style Italian food, and where it feels like Sunday supper seven nights a week.
Lenny Barnes is the man behind the “mangia” at Bella’s in Rockland. Along with his family, he runs this massive, 300 seat, no-frills Italian-American restaurant that was originally opened by his parents, and named after his grandmother Bella.
“Originating in Braintree in 1972, we moved here in ’86. We’ve been here for 28 year, and most of our menu is still intact with the original recipes,” Lenny explained. “ A lot of it is real traditional: lasagna, eggplant, chicken parm, the tomato sauce. My brother Robert makes all the dressings and all the sauces. I think the consistency, and the portion size, and the value, you know, is tough to match!”
Portions aren’t just ample here, they’re abbondanza. Center cut pork chops are an inch thick and over a pound in weight. Cocktail shrimp are plump and crisp. The Lasagna is stacked with so many layers, it’s a miracle it can stand up straight. The Hot Antipasti platter with stuffed mushrooms, clams casino, sausage, and shrimp scampi is almost too big for its own good!
“You know, do we give more than we should? We’re stuck with it! OK? Would I like to have better margins and give smaller dishes? Sure. But that’s not what we do here,” Lenny said. “People come here, they love it. They love to take it home. “Some people don’t come here because the portions are too big. Well, come here and split something with somebody; have a salad; have a steak.”
The only problem is, the salads and steaks aren’t exactly small either. In fact, the Caprese is a beauty to behold, packed with vine-ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and housemade pesto. The Surf and Turf boasts big flavors from both land and sea.
“It’s lobster tails, grilled shrimp, grilled scallops, and it’s a Delmonico steak, which my mom always cooked and my family loved. We cook in a black skillet. You sear that piece of meat, and the marbling and the flavor comes off there. The lobster and the shrimp and scallops are marinated. So it’s a little bit of a yin and yang there where you’re having a lot of real nice flavors on that plate.”
The most popular plate at Bella’s, by far, is their classic Chicken Parmigiana, featuring two perfectly pan-fried chicken breasts and plenty of everything else.
“We certainly don’t skimp on anything,” said Lenny. “That chicken parm has been the same since 1972, so about 40 years. In the winter, in our busy season, 500 pounds of chicken a week, plus. So it’s a lot of work. It’s always fresh. You can come in with a husband and wife and a couple of children, and take a salad home and a chicken parm with ziti. People tell me they eat for three days with it. It’s a beautiful, hearty, large dish that – certainly you can eat the whole thing – but it’s great the next day too.”
Bella’s famous lobster bowtie pasta in a pink cream sauce is Chef Brian Woodberry’s personal favorite, starting out with seared scallops, fresh shrimp, and sliced carrots. Then, the magic really happens when it all comes together: lobster tail, fresh garlic, heavy cream. Then there’s the red sauce.
“This is a lobster based red sauce,” the chef explained. “It’s cooked for about four and a half hours – very flavorful sauce that will turn this into a pink cream which is the signature of the dish. Add our fresh herbs, our pasta, toss it and then we serve it to the guest.”
Before you order a Flourless Chocolate Soufflé or homemade tiramisu for dessert, there’s one more dish you need to know at Bella’s: their authentic Italian-style grilled pizza.
“We learned about this in Italy about 15 years ago. Everybody said you had to try this new pizza place. You couldn’t even get near the door,” Lenny recalled. “Well, I was there for a day and I had to get in. So I just walked in the front door, and walked right in the kitchen and said, ‘Hey! Bonjorno! How you doing?’ And I just looked around and saw what they were doing and I said, ‘You wouldn’t believe it! They’re putting pizza dough on the grill and they’re grilling the pizza and they’re putting toppings on it and people are going crazy.’”
“They’re just a different type of pizza. I’d never say it’s the best, but I think we do a great job at it. Who’s the best at anything? Let’s face it. I would say I hold my head high and I would try 100 percent and we have consistency. There’s better pizza in Italy, I know that. So why would I say it was the best?” he laughed.
You can find Bella’s at 933 Hingham Street in Rockland, and online at bellasrestaurant.com.
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