We were both feeling restless yesterday so I suggested we try a new restaurant. To be on the safe side, I opted for something new-to-us and Italian cuisine versus something very off our radar. And that’s how we ended up in Wexford dining at Bella Frutteto.
We both like Italian food. We stopped supporting a former favorite when we learned the owners were big Trump supporters. And then we lost our beloved Papa J’s in a devastating fire. So we’ve been bopping around trying different spaces with mixed results. We both like an Italian restaurant that includes bread service & a soup/salad choice with the price of the entrée. And by salad, I do not mean a giant sea of iceberg lettuce with a few croutons. That’s my comfort zone – a meal that comes with bread and soup/salad.
I really liked the menu at Bella Frutteto and was sure we’d find plenty of good options. We made a reservation for 6 PM and made our way north. The restaurant is located in a shopping plaza just off the Wexford exit of 79, at the far end of the space anchored by Eat-n-Park. They claim to have a back patio that has a view and even though it is a shopping center, that’s true.
We opted to dine inside. The staff was very nice. Our reserved table was all set with menus and napkins and accoutrements which made it easy to get settled without having to juggle everything. The decor is sort of suburbanite rustic fru-fru, lots of wood and candles and fancy shaped serving platters but not enough to make you forget you are in a shopping center – the scented hand soap in plastic bottles in the bathroom, for example.
We started off with the apple pierogie appetizer, bread, and Laura ordered a dinner salad (sadly, not included with the entrée.) Our table was quickly full and the juggle for space began. The pierogies were a traditional cheese stuffed variety with sautéed apples, raisins and figs. It was delicious, the tartness of the apple pairing well with cheese in this mashup as much as in a more traditional setting. The bread was delicious Italian, crusty but not so much that I’m wrestling the loaf for my piece and resorting to wrenching movements. It was served with whipped butter and a side dish of olive oil with some sort of mushy bread dipping stuff that probably included
garlic and other stuff.
You can see my inner-foodie shining through, right?
Laura’s salad was huge and half was transported home to be divided between us for our Sunday supper. It was green, leafy, included diced cucumbers and tomatoes, all the good stuff. One issue is that her salad was served before the appetizer so that awkward timing was a bit annoying.
Laura ordered Chicken Piccata, a long-standing favorite. She pronounced it ‘pretty good’ and polished off about half the serving before giving up.
I opted for a dinner special, a Spinach and Asiago stuffed chicken breast with a red pepper pasta. The presentation of my meal was glorious. And while tasty, it was really heavy on the panko breading and light on the other ingredients. When breading overwhelms, it dims the entire meal. The pasta was good, but served more as a battleground for me to hack the breaded chicken open without anything spilling on the floor than an accent to the meal.
We were stuffed and I was feeling antsy about the invading hordes of wine drinkers so we decided to skip desert and head to a nearby Starbucks.
Overall, this restaurant is pretty decent. The food was tasty and just a titch over our preferred price point given the lack of salad/soup choices. It wasn’t great enough to make a special trip back out to Wexford, but if we are going to be in the area – I would definitely consider stopping by again.
The staff were generally friendly, but slightly leaning into the “I used to work at Applebee’s friendliness with the usual slight abruptness once they find out we aren’t ordering alcohol. It is a real phenom. This is precisely why we should pay fair prices for our prepared food so the staff are compensated and we skip the tipping dance.
I asked our server a few questions and she actually took my menu out of my hand to read aloud to me which took me aback. Maybe I was asking a silly question, but – it’s still a question, right? She kept our beverages filled and bread refilled. She very nicely juggled all of the plates and platters and serving dishes. I can’t really fault her because I saw the giant crowd head into the party room and watched the staff exchange glances.
The restaurant does boast about vegetarian and gluten-free items, including desserts. Unfortunately, there were no obvious vegan choices.
In terms of eco factors, the restaurant serves straws automatically with beverages and doesn’t ask ahead of time if we want one. I predict this will be come a major factor in the next year and urge all restaurants to get on board. If the straw is handed to me wrapped, I can put in my purse to use later But once its in my drink, I’m sucking the life blood out of mother Earth against my will.
The restaurant also has tacky procedures for packing leftover. They use styrofoam because this is the affluent white suburban part of Pittsburgh, but more Trump than Al Gore. I hate when someone brings me a big awkward styrofoam container and expects me to pack my own food on a table that’s the size of a napkin and filled with dirty dishes. At least offer to pack the food. It takes an experienced staff person 30% of the time I spend juggling this task. Laura had asked for her salad to be packed and they actually put it in styrofoam, wrapped in a plastic bag, and sat it next to her place setting before the entrée arrived. It was just a typical Pittsburgh takeaway experience and it is annoying. It is not the server’s fault because the procedures and materials are decided by the owner.
But it is interesting to think that a restaurant tied to a nearby apple orchard doesn’t take environmental sustainability into account. It is like we want to have our preserved apple pierogies in a cheap transportable container and eat them, too.
I guess that’s not far from the truth. I would expect a restaurant connected to an orchard to do much, much better on these issues.
I spied at least one other queer couple in the restaurant, but there was nothing on the website or in the restaurant that suggested their commitment to being a welcoming and affirming space. I actually took a moment to confirm the restaurant is in Allegheny County (it is) because the adjacent Butler County does not have LGBT protections in place. Laura and I pretty much pass as two middle-aged cis het ladies, but it would be smart for the restaurant to make a subtle statement about a welcoming environment.
The website is stuck in 1999. The Twitter feed hasn’t been updated since January, but Facebook is much better utilized. I have no idea what the “she/he” gender issue about shitzus has to do with the restaurant, btw (click the Twitter link to see what I mean.) If I had looked at that ahead of time, I might have declined to dine there because it raises a red flag about dog breeders and so forth. People don’t often stop to think about the impact of their decision to start a social media channel and then abandon it.
Overall, this place is exactly what I would expect in a socially conservative predominantly white suburb, from the shopping center location to the styrofoam. While we were treated perfectly nicely, it was clear that our actual communities are not the focus of this restaurant. And it is a bit away from the City so I can understand that their base is definitely more Trump than AOC, but that is true only because they don’t make an effort. Adding a few vegan items to the menu, replacing styrofoam with compostable take away boxes and tying that overtly to the apple orchard, and routinely asking customers if we want straws are simple efforts to tangibly improve the reach.
There wasn’t a single person of color in the restaurant that we saw. That’s an issue that should also get some attention from the owners. Representation is important both in terms of who utilizes a public space like a restaurant and who is employed there. And, yes, people of color do live in the North Hills, do drive to try new restaurants, and do eat Italian food (and apples.) Bella wouldn’t go wrong by teaming up with someone like The Good Peoples Group to be a leader in creating an inclusive food culture in the Wexford area. People like me are looking for those indicators that a business shares my values and welcomes my entire family, not just my money.
Overall, I’d recommend Bella Frutteto for good quality food and a pretty comfortable environment. It is a nice, safe, tasty space for white middle and upper middle class folks. I would return, but I know this would require me leaning into my white middle-aged lady privilege to feel comfortable and welcome and that’s not a tradeoff I always want to do. If the restaurant did some work or highlighted existing work on inclusion and representation, I’d be more inclined to return soon. We live in an era where lots of people like me make decisions about where to invest their money based on our social values.
If Bella put some effort into addressing their ecology principles and becoming a more inclusive, representative space, they could be even more fruitful.
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