FORK IN THE ROAD Bello Bellino’s Remembering holiday shopping trips in downtown New Orleans with my mother, we always had lunch at Tony’s Italian Restaurant in the French Quarter; since then, I’ve always loved Italian eateries during the holidays and Bellino’s on Jackson Street in Alexandria offers similar holiday cheer.
At Bellino’s you know you’re in for a unique dining experience when the menu offers a fine cigar selection and cocktails include Hurricanes and the spicy “Bucktown Bloody Mary” – a triple vodka shot brew, served in a 20 oz schooner, with a jumbo boiled Gulf shrimp, green bean, pickled okra, lemon, lime and boiled crawfish garnish. All dishes, from appetizer to entrée, are colorful and flavorful, with an exquisite intensity that borders on the operatic. There is an undercurrent of New Orleans cuisine running through the dishes here, as though the Chef borrowed a little something from each cultural dining venue in the Big Easy. Appetizers like BBQ Shrimp – broiled in Italian barbecue sauce served with Italian dipping bread – or Bellino’s Seafood Stuffed Artichoke – a giant artichoke filled with fried shrimp, catfish, crawfish, topped with a dill cream sauce – seem to have been inspired by New Orleans food.
The salads are no less subdued and delicious. Blue Buffalo Salad – three slabs of marinated beefsteak tomato, bacon and fresh basil serves as a base for thick puffs of fresh Mozzarella or bleu cheese combined with streamers of shredded purple onion that has marinated in balsamic vinaigrette. Enduring Italian dishes are available as well in the form of Eggplant Parmigiana, Baked Manicotti stuffed with beef, cheeses and Italian seasoning in house red sauce and the sweet divinity of Beef Brociolone – steak rolled with an Italian spice and cheese blend, soaking up tomato gravy.
The unforgettable Bistecca con Aragosta is a magnificent meal of an 8 oz lobster tail broiled to perfection, with drawn butter for dipping, and an 8 oz tender filet mignon served on the same platter au jus. Bellino’s makes their own Italian sausage, and when served over pasta, enjoyed with bread and a bottle of Chianti, you will feel much too happy to take any personal irritations “to the mattresses.”
Gentlemen, or adventurous ladies, who wish to polish off their meal with a fine cigar, may retire to the smoking balcony for a puff or two. Among the primo cigars offered on the menu, you’ll find the Onyx Reserve – a full-bodied Maduro-wrapped handmade cigar from the Dominican Republic, redolent with spicy Peruvian, Cuban-seed Ligero tobaccos. If you simply want dessert, don’t pass up the Snicker’s Cheesecake. Bellino’s Restaurant, 4619 Jackson Street, Alexandria; (318) 767-5980.