Walk into Bella Nonna Restaurant & Pizzeria and you just may think it is an Italian version of "Cheers," where everyone knows your name ... and your favorite dish.
In the two weeks the restaurant on Railroad Avenue has been open, manager Joe Sandolo is seeing many familiar faces. Diners who patronized his original Bella Nonna during the 15 years it was a mainstay in the Cos Cob section of Greenwich, have discovered the reincarnation of the eatery. There were plenty of bear hugs, kisses and handshakes to go around as he greeted the patrons on Friday night.
Donald and Carol Maguire of Greenwich decided to reestablish their family tradition of having a weekend dinner at Bella Nonna. "We were driving by the other day and saw the sign. We decided to come by tonight," Carol Maguire said.
"There are very few places in town that are family friendly with good food," said Donald Maguire. "We used to go almost every weekend," he said of the former Cos Cob location. And the choices sat very well with their boys Kieran, 8, a fan of pasta with pesto, and Daniel, 6, a pizza aficionado.
And seeing the Maguire family is just what Sandolo and Bella Nonna's owner, Tony Crudele, say they like to see. "You can come on a date or with the family."
The regulars and families who enjoy authentic Italian food that isn't served with a side of sticker shock. Crudele said, "All of our dishes are under $21, from pizza to filet mignon."
The wide-ranging menu offers everything from pizza, paninis and pastas, to chicken, veal and seafood entress and a variety of daily specials created by chef Enzo Roppo. He's a native of Ragi, Italy, who hails from Arthur Avenue in New York where he learned his craft and worked in several restaurants including his own.
"The menu should be treated as a guide," said Crudele. "If you don't see something, ask."
Roppo added, "I will make anything people request." Indeed, on Friday night he expertly prepared a seafood papardelle garnished with oven roasted tomatoes as requested by Sandolo's daughter Joeilynnae 'Joey' Sandolo who also helps out at the restaurant.
Roppo also makes the house desserts that range from cheesecake to tiramisu. He also makes the rolls, garlic knots and foccacia that fill the baskets given diners as they settle in.
"People tell me they want good, authentic Italian food, not some designer pizza," Joe Sandolo said.
Crudele, who works in finance in Stamford, said he remembers visiting the former Bella Nonna while growing up in Greenwich. He said the Railroad Avenue location appealed to him and Joe Sandolo because of its proximity to downtown Greenwich and the large Italian population in the Chickahominy section of Greenwich.
"It's a perfect location. There's plenty of parking. It's convenient right off Exit 3 (off I-95), and the Post Road," Joe Sandolo said. There are a couple changes though. The dining room seats about 45 instead of the 120 in the Cos Cob location. "What's big now is that we deliver lunch and dinner," he added. "It's very popular." The restaurant also provides take-out and catering services, he said.
As he waited for dinners to bring home to his wife and three children, Paul Heerdt said, "I was disappointed they closed to build another bank. I'm happy they reopened. This was our Friday night tradition."
Carol Scopoletti and her husband Joe marveled at the new decor as they walked in on Friday. "We couldn't wait for it to reopen," said Joe Scopoletti, who estimated they dined at the original Bella Nonna at least twice a month.
Joeilynnae Sandolo said she's glad to be back helping in the restaurant business. "I grew up around the restaurant business and used to waitress at the old Bella. So I don't mind helping. I think the town of Greenwich is glad Bella is back," she said.
Indeed. Lifelong Cos Cob native and Selectman Drew Marzullo welcomed the news of Bella Nonna's reopening.
"I'm glad they're back. I frequented Bella Nonna many times with my family and with my ambulance crew for their great food. Their pizzas are great," Marzullo said.
He added, "It's great anytime a local business comes back to Greenwich ... and I get extra excited when it's food."
The one thing patrons will notice before walking into Bella Nonna—the life-sized statue of the woman with outstretched arms, dressed in Old World clothes is missing. "We have to get another ... we're looking for one," Crudele said. "The hands (of the original statue) were missing and the back was broken."
Bella Nonna Restaurant & Pizzeria
280 Railroad Ave., Greenwich
Hours: Monday through Thursday: 11 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m.- 10 p.m.; Sunday: noon - 9 p.m.