In Salem, Bella Verona takes patrons back in time to authentic Italy. By Anna and David Kasabian // photograph by Fawn Deviney
Sometimes it happens that amid the whirl and din of new and creative fusion-inspired foods, we long for something else—something inarguably authentic and reassuringly faithful to the spirit of dishes that were perfected long ago. When that happens to you—and admit it, it does—the place to head is Bella Verona, a timeless gem of Italian dining ensconced in a low-slung building, exactly where it has been since 1996, just across the street from the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem.
Bustling by six o’clock on a Saturday night and packed not long after, Bella Verona spontaneously immerses you in kitschy Old World décor, heady aromas from the kitchen, and chatter of delighted diners nestled snuggly side-by-side in an intimate 36-seat room with no wasted space. Ironically, you will not feel crowded, and instead, you will feel welcome in the communal buzz and cared for by the speedy, smiling wait staff.
Whether you choose from the specials list or from the printed menu, you can’t go wrong. Not with dishes like the Eggplant Napoleon and starters like the shrimp with polenta, both expertly cooked and rich with fresh, lively flavors.
For the pasta course, we suggest the Linguini Capasante e Gamberi, tasty al dente linguini in a delicate marinara sauce with gloriously simple pan-fried shrimp and fresh scallops. Next, the Tortellini Mantecati: peas and mushrooms with tender little packages of stuffed pasta baked in a redolent Parmesan cream sauce.
Thank heaven, someone still makes chicken francese exactly like this: tender sautéed chicken breast enrobed in lemon and butter sauce, topped with pleasingly sharp and floral capers. And bravo for the veal florentine, which features fork-tender scaloppini with spinach and mozzarella in a deeply flavored sauce of white wine and demi-glace.
For dessert, what else but tiramisu and cannoli, each one a textbook example of precisely what these delicacies are supposed to be like: bursting with the gleaming, fresh flavors of quality ingredients prepared and served with skill, care, and confidence. Each one, like Bella Verona itself, is a classic.
The Menu: Chef/Co-Owner: Georgio Manzana. Antipasti: Eggplant Napoleon ($11.95), Shrimp with Polenta ($12.95). Pasta: Linguini Capesante e Gamberi ($15.95), Tortellini Mantecati ($13.95). Main Course: Chicken Francese ($19.95), Veal Florentine ($23.95). Dessert: Cannoli ($6), Tiramisu ($6). Location: 107 Essex Street, Salem, 978-825-9911, bellaverona.com