Worth the Wait

Worth the Wait

O n weekends, when the brunch crowd emerges in search of poached eggs and mimosas, “people wait outside for nearly an hour” to eat at Bella’s Cafe, founder-owner Rose Foote says. We’ve personally waited longer. 

Inside, Bella’s is casual but quirky, its walls painted in greens, yellows and plums overseen by a statue of the diner’s mascot, a rooster, which also appears on the sign out front. “There’s nothing major behind it,” Foote says of the fowl. “I just love roosters.”

Foote comes from a long line of restaurateurs and says she’s been cooking since she was nine years old. “When I was 25… the passion hit me really strongly. I knew this was what I wanted to do,” she says. While paying her dues working for others, she says she always dreamed of opening her own place—a dream that came true 17 years ago with Bella’s.

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The coffee is strong and bubbly, served in thick off-white mugs, and the portions are hefty. The day of my visit, the brunch menu, filled with special items and available on weekends, had perhaps a dozen dishes, from egg- and meat-based meals to sweeter fare. Foote says the offerings change week to week, according to seasonality and her own tastes. She’s recently been experimenting with a tiramisu French toast concoction, for example.

Off the regular breakfast menu, my dining companion tried the Bella’s Benedict ($14.89), served on toasted, buttered, house-made English muffins. In lieu of Canadian bacon, it came with a thick pork steak, smoky and tender. The poached eggs, smothered in a cheery yellow hollandaise, were soft but not too runny. Even the home fries on the side—a reminder of how good potatoes can be, equal parts crispy and creamy, butter-cooked and dotted with chives—had a kind of elegance to them.

From the brunch menu that day, I ordered a Belgian Waffle ($13.89), soon discovering that that was an understatement, since the dish had not one but three. Perhaps an extra-sturdy base was needed to support the pillowy mound of whipped cream the waffles wore like a giant hat, which hid several jammy figs as well as a sizable slice of brie.

The waffles were surrounded by a pool of apricot and fig compote, which was sweet, floral and slightly boozy. The combination of a sliver of salty brie and a bite of this fruit melange, all dusted with cinnamon, was worth the trip on its own. The waffles themselves were a slight disappointment, succumbing to sogginess within a few bites.

Also off the brunch menu, we tried the special Chocolate Babka French Toast ($15.89), which held its own much better than the waffles did. The bread was stuffed with rich, crumbly cocoa filling and served with another intriguing fruit sauce: a chocolate raspberry concoction that was simpler than the apricot stuff but still delicious.

Bella’s aims for the sweet spot between hominess and sophistication. “We want it to be a warm, comforting atmosphere,” Foote says. “We serve dishes that you might not make at home, but they may remind you of something you loved as a kid.”

Bella’s Café
896 Whalley Ave, New Haven (map)
Tue-Fri 8am-3pm, Sat-Sun 8am-4pm
(203) 387-7107
www.bellascafect.com

Written by Sorrel Westbrook. Photographed by Dan Mims.

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Sorrel is a California transplant to New Haven. She studied English at Harvard and fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She spends her free time among her house rabbits and houseplants, looking at maps of Death Valley. She loves New England for its red brick and rainstorms and will travel great distances in pursuit of lighthouses and loud music.

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