Al Fresco Escape
Bellini’s patio is our private, mid-day getaway.
By Jan Walsh
Bellini’s Ristorante and Bar is a short, scenic drive from Liberty Park. We go “the back way” down Sicard Hollow, onto Grants Mill Road and over Lake Purdy, to hit Highway 119. And in ten minutes we are there.
Today we have lunch reservations for the patio. This brick-walled, flower lined oasis has umbrellaed tables, where we are tucked away from view. This is one of my favorite patios anywhere. It is the place for casual privacy, not to see and be seen.
Bellini’s hand-crafted cocktails are always a must, especially for Saturday lunch. I start with Strawberry Limoncello Spritz. And my Irish husband orders the White Irishman. Our drinks are opposites. My long, tall glass is a refreshing mix of Maschio Prosecco, Limoncello, fresh strawberries, and lemon. Kev’s lowball is a creamy sipper of Jameson, Kahlua, and cream. We pair our drinks with a shared starter of Bellini’s famous Pastel Formaggio. This fried blend of cheeses, with the texture of a cheese dip, boasts an incredible variety of flavors that meld together inside a thin, crispy crust. The cheese ball is encircled with the Gulf’s finest textured, sauteed and succulent shrimp, served warm. And both the cheeses and shrimp are enhanced by the heat and acidity of their sun fire marinara.
For entrees, Kev orders Chef Andrew Hatcher's Eight Ounce Filet Mignon. And I opt for his Picatta, which comes with options of chicken, shrimp, or Gulf Grouper, which I select. Our server asks Kev to cut the steak to ensure it is cooked as ordered. And his first cut proves its degree of doneness is precisely as ordered. Well charred outside, pink and juicy inside, and finely grained texture throughout this tender beef. It is served with a generous helping of tasty Gouda mashed potatoes and crisp tobacco onions. My Piccata is a lovely bowl of al dente capellini with shallots, leeks, white wine, lemon, and caperberries, crowned with a flat, fine filet of grouper. I love caperberries, and they make this dish unique, as piccata is typically served with capers. While both come from the caper bush, capers are the unopened buds, whereas caperberries are the fruit, milder with more starch than capers. I nibble them like olives, enhancing the fish and pasta.
Many years ago, I wrote a review of ALL of Bellini’s desserts. And from that experience, the most memorable dish was their Red Velvet Cheesecake. I see it remains on the menu to this day, and no wonder. Yet rather than eating the entire dessert menu again, I ask Kev to choose because I plan to only eat a bite. He selects the Salted Caramel Cheesecake, knowing I won’t be able to resist. So, I opt for the Godiva Martini, knowing he won’t either. With what should have been my one bite of the cheesecake, I am Wowed! It melts in my mouth, just as my favorite candy, a block of caramel did as a child, coating my palate with its lusciousness. Dollops of caramel sauce add additional caramel flavors and moisture to the rich, tall layers of New York style cheesecake, infused with salted caramel. Fresh blueberries add a fruitiness to this creamy piece of heaven. The cheesecake pairs perfectly with the chocolate martini of Godiva Dark Chocolate, Pinnacle Whipped Vodka, Baileys Irish Cream, and cream. This pairing is highly recommended!
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