Behind the Plates: Bella Italia making a splash in Lakemont

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec Antonio Serradella and Rosaria Ubaldi, both originally from Brooklyn, are shown in their restaurant Bella Italia.

They both were born in Brooklyn into restaurateur families from Sicily, but they didn’t meet each other until they moved to central Pennsylvania.

Rosaria Ubaldi and Antonio Serradella became personal partners and then, in 2015, business partners and opened a restaurant in Lakemont. Less than two years later, Bella Italia has become the regular dining experience for a number of local Italian food lovers.

“It’s pretty good Italian food. I recommend it,” said Sonny Sclafani, a Brooklyn native who now lives in Hollidaysburg and eats at Bella Italia several times a month. “I like the calamari, anything.”

Another regular, Kathy Uliano, said the wedding soup “is to die for,” while her fellow guest, Don Verderame, said the shrimp alfredo with fettucine is his favorite, but “Everything is great.”

A newcomer, Ted Kane had just finished the steak stromboli.

“It’s very good with lots of meat,” he said. “The bread is very good, too. It’s like they brush it with olive oil or something.”

Ubaldi smiled and nodded yes.

“We do not use the cheap stuff either,” she said. “Extra-virgin olive oil. We buy good quality. And our food is fresh, no pre-made sauces, nothing frozen. If you come in and want to add something, you can. It’s made just for you. It’s real food.”

They use a butter wine sauce for many pasta dishes, too. “Nobody has that,” Ubaldi said, adding that they grow their own herbs in season.

She said the dishes on the menu — as well as chalkboard specials — are derived from family recipes and the couple working in the business most of their lives.

Seafood canneloni was a recent dinner special, but Serradella said if a customer returns later and it’s not on the board, “we’ll make it.”

“We have special dishes so people don’t get bored with the menu,” he said.

“I make what I crave,” Ubaldi added, explaining that she was in the mood for a special lasagna recipe recently and made a batch for herself — and customers.

You can get their regular meat lasagna anytime, along with a number of pizza options made with fresh-made dough.

Traditional pizza offerings range from meat lovers to Hawaiian. Bella Italia also has white pizza — no sauce — as well as pan pizza, including Gramma’s that has fresh basil, garlic, mozzarella and sauce and will melt in your mouth.

Serradella gave a nod to their roots in Brooklyn — often considered the heart of American pizza culture — as the source of their pizza success.

Daily soups may include pasta fagioli, clam chowder, lobster, wedding and Maryland crab.

The menu includes an array of appetizers, wraps and salads, stromboli and calzones, hot and cold subs, hamburgers and cheese steaks, and traditional pasta dinners. Then, there is the section on “entrees from Sicily” that features chicken, seafood and veal prepared more than a dozen ways.

Serradella typically makes the pizzas, while Ubaldi is the cook. But they will pitch in and help one another depending on customer demand. She also is the sweets expert: Cannoli and tiramisu are on the menu every day, but you also might find her pastry she calls “tri-color” that is coated on the top with semi-sweet chocolate and strawberry jam between the different-colored layers.

Ubaldi said she and Serradella spent most of their lives in restaurants, with both of their sets of parents in the business in New York and returning regularly to their hometown of Carini on the Italian island of Sicily.

When Ubaldi was 9, her family returned to Sicily long-term, and she stayed there until she was 21, got married, had a child and moved to Rome. Two years laters when the marriage didn’t work, she followed her parents who had relocated to New Jersey and later to central Pennsylvania, operating restaurants wherever they went.

She has lived in Tyrone for nine years, at first operating a restaurant bearing her son’s name, Andrea’s, in Lewistown. That is where she met Serradella, who had operated a restaurant in Harrisburg. After they began dating, they decided to merge operations into one in Altoona and they found and remodeled the building that now houses Bella Italia.

“It’s a miracle that we were both born in Brooklyn and our families are from Carini and we met here,” she said. “It must have been God’s will for us to do this together.”

Mirror Life Writer Cherie Hicks is at 949-7030.

Behind the Plates: Bella Italia Pizza

328 S. Logan Blvd., Altoona

(814) 944-6015

Online: BellaItaliaAltoona on Facebook

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Atmosphere: Casual

Price range: Small pizzas start at $9.25, strombolis at $8.50, baked cheese ravioli at $10.95, and made-to-order dinners from classic chicken parmigiana for $16 and veal marsala for $21.50

Notes: Televisions offer sports and news in the dining room that seats 60-plus. Takeout, free delivery and a kids menu.