Friday, July 23, 2010

When A Grinder Isn't Really A Grinder

Even before I write this blog post, I have a funny feeling I am about to be banned from yet another restaurant. As the song goes, "Que sera sera, whatever will be, will be."

I came across a reference to Bellacino's Pizza and Grinders when I was looking at a map of Stow area restaurants. After checking out their website (which included their menu), I was intrigued enough to add them to my list of places to visit. Based on the history blurb on their website, they had slowly grown from a small time mom and pop place to the full-sized eatery that was located at 3657 Fishcreek Road, Stow, OH 44224. They can be reached at 330-678-3000. The parking lot around the store was ample and should be able to handle a large number of customers.

Here was a shot of the front of the store:

While the patio was not only open and occupied tonight, it was still a bit too chilly for my taste so I opted to sit inside. During lunch service, Bellacino's was a serve yourself kind of place. But during dinner, the restaurant transforms into a full-service restaurant, replete with hostess. After seating me by a window table in the bar area, I began to peruse and photograph the menu:

I requested a glass of water and my server brought me this:

Normally I wouldn't include a glass of water in my write-up, but in this case I made an exception. Although the water had no odor, it definitely had a funky flavor. I'm not normally one to pick up on off flavors or odors in my water, but time after time of tasting this, I couldn't get over the pond-esque taste of it. It reminded me of the smell when you are walking through the woods and discover a still pond with algae growing in it. Now that very well may be the city of Stow's problem with its water, but I'm here to say Bellacino's needs to filter it.

I wasn't sure what I was going to order for dinner until I figured out a way to try both the grinder and a pizza. It seems that Monday night's special was a medium 12" specialty pizza for only $8.99. Coupled with the fact that I could get a 4.5" grinder sandwich (considered a 1/4 sandwich) for right around $4, I figured that I'd order both and just take whatever I didn't finish home for later consumption. For my grinder, I did ask my server if there was a house specialty and she pointed to the one with Italian cold cuts. Not really being in a cold cuts kind of mood, I asked her about the meatball grinder. She confessed that the meatballs weren't homemade, but the sliced meatball sandwich was a popular seller. For my pizza, I decided to go with the "Super," a combination of pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers and onions.

After a bit of a wait, my dinner finally arrived. First up, my meatball grinder:

It wasn't until I went to fold the sandwich over that I realized that the sandwich was actually on two different pieces of bread. And, in fact, it became apparent to me quite quickly after my server told me that a whole grinder was 18" long that what Bellacino's was offering was not a grinder, but a focaccia sandwich. Putting two and two together, I began to formulate a best guess as to what was going on. The dough being used for the "grinders" was the same homemade dough being used for the pizzas. To make this bread, I surmise that they spread the dough out onto full sheet pans, measuring 18" x 26" and bake it off earlier in the day. When a grinder is ordered, these sheets of dough (essentially focaccia at this point) are cut to size, toppings placed on top, and the whole thing is run under a broiler or placed in an oven to heat up.

As any sandwich aficionado knows, a proper sandwich is as much about the bread as it is about the toppings. And whether you call it a grinder, sub, hoagie, po' boy, or zeppelin, this sandwich qualified as none of those. This wasn't a mild stretching or interpretation of the classic definition; this was a bastardization of it. As a focaccia sandwich, it still wasn't great, but at least it was the proper category.

So, bread issues aside, how was the meatball filling? A very sad disappointment, too. Here was a close-up of the meatball slices:

The only thing meatball-ish about these oddly shaved meat patties were their round shape. The flavor had a metallic taste to it, a sign of garlic / onion / seasoning salt and the texture was oddly smooth and spongy, like one would expect from a forcemeat such as pate. It was clear that the meatballs were kept separate from the tomato sauce and only put together when the sandwich was assembled because there were plenty of meatball slices that had no sauce on them at all. To make matters worse, the sandwich came out barely lukewarm and by the time I got about three bites in, it was completely cold. My plan was to eat the entire grinder and take most of my pizza home. Not tonight. I ate less then 1/3 of my grinder and just left the rest on the plate. When I only asked for a box for the remainder of my pizza at the end of my meal, I hoped that my server would've picked up on the fact that most of my sandwich was left and I wasn't taking it with me as a sign that maybe something was wrong. She didn't say a word. I decided to save my words for now.

Fortunately, the "Super" pizza fared better than the grinder:

This was brought to the table nice and hot. In fact, it was only after finishing up with my sandwich that I even turned my attention to the pizza and it was still hot. Here was a shot of a single slice:

When I had asked my server about the provenance of the dough and the pizza sauce, she confirmed that both were homemade. At Bellacino's, toppings go on before the cheese and this made for a bit of a mess when taking a bite as I got long ropes of Mozzarella cheese that pulled off in large, hot mouth-burning strands. The sauce was nice, if a little uninspired. The dough, while nicely browned on the outer crust, was completely blond and underbaked on the bottom. Which was really odd, because the slogan on the side of the take-out pizza box indicated it should be otherwise:

I couldn't agree more: Crust IS the key. I ended up taking home half of my pizza and re-heating it later on for a snack. While the pizza wasn't bad, it also didn't stand out either.

Having tried the two signature items on the menu (the name of the restaurant is Bellacino's Pizza and Grinders after all), in my mind the "grinder" turned out to be a miserable failure and the pizza was just so-so. Coupled with the fact that the water had an off taste and the meatballs were some of the worst I have ever tasted, I think it's pretty safe to say that I don't think I'll be stopping by again for another meal anytime soon.

Bellacino's Pizza & Grinders on Urbanspoon


bonnjill said...

RE: The water. It seems as if this is a common problem down in Akron. I remember going to Luigi's once and being told they could only serve bottled beverages because there was an algae bloom in the reservoir.

Tino said...

I almost always order water with my meals and this is the first time in a long time where I can distinctly remember the water having a taste in an Akron (or surrounding 'burb) restaurant. I don't discount the algae bloom theory, but regardless, Bellacino's needs to do something about the taste as it is off-putting.

CJ said...

An interesting fact - the Winking Lizard in Peninsula actually 'imports' its water from a company because the taste of the water in the area is so poor. Personally, I can't help but imagine a filter would take care of this...

We had a Bellacino's in Columbus when we lived there and I wasn't very impressed with it. Twice I had the unfortunate experience where the dough under the toppings wasn't baked, but still wet and slimy - not cool.

Colleen said...

I just moved to Kent from Cuyahoga Falls and received a coupon for a free pizza from Bellacino's. I read your review before going there and I have to say that you're right on--I'm not sure about the water, but the pizza was just as described--crust not fully cooked.. the edges of crust were good, but the crust under the toppings limp and tasteless.
I'm glad I didn't have to pay for it.

Tino said...

@Colleen: Sorry to hear that you received the same underdone pizza that I did. When a restaurant is off during a review, I hope it is a fluke, but in this case, it sounds like your experience matched mine pretty closely. Like you said, thankfully, your pizza was free.

Unknown said...

As a former employee at a different Bellacino's, I can assure you that the bread and pizza dough are not the same (or even the same recipe). The bread is actually rolled out in to 18" loaves, baked 5 or 6 at a time, and it looks sort of like french bread. It is then steamed, baked, and sliced into the 1/2 sized grinder bread. So if someone order a 1/4 grinder, we would cut a loaf in half or use two loaves for a full size.
The pizza dough is a different recipe, and actually goes through a period of "chilling" instead of steaming. And obviously, it's cooked at the same time as the rest of the pizza. The only exception to that rule is gluten free pizza.

Hope this at least helps your opinion of the restaurant!

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