I grew up in Connecticut. My first word was “brunch”. When they say people from Connecticut are born with silver spoons in their mouths, they don’t tell you that it’s because you actually use them to stir pancake batter. So I’d say I’m familiar with good brunch. It’s just in my blood. Currently majoring in brunch communication and ovological studies also helps. When my mother told me she visited Bella’s, a popular restaurant in New Haven, three times in the span of a month, I knew I had to go and check it out.
Problem number one with Bella’s: they’re a little too modest. Their awards are displayed as overly stretched GIFs on their homepage and their middle name is “Westville’s Best Kept Secret.” Yeah, that’s a lie. Since being voted New Haven’s Best Breakfast in Connecticut magazine, that place is harder to crack into than a nun’s anus. Keepitcoming and I tried to go earlier in the year and were met with tens of pacing hipsters outside and had to leave because we’d rather perform DIY gastric bypass surgery than wait in line with Pitchfork trashing douchebags. I went earlier this week with my mom at an obscenely early hour and expected a miracle to literally crap on my plate.
Problem number two with Bella’s: their brunch menu changes weekly, a feature that both terrifies and intrigues me. On one hand, it is fascinating and exciting to have a rotating menu that both reflects the whims of the chef and the seasonal offerings. On the other hand, what if my brunch isn’t the best brunch? It kept me up one night worrying and I wet my bed. But I left my chances to the wind and went along. Just kidding, I peeked at the menu first. My choice was simple- I knew I wanted something a little strange and something a little sweet. Bella’s Short Cakes, with battered and fried Portuguese egg biscuits stuffed with Amaretto mascarpone cheese, almond creme anglaise, and grilled apricots. Delicious. Intense. Boozy. It even beat out a Brie-stuffed French toast.
It was gorgeously presented with autumnal colors and scents rising from the plate. But god damn, as soon as I saw it, I knew that we’d have some problems. The biscuits were not stuffed with mascarpone, they were topped with it- massive, ice cream sundae scoops of solid cheese, topped with creme anglaise, and then to seal the deal, whipped cream on the side. I eat indulgently, but I inwardly cringed. There was too much fucking cream here. I had to dissect the entire dish to get adequate bites of all the elements and reassemble each one. A little too much work for eight in the morning, and for $13, I want my food prepared so that I can sip my Bellini and actually eat and relax without having to worry about the proper cream to biscuit ratio.I started by scraping the whipped cream off. It was from a can and you won’t be hearing about it. Deal. And then I cut into one of the grilled apricots. This was easily the best part of the dish. They were delicately charred and could have even stood for a little more browning, but were perfectly juicy and sweet inside. I liked that they were a little salty from the griddle, because it brought out the fruit’s natural sugars and the heated pectin made it seem more gooey and indulgent than it actually was. I could have eaten a plain bowl of these with a little creme anglaise and called it a day.
The mascarpone would have fared better had it been billed as a plain cheese, because I tasted no Amaretto. And folks, uncut mascarpone is tough stuff. Two large scoops just made me feel sick. The only purpose it served seemed to be similar to Elton John’s only purpose, which is to be over the top, rich, and placed there to buffer the style of a crusty, gross counterpart. The biscuits.Or the Gaga.
The slightly burnt biscuits were tough and rubbery and difficult to cut, and never really absorbed any of the thirty sauces on top, so maintained the same condition throughout the dish. With the vague nuttiness of the creme anglaise and the saving grace of the nectarines, I enjoyed a few bites but simply lost my appetite for all the sugary, creamy breakfast halfway through. I asked for a miracle to crap on my plate. Turns out they sent a Care Bear.
My little sister, Fashionette, joined us for brunch, but because of hereditary lactose intolerance (that apparently skipped me) wasn’t really able to partake in the richer selections. The French toast was presented very nicely, tender, eggy grilled French bread that had been soaked so long there wasn’t a crusty bite to be found. It was served with real maple syrup and a bowl of fresh strawberries. This was a tasty dish but rather unremarkable. It was French toast. With a little finesse, I could make it at home. But I did appreciate the simplicity of the dish after the carnival of lame that the short cakes presented, and later deemed her the intelligent sibling for bypassing all the heavy cream.
My mother ordered another dish from the specials and swapped with Fashionette halfway through. This was another sweet dish that looked tempting but had the added benefit of being more fruit based without all of the dairy. The French crepes featured two thin pancakes stuffed with a lime ricotta filling and topped with fresh berries and a maple raspberry sauce. What I especially liked about these was that the ricotta provided a little textural differentiation in the consistency of the overall dish. With the short cakes, it was drowning in thick, smooth cream, but the little curds in the crepes made it feel fluffier and milky without weighing it down. The lime juice in the ricotta was the dominant flavor here and was light and tart in the cheese base. Mom tells me Bella’s makes many different flavors of ricotta for fillings but this seems like the best logical choice. I especially enjoyed how tender and soft the crepes were, despite their inability to hold in their cheesy filling. The syrup erred toward the side of coulis and was devoid of maple flavoring, but the pancakes were the clear stars here and I lavished as much of my appetite as I could on them.
Bella’s is highly touted amongst quite a few people I know, and now that I’ve gone, I’m just not as satisfied as I thought I’d be. I would be game to give it another chance and sample their savory offerings, but unless I see something on their menu that absolutely blows my mind, I don’t see myself trekking back home for another potentially inconsistent experience. Call me simple, but the $4 pancakes at Christy’s beat the pants off this meal.