The meteoric rise of Tampa’s food scene has garnered national attention. While new businesses continue to complement this growth, longstanding staples are what define Tampa’s culinary identity.
One of those treasures is Bella’s Italian Café. Owners Bill Shumate and Joanie Corneil opened the restaurant in 1986 with a shared vision to provide Tampa with authentic Italian cuisine. Bella’s certainly was neither Shumate’s nor Corneil’s first foray into the industry.
Bella is a word I came to love when living in Naples (Italy), so thirty years ago I thought it would make the perfect name for the restaurant.
– Joanie Corneil
Entrepreneurial spirit, passion for food fuel Bella’s prominence
Bill Shumate has owned and operated restaurants across the country for 40+ years. He served as Chairman of the Hillsborough County chapter of the Florida Restaurant Association as well as President of the Florida Restaurant Association.
Corneil is a veteran restaurateur, having successfully operated two establishments in her home state of Oklahoma. In 2016, Corneil released a cookbook titled Bella’s. The book features the recipes that have long ensnared the senses of local diners, as well as the inspiration behind the dishes.
31 years of authentic Italian cuisine
It’s hard to wrap up more than three decades of culinary excellence into one book. Sticking to its authentic Italian roots, Bella’s has found other ways to evolve with the city of Tampa. The restaurant offers free valet service Thursday through Sunday after 5pm, late night happy hour deals, and a weekly rotation of chef-inspired specials keep the concept fresh, even for the most steadfast regulars.
The business remains a strong patron of the arts, as well as the major sports and entertainment events that pass through the city of Tampa. Bella’s provides a free glass of wine, or on free antipasto when you bring in your ticket before or after the next major event in the city.
The essential entrees and desserts to experience when you visit
We’d be remiss if we didn’t recommend diving into Bella’s meatball pizza, made in a genuine oak-burning stone oven. If you’re interested in something a little more on the high-end, order the Fichi e Pollo Penne — chicken, fig jam, tre-funghi and spinach in brandy cream sauce. The pasta il mare is a game changer for the curious palate — shrimp and scallops sautéed with roasted mushrooms and leeks in roasted-tomato cream sauced, and tossed with bowtie pasta.
A beloved classic Nate’s veal — veal scallopini breaded in romano cheese and sautéed golden brown, topped with mozzarella cheese and crispy prosciutto in a creamy marsala mushroom sauce., served on a bed of spinach.
Save room for dessert; Bella’s tiramisu is a dreamy post-dinner pick me up. The classic Italian dessert features layers of lady fingers, zabaglione (marsala- flavored custard), espresso whipped cream and mascarpone (sweet, buttery cheese) topped with whipped cream and warm chocolate sauce.
Bella’s nominated for Best of the Bay Awards
The local restaurant has never been one to brag — the satisfied customers do that for them. That love has never been more apparent than this year as the restaurant is nominated for 4 Best of the Bay Awards: Best Italian Restaurant; Best All-Around Restaurant; Best Pizza; Best Late Night Restaurant. If you love what this Tampa icon does, consider voting for them this year. Click HERE to see all the categories and nominees, and to cast your vote.