At a time when it’s important for all of us to pull together, it’s hard to imagine anyone engaging in the cold, sinister act of arson. But back in July, somebody or somebodies apparently vandalized and set alight the Pizza Bella and More restaurant in Riverside, ultimately forcing it to close.
That suspected arson is still under investigation but that hasn’t stopped Pizza Bella’s owners from moving forward and reopening – not the pizzeria, but a neighboring tavern called Bella’s Parkside Tavern. With a modern global pandemic as its backdrop, this literal Rise From the Ashes story is made even more brilliant by the fact that the pizzeria, and now the tavern, have been making food you just can’t get anywhere else in Western New York.
Open for four decades, the original Pizza Bella was a beloved Riverside joint until it closed in 2018. An ownership group bought the old pizzeria and co-owner Mo Alhijazi had wanted to open a Mediterranean restaurant, in keeping with his Palestinian background. However, that didn’t happen. A spokesperson speaking on behalf of Alhijazi said, “When we were taking down the old sign (and still planning a concept), people kept stopping by and saying, ‘You can’t take down the sign! You can’t take down the sign! It’s an icon!!’”
Splitting the difference, Pizza Bella and More had a large range of Mediterranean options alongside standard pizza/ sub shop fare. Before being forced to close, the restaurant’s real claim to fame had become its “fusion” foods. You could order a vegetarian Middle Eastern pizza topped with olives, mozzarella and pomegranate molasses sauce, or a quesadilla filled chicken shawarma and vegetables.
After the fire in July caused Pizza Bella and More to close, crisis metamorphosed into opportunity when Bella’s owners – seeking security camera footage from neighbors – learned the vacant tavern two doors down was available. Now, the tavern offers the same great pizzeria menu, but adds a full bar and indoor/outdoor dining, as allowed under various COVID guidelines.
In our recent takeout order, the cheese pizza featured a crispy crust and perfectly browned, melty mozzarella. Our chicken shawarma wrap was one of the better ones we’ve had in a while, well-balanced and saucy. The Deep Fried Bella – a deep fried wrap filled with chicken, veggies, mustard, cheese and various Middle Eastern seasonings – was a bit of mad genius. We also tried one of the tavern’s many fruit smoothies, which are available with or without alcohol. Our ‘Bananacado’ smoothie – made with banana, avocado and honey – was a low-key revelation.
Like Pizza Bella’s transformation into Pizza Bella and More, the transformation of the former Parkside Tavern into Bella’s Parkside Tavern wasn’t very dramatic. Yes, the menu has a bit of Mediterranean flair, but the tavern still looks like the typical corner bar you might find in Riverside. With plans for live music, once it’s allowed, the tavern sounds like the ideal one-stop shop for all of your post-lockdown needs.
Like the rest of you, we just can’t wait for Bella’s Parkside Tavern, and every other corner tavern for that matter, to return to normal and take more of our money.
Bella’s Parkside Tavern
1125 Tonawanda St., Buffalo, NY 1420
Hours: Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. – 12 a.m., Sunday 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.