We had lunch at Ciao Bella Pizza and Pasta in north Lakeland recently. We always appreciate the number of independent pizza operators we can find in Polk County, and Ciao Bella didn’t disappoint us.
The interior was very clean and basic, with a few decorative nods to the old country. It didn’t hurt that we were there early on a Saturday, and aside from a few takeout customers we had the restaurant to ourselves. The menu is pretty diverse. In addition to the usual soups/salads/appetizers, they offer a variety of hoagies, pasta dishes and entrees, along with, of course, numerous varieties of pizza. One thing that really stood out was the quality of service. This was some of the friendliest service we’ve received in a restaurant. Our hostess was cheerful and conversational, and checked in with us frequently without smothering us.
In addition to two iced teas to drink, we started our meal with a fried calamari appetizer. This was the only weak part of the experience. The portion was generous. The flavor was good, with the right amount of breading. The marinara dipping sauce was also good. But the calamari itself was a little rubbery.
My wife ordered linguini and clams. She had the lunch portion (dinner portions were also offered), but she said the lunch portion was a perfect size. The pasta was well cooked, the clams seemed fresh, the sauce – a light, white wine sauce – was excellent. The clams were on the small side and she would have liked a few more. There was a lot of fresh garlic and she was very happy about that. There were also some diced carrots in the dish.
I had a small stromboli for lunch. This was a folded pizza crust stuffed with mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, and ham. Our server said the small stromboli is essentially their small (10″) pizza folded over, so it was a substantial portion. It was very well cooked, with the crust crispy on the outside but not overdone. I wouldn’t have minded a little more of the meat ingredients, but it was a hearty portion and plenty for one person. The cheese was melted and gooey, all the “toppings” were delicious.
Our total, with tip, was $38. Other than the rubbery calamari, we really enjoyed everything about our experience at Ciao Bella. We look forward to returning to sample more of their menu. They are located in the Plantation Square shopping center on North Socrum Loop Road, between Old Combee Road and Walt Loop Road. Enjoy!