Restaurant Review Roulette: Bella Mia

Most of the places that Greg Cox reviews are restaurants I’ve never visited, and all too often, I’ve never even heard of them.  I try to guess how many stars the place will get based on the restaurant’s website and menu, and then I look at Yelp and Chowhound to see if there’s been any discussion.  And then I guess.

This week is different, as Greg will be reviewing Cary’s Bella Mia, a coal-fired pizza joint.  I sort of know this restaurant.  Quite honestly, I’m a bit obsessed by it, having eaten there 15-20 times since they opened back in June.  I’ve become personal friends of the family that owns the place, Rick Guerra, his sons Louis and Anthony, and Rick’s sister, the ever-charming Lucie Guerra.  I’ve tried just about everything on the menu.  I’ve drunk their beers.  I’ve sampled Lucie’s desserts.  I’ve declared Bella Mia to be the best pizza in the Triangle, if not the state.  There are others who disagree, as they might not get what Bella Mia is trying to do, with their 900 degree oven, fueled with oak and anthracite.  They might not like the pizzas that are cooked in two minutes, with a thin crust slightly charred on the bottom.  But of the dozens of people I’ve introduced to Bella Mia, at least two-thirds agree with me that it’s the best pizza in the area — by far.  There will never be unanimity, but that many people cannot be wrong.

So now Greg Cox has visited Bella Mia several times and is ready to write about it.  Greg has an unwritten rule that 4 stars is as high of a rating he’ll give to a casual place, and although Bella Mia is far nicer than one would ever expect for a pizza joint, it’s still a pizza joint.  Yes, the pizza is amazing.  Yes, the beer selection is solid.  Yes, I had a clam and lardo pie last week.  But will Greg give this place more than 4 stars?  I know he won’t give it 5, because that rating is reserved for the more formal, high dollar establishments.

Bella Mia is transcendent, and it deserves more than 4 stars.  No one does anything like it in the area, and so I’m really hoping it’s a 4.5 star review.  That’ll send a message to the restaurant community that if you do something extraordinary, you’ll be rewarded.  We’ll see on Friday.

Here are this week’s odds:

5 stars — 22 to 1

4.5 stars – 5 to 4

4 stars — 1 to 2

3.5 stars — 4 to 1

3 stars — 12 to 1

2.5 stars — 20 to 1

2 stars — 100 to 1

1.5 stars — 5,000 to 1

1 star — 1 bazillion to 1

I really hope they get the 4.5 stars, but I’m expecting 4.  Let’s hope I’m wrong.


Edit: October 1, 2010 — It’s a very strong 4-star review for Bella Mia.  Greg Cox had nothing but praise for the pizza, calling it “flawless.”  And this demonstrates the problem with any star-based review system: a place like this is unable to get any more than 4 stars.  That’s why it’s important to just read the damn review and not focus on the number of stars.  And then go get you a pizza.


14 Responses to Restaurant Review Roulette: Bella Mia

  1. Ben says:

    I’d give Bella Mia 4 stars, but I’ll bet Greg goes for it and awards 4.5. I need to get back and try some more menu items, but the Canal St. calzone was incredible.

  2. Tom from Raleigh says:

    4 stars is my pick. I’ve only been there once. It was quite good and offers a unique take for the area. It’s worth singling out.

  3. EMM says:

    Definitely 4, possibly 4.5 as it deserves. And thanks for the head’s up – need to go get my fix before the review comes out and there are lines around the corner.

  4. James says:

    4.5 is simply not happening given that Fearrington House received 4.5 just a few weeks ago. If a pizza joint and Fearrington House receive the same ranking, Greg’s reviews will be rendered largely if not completely useless. 4 is a stretch given the service and food I’ve received. I’d bet 3.5, wouldn’t be surprised by 4.0.

    I’m still stunned by the rave reviews I’ve seen on here. I love NY Style thin crust pizza and have had it from the finest places in NY on multiple occasions. Good crust is lightly charred and crispy. My pie at Bella Mia was burned and soggy. I know/understand the difference between burned and charred, and between soggy and crispy. Perhaps we caught them on their worst night ever, so we’ll give them another shot. It’s just rare I see such a discrepancy between what I taste/see and what I read on here.

  5. dmwcpa says:

    Although I enjoyed the pizza I had at Bella Mia, I prefer Vivace’s pizza. However, Bella Mia has a better selection of beer.

  6. Varmint says:

    James: It’s because of that Fearrington review that I also believe it will be 4 stars. But this leads to a bigger issue for me with the way that the N&O uses the star system. There’s no way to recognize a transcendent casual place like Bella Mia (and let’s just make the assumption that it is transcendent, personal experiences aside). If you use a star system, you work off the assumption that all 4 star places give you similar experiences. But that’s not the case.

    As far as your experience at Bella Mia, I truly think you might have hit it on the absolute worse day. I’ve been there nearly 20 times, and I’ve had about 3 pies that I would label as “good.” I’ve had about a dozen that are phenomenal — best in class. And then about 4 or 5 that were very, very good. After about a month, they started putting too heavy of toppings on the pizze, but they fixed that. Watch the Guerra boys make the pies, and you’ll see the care and artistry of what they do, how they lift a pizza higher in the dome to get it to cook perfectly.

    I understand that personal preferences always come into play when determining what is the best pizza, but to me, it’s not even close. It’s that good.

  7. Jeff says:

    If he has a Bleecker Street like the one I had, he won’t give more than 3 stars. The crust was amazing. But there was way too much arugula, and way too little prosciutto and cheese. I will go back because I saw some awesome looking pizzas at other tables. But the Bleecker Street (pizza) is nowhere near as good as its namesake.

  8. Jack says:

    Sadly, I have only been to Bella Mia twice since its opening.With that said, this is the best pizza in the state hands down.If N&O gives it a 4 star review (because of the unwritten rule no casual place gets above a 4 star review) than I have lost all faith in reviewers everywhere.Just because the waiters do not wear suits and its not a “upscale” restaraunt does not mean this deserves anything less than a 5-star review.I think its time to recongnize the work that the owners of the restaraunt put in. From the ingredients in the food, to the Craft Beers, even the bathroom sinks! The pizza can simply not be matched by any in the state and those who argue this do not truly understand what makes a great pizza.Regardless, I truly hope that Greg Cox can understand that we should be commending those who take time to use local produce, fresh ingredients and award Bella Mia a minimum of 4.5 stars.If the owners of Bella Mia are reading this, than please keep doing what your doing and don’t compromise the quality of your food, no matter how packed the restaraunt becomes, the effort is well worth it and hopefully Greg Cox can see it.

  9. dmwcpa says:

    I must have caught them on a bad day. I will try again.

  10. James says:

    OK, I’m going back this weekend. I’ve seen enough to know that we obviously just caught them too early in the game and got them on one of the worst possible nights. I’ve seen enough descriptions of charred and crispy crusts to believe by now that my burned and soggy was an outlier. Looking forward to it.

  11. burgeoningfoodie says:

    I will say this. Most places are worth a 2nd look, I would love to get back to Bella Mia. I do believe the pizzas are better straight from oven to mouth and not as a to-go pizza (though they have that service). Although any place that offers something like lardo instead of a typical pie is worth checking out. I know it’s not a new thing, but I’ve really come enjoy pizza patate (sp) though currently I know of one place that does them to a degree. I can’t say whether the pizza is best in the state, but it is one of the best.

  12. Michael says:

    Great review of Bella Mia! I have been many, many times and I am happy to say that every pizza I have ever had has been perfect! The Bleeker Street is amazing! If people don’t like this style pizza that is ok. However, if you do you can’t find a better pie unless you go to NY and even then it is going to be close! If it is your first trip I do advise you eat in house. It takes minutes to cook and they are simply amazing when just out of that coal fired oven! Plus his beer selection is very nice as well.

  13. burgeoningfoodie says:

    I enjoy the fact that they are trying to bring charcoal fired pizzas to the area. After them, I think I like the pizzas at Pop’s as my area favorite (though that may just be the fact that they offer something different). However the pies are of two different styles. I believe Pie Town in Charlotte does coal fired but I could be wrong. Who says you have to go to NY for a good pizza? There are great pies in just about all states… the top use to be in Phoenix if memory serves me right.

  14. James says:


    I am now 100% thoroughly convinced I was served their worst pizza ever on my first visit. It was a soggy, burned, slightly above average strip mall pie, and it was only slightly above average because the toppings were quality ingredients. There was a completely discordance between my experience and all of the amazing, rave reviews. Luckily, between those reviews here and in the N&O, I gave them a second chance. Perfection. A charred but not burned, crispy on the outside chewy in the middle crust perfectly cooked and topped with meatballs and mozzarella so fresh it hit on the woman sitting next to me at the bar. What I had tonight was legitimately exceptional pie worthy of all of the accolades. There will be more Delancey St. pies in my future.

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