With consistent word-of-mouth rumblings about
the delicious food at Casa Bella Italian Kitchen
and Bar, I FINALLY pulled up a chair at this cozy
restaurant in Hampden. Owned by Western Mass locals, Mike
Connors and Mario Ferrentino, the inviting space opened in
June of 2016 promising quality, consistency and fresh ingredients.
With a name that means “beautiful home” in Italian, the
interior was just that. Differentiated dining rooms, a bar area,
and patio (in the warmer months), offer preferred seating options
for all tastes - we opted for tavern-side.
I’ve always enjoyed coming here - an affection that goes back
to the Black Horse days - and today my admiration only grew.
A collection of booths, tables, and a U-shaped bar provided not
only ample seating for great meals, but also a welcoming space
to hang out. We were immediately gifted a basket of warm
bread and garlicky herbed extra virgin olive oil for dipping -
it was savory and oh so good. I appreciated the menu, clearly
well-thought out with ample options, but not enough to cause
There were some great specials - particularly on the bar menu
if ordered before 6:00 PM. On this particular evening, .60 cent
wings, creative flatbreads and bar bites were among the more
casual options, while plates like the prime rib offered something
a little more special. On any menu, my eyes always divert
to the salads section - a bed of leafy greens with a rotating protein
is my go-to. The Lemon Fresco Salad (Romaine lettuce and
black olives tossed in a lemon and olive oil dressing), caught my
eye first, followed by Gina’s Milanese Salad (Breaded chicken or
veal cutlet topped with fresh mixed greens, tossed with EVOO
and grated romano, finished with a balsamic reduction). But
today was particularly chilly and raw, all I could think about
was a big bowl of saucy pasta. Pasta selections included (but
not limited to) Bolognese (homemade meat sauce with mushrooms),
A La Vodka (peas, onions and prosciutto in a tomato
cream sauce), Primavera (sautéed peppers, onions, mushrooms
and broccoli in an oil and garlic sauce, finished with a touch of
cream), and Broccoli Oil and Garlic (sauteed garlic, oil, chicken
stock and grated Romano) - each customizable with a choice of
pasta preference and protein. Other options included a list of
parmigiana, pesce, entrées and delectable-sounding specialty
pizzas. We settled with “Casa Specials,” Pazzo Alfredo (sauteed
chicken, sausage, bacon, peppers, onions, mushrooms, and olives,
tossed with tortellini in a homemade alfredo sauce, $20)
and Shrimp de Bella (sauteed shrimp, spinach and roasted red
peppers in a creamy garlic sauce over linguini, $20).
I was elated the salads that came with our meals (or choice
of soup) were a blend of luscious mixed greens, versus the
typical iceberg-romaine combo. Then our plate arrived,
extraordinary proportions of each, both delicious. The
sauces were flavorful and indulgent - just what we wanted.
I barely got halfway through my plate before asking for a
to-go container and the remaining leftovers stretched for
two more meals.
My eyes watched plates of plump homemade meatballs,
P.E.I. garlicky mussels, and stuffed eggplant travel to surrounding
tables; I can’t wait to return to experience some
of these other great-looking dishes. Our waitress was extremely
nice, attentive and accurate. Dinner at Casa Bella
was truly a pleasure, offering something a little extra special
in this sweet, small town.
Casa Bella Italian Kitchen and Bar is open Tuesday-Sunday for
both lunch and dinner.
546 Main Street . Hampden, MA . (413) 566-1466 . casabellarestaurant.net