The Food Biz: Pizza for farmers

Bella Nashville brings wood-fired pie to the downtown market

In recent years, the Nashville Farmers’ Market has grown steadily more interesting and lively as a restaurant destination, but I’m not sure I expected it would suddenly become the home of an authentic wood-burning pizza oven, smoldering logs and all.

And yet two weeks ago, a pair of musicians-slash-restaurateurs (a classic Nashville occupational combo) introduced just such a thing inside the downtown market.

Dave Cuomo and Emma Berkey opened Bella Nashville on May 1 in the Farmers’ Market space that formerly housed Swett’s. (The pizzeria name may sound a bit familiar, but Bella Nashville isn’t related to another pizza establishment in town, Bella Napoli.)

Cuomo has lots of family in the fine Italian-American pizza city of New Haven, Conn., so he says he’s been a student of pizza his whole life. He and Berkey met in 2008 in Brooklyn, N.Y., and moved together to Nashville to pursue music. (Among their projects is a folk-punk duo called Chicken Little.)

In Nashville, they both spent time working in restaurants: Cuomo at cocktail haven Patterson House, and Berkey at East Nashville vegetarian cafe The Wild Cow.

It’s amazing to see how they have transformed the little space in the Market House. What used to be a cafeteria line dishing up meat-and-three meals is now a cozy pizza bar where customers perch and watch the oven in action.

Cuomo and his team stoke the hardwood-fired brick oven, plunging the pizzas near the flame and quickly pulling them out scant minutes later when they’re properly baked. The kitchen is as open as can be, with the whole pizza process taking place just a few feet from the guests.

And that’s how the team likes it. “People relate to you when they see you working,” says Cuomo, who adds that time as a bartender helped hone his appreciation for direct interaction with customers. In fact, he says the elevated chefs’ bar concept at The Catbird Seat (upstairs from Patterson House) was also inspirational.

The pizza menu is small, just five options plus one daily special. All the pizzas are 9-inch individual pizzas ($7-$9) except for the kids’ cheese pizza, which is 6-inch pie ($5-$6).

Cuomo makes his own pizza dough from starter he’s cultivated with care. (On weekends they also sell sourdough bread made with the same starter, whose history can be traced back centuries in Italy.)

When possible, Berkey and Cuomo use ingredients grown locally, like fresh basil. The sauce is made from San Marzano tomatoes canned and imported from Italy, but they hope to eventually find a way to put up their own local tomatoes.

Their dedication to local purveyors extends to the meats: They use Benton’s Country Ham on their simply titled Meat Pizza (plus mozzarella, fresh basil and tomatoes). They also work with East Nashville’s Porter Road Butcher. An intriguing daily special last week featured Porter Road’s sage sausage, plus ramps, oyster mushrooms and sheep’s milk cheese.

For non-carnivores, there are a couple options: a cheese-free marinara pizza with tomatoes, oregano and truffle oil, and the unique fresh hummus pizza with zatar (a Middle Eastern spice blend), toasted nuts, mint and chili oil.

They also offer house-made soft drinks ($2): lemon and orange soda, and iced tea of the day. Bella Nashville is open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. daily in the Nashville Farmers’ Market. The phone number is 457-3863.

 

Speaking of farmers markets, two popular seasonal markets recently opened for the spring: the East Nashville Farmers Market (3:30-6:30 p.m. Wednesdays at 210 S. 10th St.) and the Vanderbilt Farmers Market (3-6 p.m. Thursdays in Medical Center Plaza on Vanderbilt campus). Meanwhile, the West Nashville Farmers Market has been back in business a whole month (Saturdays 10 a.m.-noon in Richland Park, 4711 Charlotte Pike). All three will close up again in the fall, but let’s just enjoy the spring harvest and not think about that right now.

Something fun to anticipate is the annual party Generous Helpings, coming up 5:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 17, at the Nashville Farmers’ Market. More than 30 great locally owned restaurants will serve up samples and talk about their dishes. Tickets are $40 in advance, $50 at the door, and proceeds benefit the Second Harvest-affiliated program Middle Tennessee’s Table, which rescues perishable food to feed the needy. Go to secondharvestmidtn.org to snag advance tickets. The event often sells out.

 

Back in August, I told you that national frozen yogurt chain Red Mango was coming to Nashville, but the location wasn’t set yet. Now it’s official: Red Mango is coming to a high-profile storefront on Belmont Boulevard in Belmont University’s Curb Center strip.

Amin Ferdowsi, a former Belmont student, is the man behind the business, which is the first Red Mango in Tennessee.

Red Mango, like Pinkberry, was an early mover in the “tart yogurt” craze, and has about 150 stores in the U.S. It’s probably best-known for its tangy pomegranate flavor. And while it may seem like the fro-yo trend has cooled, the Belmont location sure seems auspicious. It’s expected to open in June.