Driving down Oak Lawn, you’ve probably passed Bellini’s Italian Café and Pizza, in an outdated shopping center between Maple Avenue and Cedar Springs Road, dozens of times. The sign is faded and the façade looks a bit worse for wear. It gives off some mobster vibes and, unless you’d heard about Bellini’s from someone directly, you probably wouldn’t have stopped. We hadn’t.
Upon walking in, we were warmly greeted by the owner, Lorenzo di Lorenzo, who is as charming and over-the-top in person as his name suggests. Born in Italy, di Lorenzo has lived in the United States for 35 years and has owned Bellini’s for 17.
Inside, Bellini’s is an ode to old-school American Italian joints. It's dark, with white tablecloths, red candles on each table and walls crammed with photographs and prints. It’s full of stereotypical Italian decorations, plaster sculptures, columns, urns, pedestals and sconces. It is unapologetically schmaltzy. It’s a restaurant frozen in time.
“Bellini’s a place of romance, a place of memories, a place that makes you feel like you’re not in Dallas. It’s a place you like to come back to,” di Lorenzo says. And indeed, about 90 percent of his customers are regulars, he reports.
The menu really reflects the interior; it’s full of Italian classics. They deliver a generous piece of bread to each customer, straight from the oven. With it, they bring the classic mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic and herbs. For something we’ve eaten many times in the past, Bellini’s version manages to stand out thanks to the freshness.
To start, try the stuffed mushrooms ($7.95), gratin onion soup ($4.50) or mozzarella tomato salad ($7.95). They have a modest pizza menu and also offer a pepperoni roll ($7.95) and stromboli ($7.95).
The pasta list includes classics such as spaghetti and meatballs ($12.95), linguine with clam sauce ($15.95), manicotti ($13.95) and fettuccine Alfredo ($13.95). For entrees, they serve chicken piccata ($15.95), roasted rack of lamb ($24.95), veal Marsala ($16.95) and shrimp scampi ($16.95).
We tried the chicken eggplant with mozzarella in white wine sauce ($16.95) and the lobster ravioli in pink sauce ($16.95), both of which were flavorful and uncomplicated. At Bellini’s, you won’t find innovative food, but that’s not the point. They serve straightforward Italian-American classics, and they do them well.
Some of di Lorenzo’s favorite menu items are the Chilean sea bass, osso buco and lobster ravioli.
In a couple of months, however, this shrine to classic American-Italian food will be gone. The entire shopping center is getting torn down this fall.
“They’re going to take away my home,” di Lorenzo says. “Memories of 17 years of my life will be torn down, will be gone. It’s hard … my kids were raised here, my customers are my friends. They say you can lose everything, but it’s very hard to lose memories.”
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He’s not sure when, exactly, Bellini’s will be asked to vacate, but he’s hoping to keep the restaurant open in its current location until at least the end of September.
Di Lorenzo has found a new home for Bellini’s a mile away in the Design District. He will be reopening his restaurant at 1532 Edison St. in the next three to four months.
In the meantime, head to the original location for a delightfully old-school Italian experience.
Bellini's Italian Cafe and Pizza, 3810 Congress Ave. (Oak Lawn)