For years, Bella’s Italian Cafe, located in the quaint Habersham Village, has been hailed by locals as Savannah’s best Italian eatery and has personally deemed itself “where Savannah eats Italian”…though, it may be due to Savannah’s limited options when it comes to Italian food. It’s Bella’s or your standard cookie-cutter chain. Bella’s does have those deliciously greasy, fried breadsticks served with that herbed butter and marinara, which always kept me coming back for more, to the point where I have had to beg the waiter to please take the bread basket. You can imagine my excitement then when I sat down at the brand new Fioré Italian Bar and Grill in Sandfly, Bella’s new sister restaurant, and the waitress brings a basket of hot breadsticks, butter, and marinara.
Much like the whimsical area between 61st and 63rd street that Bella’s calls home, Fioré joins a similar community in a different part of town. Off of Skidaway Road, it joins the members of Norwood Plaza to serve the Sandfly area and to expand the Italian options to Savannahians. Not like your traditional strip mall restaurant, you enter through a beautiful side courtyard teeming in fresh rosemary and outdoor seating, which is always a plus in a town with great weather nearly year-round. Once inside, I almost forgot that I was in fact in a shopping plaza. As I walked in, I looked around for the people I was planning to meet and saw a freshly painted, elegant, yet casual dining room full of people. Apparently word had already gotten out that Fioré was open and ready for business, despite the fact that even 411 and OnStar couldn’t find the place!
Part of my party was missing, so my other friend and I decided to wait at the bar so we could unwind from the day with a glass of wine. The bar is a place I can see myself stopping through from work often with a friend or two to decompress from my day. It was inviting and warm. Our bartender greeted us and handed us the extensive wine list, that offers a range of wines by the glass or bottle. We each chose a glass of red, me the house Pinot Noir and her a Malbec. Wouldn’t you know it as soon as we got our wine, the third person in our party arrived. We enjoyed the bar’s atmosphere so much that we contemplated eating there, but then eyed a high top table in the bar area that we settled into instead, while the bartender simply moved our drinks to our dinner tab rather than making us pay twice.
Immediately our waitress appeared, full of energy and seemingly excited about her job. She asked us if we would like to start with an appetizer and then proceeded to tell us about the Sienna Style Roasted Olives…repeatedly. We asked for a minute to look over the menu, but eager to serve us, our waitress remained. Despite her insistent recommendations, we decided on the Calamari Hushpuppies and a bottle of Tikal Patriota, a 2010 blend of Malbec and Bonarda. Our bubbly little waitress delivered the Hushpuppies with two different dipping sauces, while the manager came over to open our bottle of wine. The Argentinian blend was lovely. It was smooth, oaky, and very drinkable…in fact, it didn’t take long to drink it all! The Calamari Hushpuppies, on the other hand, weren’t as great as the wine. On the outside you have what looks like a hushpuppy; on the inside, chunks of calamari hid. Texturally, it was not pleasing to me. Give me calamari or Hushpuppies, but together it’s just a ball of fried batter with weird, squishy pieces throughout. I loved the Pesto Aioli it was served with, however. Creamy with a punch of basil, I scooped up as much aioli as I could onto the Hushpuppies, hoping to mask my dislike for the texture.
After knocking off the day’s edge with wine and fried southern delicacies, it was time to decide on an entree. Browsing over the menu, I was reminded again of Bella’s.
There were the familiar soups & salads, paninis, pastas, and a few dinner only entrees. It seems like the only thing I was missing was Bella’s pizzas. Although it looked similar, almost every dish was new. As I searched without luck for my favorite Bella’s dish, manicotti, I spotted a “Create Your Own” pasta option. I instantly perked up. What?! I get to have control?! Yes, please! Pick your noodle, your sauce, and your add-ins to create your own pasta dish. Apparently, all three of us are control freaks because we all chose to create our own pasta, or maybe it was the fact that we came for some Italian, which in my mind translates to some carb-loaded pasta, and this was the only pasta option on the menu. Either way, I got carried away ordering a Fettuccine Alfredo with shrimp, sundried tomatoes, spinach, and portabella mushrooms (and was later kicking myself for adding up one hell of a tab for pasta). What started off as a $10.95 dish quickly became a $22 bowl of pasta in the blink of an eye, or should I say a growl of the stomach. One of my friends ordered almost the exact pasta creation as myself, while my other friend ordered spaghetti with marinara and sausage.
All dishes come with a salad, and wouldn’t you know the ghost of Bella’s reappeared in front of me. First it was the breadsticks, and now I was picking through Bella’s traditional house salad. The creamy balsamic dressing that Bella’s tosses their romaine in wasn’t as good here as I remembered and the oversized pieces of romaine ribs were off putting. Leaving most of it on the plate, I was thankful that it didn’t take long for each of our personal creations to arrive. We were offered freshly grated Parmesan and cracked black pepper to top each of our dishes, and then we all dove in, our constant chatter coming to a screeching halt. All three dishes came with ample sauce, even for me, the sauce fanatic. The kitchen staff was generous with the add-ins, ensuring that I had the perfect trifecta bite every time. It was tasty, because it was exactly what I wanted, but even still it was just a bowl of pasta. There were no fireworks or knock-the-ball-out-of-park kind of feelings. It was just good…the enemy of great. I felt like I could have easily recreated this dish, as well as the ones around me, with a decent jar of sauce and a box of noodles; I knew it could be better if I made the sauce from scratch. Despite it just being good, we managed to devour each dish and jumped on dessert as soon as it was offered.
Dessert options include your typical Italian staples, a Ricotta-filled Cannoli, Tiramisu, and Cheesecake. The three of us chose to split a cannoli. Again, speedy service brought our cannoli right out and three spoons went to tapping into the crunchy exterior shell to get to the sweet, smooth ricotta. Between the cannoli and the wine, it’s a toss up. Those two were my favorite parts of the meal. I can envision myself bellying up to the Fioré bar after a long day and ordering two things: a bottle of wine and a cannoli.
As we scraped the last of the ricotta off of the plate, the restaurant began to clear out and the bartender began cleaning. A strong smell of institutionalized cleaner wafted through the air, blending the tastes of my cannoli with Lysol and almost ruining my last moments with dessert. It was our cue that it was time to go. With closing time being 9 o’clock during the weekdays, we had definitely overstayed our welcome since it was pushing 9:30. Bellies full and feeling quite satisfied, we paid our tab and called it a night.
Fioré Italian Bar and Grill left me with mixed emotions. I went in thrilled for Savannah to be getting another Italian restaurant, but left realizing that Fioré was just an extension of an already existing restaurant. If I had my choice, I would just go back to Bella’s for the food, but would return to Fioré for the ambiance. Despite my mixed emotions, I know the Sandfly community will enjoy a new eatery in their neck of the woods. I just hope one day Savannah will have a knock-your-socks-off Italian bistro, like the ones I’ve experienced in Boston and the ones I’ve only dreamed of visiting in New York City. So far, we haven’t gotten it yet. Until then, go try out Fioré Italian Bar and Grill for yourself and see what you think. You can find their attentive service, good food, and decent wine selection at 7360 Skidaway Road in Sandfly. They are open weekdays until 9pm and Friday and Saturday until 10pm.
Written by Kristin Davis
For more information about Fioré Italian Bar and Grill, click here.
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