To the pizza aficionado, the words "coal-fired oven" are a magic incantation, conjuring up memories of the sublime blister-crusted pies served at some of the world's legendary pizzerias. To relive those memories in the Triangle has been impossible, though, because none of the scores of pizzerias in the area has had a coal-burning oven.
Until last week, that is, when Bella Mia (2025 Renaissance Park Place, Cary; 677-3999; www.bellamiacoal fire.com ) fired up two of them in The Arboretum at Weston. The restaurant's coal-burning ovens reach temperatures of 900 degrees - twice as hot as the typical gas oven - and produce 12-inch Neapolitan pies in three minutes.
Further music to the foodie's ears are the ingredients, which include flour imported from Italy, San Marzano tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella, local produce and naturally raised meats. Customers can mix and match those ingredients to create their own combinations, or choose from a selection of 11 specialty pies named for New York streets, such as the Broadway (tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, arugula, prosciutto di parma, pecorino gran cru and extra virgin olive oil).
The menu includes a brief but varied selection of antipasti (the coal-oven-roasted chicken wings and house-made meatballs have gotten rave reviews in the early going), salads and panini on house-baked breads. The wine list is modest but - as the display wall of wine bottles behind the bar suggests - hardly an afterthought. Same goes for the eclectic assortment of draft and bottled beers.
Bella Mia is open for dinner nightly, with lunch service slated to come online as soon as the wrinkles are ironed out. The restaurant is owned by Long Island native Rick Guerra, who runs the front of the house, and his longtime friend Steve Benjamin.
The coal-fired ovens are manned by Guerra's sons, Louis and Anthony, who honed their skills under the tutelage of renowned pizzaiolo Roberto Caporuscio. I'm guessing the Guerra brothers will be working their magic for a long time to come.