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Belsito defines ‘Neighborhood Bar’ and offers up artisanal Italian eats

I think that I’ve found one of my new favorite places to eat in Buffalo. Belsito (originally Salumeria Belsito) has just about everything to make me feel at home, mainly through the owners’ passion for food, their dedication to NYS craft beers, and even their love of animals.

Belsito has been open for a couple of years now, but to tell you the truth, I only just ate there last night after a friend clued me into their artisanal pizzas. When the place first opened, I remember popping in and making a mental note to come back once the eatery had settled in a bit more. Since that time, so many new restaurants have opened that I got caught up with trying to keep track. When my friend (who recently moved to Buffalo – we went to college together in Saratoga) relayed to me that I was missing the boat, I decided that it was time to revisit Belsito’s culinary offerings.

Right off the bat, I was happy to hear that husband and wife owners, Mike and Christine Petrillo, had dropped Salumeria (an Italian market place) from its name. Belsito (Montemaggiore Belsito. The family’s ancestral hometown in Sicily – thanks KK) is much easier to remember and is actually quite pretty. And some day, the interior of the restaurant will be just as pretty, I believe. At this point the place still needs a bit of aesthetic love, but after talking to Mike, I now know that his primary dedication is to the food. At the same time, the installation of an Italian mural or two, proper dimming of the lights, and a row of tea candles on the bar would transform Belsito into an overnight hotspot on Hertel.


The menu at Belsito boasts “the biggest and best chef salad in Buffalo, for $5” and “a salumi plate that is to die for”, according to a couple of Belsito fans that I ran into at the bar. Apparently there is a dedicated following of neighborhood patrons who have discovered Mike’s passion for Neapolitan-style pizza, and Italian meats and cheeses. “The neighborhood is just starting to discover us,” Mike told me. “Hertel’s not like Elmwood when it comes to the walking traffic. Word of mouth goes a long way here. We added the patio this past spring, which has helped to attract customers. We pride ourselves on the food that we serve – it’s different – it’s the best ingredients that I can find. When a sales person walks through our door, I tell him/her to skip over everything and just show me the best food that they have to offer that I can afford.”

Belsito-Buffalo-NY-3When I first met Mike and Christine, I assumed that they had been together for a lot longer than they actually were. In fact, the two met just before the restaurant opened in the fall of 2013. At the time, Christine had left a corporate job to go back to school, and Mike had recently left his full time job to follow his passion for wine, beer and food. In no time, they got engaged, married and opened up Belsito, which was no easy task considering that the corner was pretty much a gut job (formerly Gino’s Bakery). Now the two are dedicating their lives to Belsito. Their love for one another, and their shared love of the restaurant, shows in the culinary facets of the business.

“We think of ourselves as the corner bar,” Christine told me. “It’s an adult setting – not a college bar. Also, we do air soccer matches (on three flat screens), since there is a natural overflow from the Més Que crowd.” As I spoke to Christine, a fairly steady stream of customers walked through the door. I found it amusing that she knew just about everyone’s name – sorta like Cheers but not so obnoxious. “People like to come in here because it really is a neighborhood bar,” added Christine. “We have WiFi, every type of phone charger, and electric outlets, so that customers can come in and get some work done (day and night), while enjoying a coffee, beer and/or some food.”

One customer who was seated at the bar told me that until he discovered Belsito, he didn’t eat pizza in Buffalo. That same customer also felt that the eight tap operation, all dedicated to NYS beers, was all that he needed to make him a loyal customer. Other diners shared their favorite aspects of the restaurant with me, with comments that ranged from the freshness of the tomatoes, to the quality of the pizza dough, to… the “off the hook” pepperoni pizza panini sandwich, which the guy to the right of me was eating.

It was then that I picked up the menu and was immediately perplexed about the ordering decision that was to come. Everything sounded good… and different! From the imported meats and cheeses, to myriad sandwiches on homemade baguettes. There’s a crostini, a Caprese salad, buratta, salumi (meat and cheese) plates, an extra hot capocollo on a home baked roll, along with sopressata, mortadella, prosciutto, muffaletta (with prosciutto instead of ham), salami… suddenly I was transported to a New York City deli, and found myself already planning my return trip to Belsito in my head.

Belsito-Buffalo-NY-2But first things first. I needed to test the place out, so I ordered up the Margherita pizza with buffalo mozzarella, crushed Roma tomatoes (from Italy), basil, and extra-virgin olive oil (for $9). The personal pizza came out in no time flat, and immediately reminded me of a street pizza that I happened upon in Paris many moons ago. The only thing different was that there was no cracked egg on top, which, when I asked Mike if (in the future) he would consider adding it, he looked at me like I had a bird on my head. Later on, he agreed that he would try it out… maybe.

The pizza, served up on a cutting board with waxed paper (parchment paper would also be cool), was thin, crisped on the bottom, light, with little melted balls of cheese dotting the surface. The crust was baked to perfection, using 00 flour from Naples, and there was just the right crust-to-sauce ratio. I added some chili flakes and a dusting of parmesan cheese. The Torre Lupara buffalo mozzarella cheese (imported from Caserta), unlike the standard Buffalo-style cheese pizza, was thoughtfully placed, and did not drown out the subtle flavors of the basil. After I finished eating every last bite, I found myself surprisingly not full, but perfectly satiated. I then ordered a second pizza to take home to my wife, who was working late and couldn’t join me.

When I asked Mike about the food preparation, he told me that he was lucky to have his sister (former owner of Bertha’s on Hertel), helping out in the kitchen. Mike has also learned to do much of the cooking, which he attributes tothe simplicity of the dishes andthe quality of the ingredients, which speak for themselves. The addition of pizzas and salads are new to the menu. The condiments, the tapenade, dressings, etc., are all made in-house, which helps to accentuate the robust flavors in each dish. I also understand (from everyone seated at the bar) that Mike’s sister also whips up some mean Italian desserts.

Some day, Mike and Christine would like to be able to offer liquor, but according to NYS law, the front door of the establishment is too close to a place of worship (177 feet, and it needs to be 200 feet away), which in this day and age is just laughable. I also found it funny that they can’t put all of their dog water bowls on the patio (no communal bowls), because… get this… according to NYS, each dog would need its own bowl. Huh? So they place the four or five bowls just outside the patio’s perimeter.

Belsito-Buffalo-NY-5Other things that I like about Belsito are: They serve wine (extensive list) in eight ounce juice glasses (no stemware). They are open on Sundays and Mondays because the rest of Hertel is pretty much closed on those days. The cheese is from Buffalo Cheese Trader. They have tap takeovers, featuring a different Buffalo brewery each month. There are brewery presenters and draught specials – beer served for $4 and shandies for $6. This month (today – July 30, CBW is on tap). The patio is a great addition – love the Buffalo flag. Mike will soon be importing salamis from Italy. There’s a late night menu and a small kids’ menu.

Some things that need some work are: Dimmer lights, with some candles on the bar. A couple of murals to soften the place up (hello Rory!). A new sound system, which would help to add to the overall bar atmosphere. Bummer about the textured acoustic drop ceiling, but at least it’s new and clean (the suspended ceiling was invented in Buffalo).

Some things for the neighborhood to work on: For NYS to get its act together when it comes to tavern proximity to houses of worship. Hertel Avenue to ditch the center turning lanes, in order to add bike lanes – cars drive way too fast on the street. I like this corner building – Hertel still needs to fix up a number of other buildings of this type, which could look just as nice!

Overall, Belsito has suddenly risen to the top of my list for places to go in Buffalo, for an honest to goodness meal, with no pretensions, and friendly, neighborly service. It’s also a great place to meet young go-getters, who are investing in nearby houses and looking to elevate Hertel by supporting the business owners who appreciate every person who walks through their door. While I don’t live in the neighborhood, last evening I felt as if I did.

Belsito | 1368 Hertel Avenue | Buffalo, New York | (716) 240-9273 | Facebook

Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside, Buffalo Porchfest, and Paint vs. Paint. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market on Elmwood. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at Statler City, the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, and The Flutterby Festival.

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