Spanish flies in Belmont

When Hog Heaven picked up and left its prime location at the epicenter of downtown Belmont, the opportunity was ripe for a businessperson with a hankering to try their hand at restaurateuring.

For weeks now, rumors have swirled around Belmont and the rest of downtown that a new restaurant is in the works, but the details have not been forthcoming.

Time for Dish to do a little snooping.

Strolling by, we peeked into the space, which has basically been gutted. Though the men hard at work inside could say only that they were working on a restaurant, they did offer up the owner's name: Kirby Vernon. And Vernon's vision for the space? Tapas.

Vernon's wife, Katie Swenson, an architect, once owned a tapas bar in New York City, and the pair decided it was time to bring a little Spanish flair to Charlottesville. Together with chef Tomas Rehal, they're working to transform the stripped Hog Heaven home into something a little more continental.

Tapas, for those whose idea of Spanish food begins and ends with paella, are small, savory dishes that appeal to a variety of culinary inclinations. They can be grilled, fried, or served raw and involve everything from eggplant to calamari.

So when will the restaurant vacuum be filled for hungry Belmonters? "We're shooting for November," Vernon says.

Right now the vacant building on Monticello Road sports broken windows and dusty floors, but once the proper permits are obtained, workers will get down to business. Word is that a wood-burning oven is one of the elements necessary for the right tapas experience, and from the view through the grimy glass, it looks like that's exactly what's in the making. We'll keep you updated.


Northern pies

 It looks like family-owned Pizza Bella is planning to give the big chains a run for their money.

Three years after opening their first restaurant on the south side of town, owner Christine Manning and chef Willie Manning are taking their mom-and-son act to Seminole Trail; they plan to open while this issue of The Hook is still flying off stands. The new Pizza Bella will offer the same build-your-own pizzas and specialty pastas as the original, but in snazzier environs.

"Same menu, nicer atmosphere," Willie Manning sums up. And he's not concerned that the demise of the restaurant's former inhabitant, Papagallo Bar and Grill, spells doom for his venture.

"I tend to think they didn't quite hit the demographic that is out here," Manning says, citing the family-centric market north of town. As for Pizza Bella, "Our menu is perfectly designed for it."

Southside families are probably already familiar with Pizza Bella's mix of kid-friendly pizzas and parent-pleasing entrees.

"It's not necessarily Italian food," Manning says. "The specials will draw on all influences." Chicken, seafood, steak– you name it, Pizza Bella's got it.

Now Northside families will get the same fine cuisine with a few perks. With twice the capacity as its counterpart, the new Pizza Bella will house a full bar and cocktail lounge. But Manning's not letting success warp his restaurant's original philosophy.

"What we stress is that we are family-owned and family-style," Manning says. That should be a relief for families wandering the strips of 29 North looking for a friendly place to land.