You can buy a ready-made sandwich to go at Target, source ingredients for dinner at Wal-Mart’s super centers, or order your birthday cake from the supermarket, but one-stop shopping forces a compromise we often forget. Those small businesses that focus on deli, meats or baked goods will always have a superior product.
Mom and I spent a euphoric hour at Bella Napoli in Latham reminding ourselves of that fact. We had homemade soup and sandwiches for a terrific lunch, then trawled the bakery cases.
It can get busy at lunchtime, and I deposited Mom at a table by the front plate glass window while I grabbed menus from the counter. The coffee bar divides the premises; order sandwiches and soups at the counter with small dining area at right, and shop the bakery to the left. The ’80s-era modern, flat-roof building resembles its light-bricked sister store in Troy.
Bella Napoli Bakery, Sandwich and Coffee Cafe
WHERE: 672 New Loudon Road (Route 9), Latham, 783-0196, www.bellanapolibakery.com
WHEN: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $21.76, before tax and tip
MORE INFO: Credit cards: Master Card, Visa, American Express. Parking in lot. Wheelchair accessible.
I stood in line to order our food, observing the protocol and watching the sandwich makers. You order, pay, and they call your number when it’s time to pick up your food. Folks who wanted to buy a loaf of bread or get more napkins had to butt in. Plenty of cashiers separated the requests, but it could be made more clear where to stand for what.
Mom enjoyed the chicken and rice soup ($3.49), with cubes of carrot and white meat chicken, bits of celery and onion, and some parsley for color. “It’s a delicious soup,” she said, “As much meat as rice.”
The pasta fagioli soup ($3.49) I had was piping hot and perfect for a rainy day. There were plenty of white beans, lots of medium ditalini pasta, and chunks of tomato in proportion to the tomato base, with fresh chopped herbs for flavor. You can choose crackers or a roll, for a perfectly-sized lunch.
You’re probably going for a sandwich, and Bella Napoli offers large or small, hot — meatballs and cheese, sausage and pepper, eggplant Parm — or cold. Have it on a sub roll, crisp Italian roll, sesame seed roll, rye, a hard roll, Italian bread or panini. There are always homemade soups and sides, like macaroni and potato salad, and specials.
It was mesmerizing watching the sandwich makers work at a steady pace, neatly and carefully assembling hefty subs and sandwiches. There was no rushing, or jostling for ingredients, all was calm, which set the tone for the dining area.
We didn’t have to wait long for out number to be called, or even get up: Someone delivered two paper-lined plastic baskets to our table. Each contained a massive sandwich, tangy, fragrant pickle and small bag of Wise potato chips.
Mom swooned over the pastrami on rye ($7.69) with Swiss and mustard. The bread, cut almost an inch thick, was soft and moist, “Fresh as can be,” she said. She showed off her fillings. “I don’t think it’s expensive for what you get,” she said, and added, “The bread makes the sandwich.”
The small Italian mix sub ($7.69) on a fresh roll was out of this world. They honored my request to go easy on the house oil, and assembled ambrosial salami, pepperoni, salty provolone and added capicola that started out sweet and ended up with heat. Thinly sliced red onion just made it all better, and the tomato slices were respectably ripe. The roll was soft on the inside with a more substantial crust, the better to hold everything in. It stayed neat, and so did I.
Our food came to $21.76, not including tax and the tip I gave the sandwich makers for the entertainment. We headed to the bakery.
Some time later we emerged, carrying a hefty bag filled with doughnuts, coffee cake and a lobster tail for Mom. Bella Napoli reminded us of the importance of stand-alone businesses when it comes to authenticity and quality. It was a delicious lesson.