Best New Restaurants 2019

Bella’s Italian Bakery and Market Is a Stealth Red Sauce Haven

The Lents bakery—a destination for killer cannoli and sfogliatelle—also does weekly pizza and lasagna nights.

By Benjamin Tepler October 18, 2019 Published in the November 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

Bella’s popular pizza night takes over the bakery every Thursday

Why detour to Bella’s Bakery out in Lents? There haven’t been cannoli this good in Portland since Southwest’s original Little Italy crumbled in the mid-1900s. Blistered and shatter-crisp from the deep fryer, each treat is pipetted to order with sweet, creamy, tangy house ricotta and studded with chocolate chips or almonds. Dive deeper into Bella’s pastry case to find more Italianate rarities: lemony ciambella crumb cake; crackling, cheese-crisped sfincione bread, and thinly layered sfogliatelle clamshells baked with semolina ricotta filling. Patrons have been known to drive from as far as Centralia for a taste.

But owner Michelle Vernier hasn’t just baked up a destination pastry spot. Like Portland’s Little Italy of yesteryear, she’s galvanized an entire neighborhood around her Old World treasures and Italian American food vices.

On a recent Thursday, families and neighborhood stragglers filled the house for Vernier’s weekly pizza night, wolfing down 12-inch, poofy-rimmed $8.50 margherita pies and sipping Lambrusco. Come Sundays, local members of Future Farm’s CSA troop in to pick up their weekly produce haul and stay for the bakery’s absurdly good Sunday-only sausage-and-mushroom lasagna: a massive slab of crispy, frizzle-edged perfection with a blob of ricotta oozing from its center. DIYers stop at the cute tomato-can-lined refrigerator where pizza and cannoli to-go kits sit in rows, along with little tubs of giardiniera and gremolata.

House tiramisu (left) and Bella’s airy Lents digs

And in a far corner, a gray-haired couple digs into a tall rectangle of tiramisu layered with house sponge cake, rum, and enough espresso to give a legitimate buzz. For the first six months or so, Vernier avoided the tired Italian dessert despite persistent requests from regulars. But Bella’s isn’t some chef’s vanity project—it’s a community center built on mythical nonna magic. And you know what? It’s freaking delicious. 9119 SE Woodstock Blvd

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