By Barbara Ann Zippi
The Italians are coming! The Italians are coming! I remember hearing those words so well when our Italian relatives and friends from my grandmother’s hometown in the Abruzzo region, Loreto Aprutino, would visit L’America. So, when I had the chance to meet Ariano owner Anthony Bellapigna’s cousin Nicola, visiting from Bellapigna’s hometown of Ariano Irpino, I said yes.
Bellapigna’s energy will draw you in as he captures the essence of eating and drinking Italian style. Want spaghetti? Visit his Fellini operation on State Street. At Ariano, he captures cooking southern cuisine as a tribute to Ariano Irpino, the town that gave birth to his parents. It’s his second home and a tribute to his family and legacy. Their journey to America endured sacrifices in World War II. His grandfather, an Italian soldier, was captured and held for 10 years as a POW, unrecognizable to his own daughter in the streets on his return home. Their family story, an homage by the newest generation to the life his ancestors, once orphaned in Italy, created for them between two continents, is now depicted both inside and outside the restaurant.
Anthony was the brains behind the Dining Under the Stars, an idea so successful because he wanted to create a little of his ancestral hometown outside the walls of Ariano in Media.
He is excited to host an Italian delegation of state police from his ancestral hometown on Oct. 8 for a private reception to meet local and regional officials. But Anthony wants to share them with everybody in town so he’s closing the street for an old-fashioned Italian ceremony and block party to share the Italians with friends, neighbors and customers. We’ll be taking the Ciao Bella TV cameras to capture the excitement to share between two continents.
He and his family, builders by trade, built the Media location with their own hands. The purchase of the property was completed on the birthday of his beloved late aunt, Zia Rosa, and dedicated to her. The first dish on the menu is hers, too. From the roads of southern Italy to the to the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, he captures the ups and downs of his family story online and more importantly in the ceiling mural over the second floor which records and blends both heartbreaking and wonderful memories from Italy to America. Zia Rosa is the only member of the family present on all four walls of the mural where family members are depicted amid the beautiful landscapes of Ariano Irpino.
Many of the menu items display the names of the people who are important to the family story. Two dishes on the menu mark the milestones in this journey: Buona Fortuna, which means “good luck,” is named for the start of his venture, and Finalmente is named for the day he finally opened the doors.
Featuring appetizers, salads, wood oven pizzas, entrees and homemade gelato, his nephew Rocco is now under his wing and formulating an extensive selection of imported Italian wine and craft beers. One of his favorite passions is his homemade cellos, but don’t look for the limon flavor.
This is a true family operation inspired to create a place where you come in as a customer, but leave as family member.
Visit the murals, the inscription over the third floor reads: Per la nostra Zia Rosa, tuo spirito vive oggi e sempre con tutta la famiglia. (To our Aunt Rosa, your spirit lives today and always with the family.)