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Italian-born Maria Vilella feels right at home in her new La Bella Apulia Gourmet Market & Apericena in historic Naples. La Bella is so homey and comfortable that people may feel as if they should be bringing host Vilella a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers when they dine there as her guest. 

“Everybody says it feels like being home, so they like that,” Vilella said. “It’s cozy.” 

La Bella Apulia opened Tuesday in the rustic Shoppes at Dockside, formerly Dockside Boardwalk, at 1100 Sixth Ave. S., in Old Naples. “I changed everything. I built the kitchen. I did everything,” Vilella said. 

Just inside the entrance of the cafe and wine bar is a tiny market with gourmet products imported from Italy. The shelves display packages and jars of dried pasta, sauces, olive oil and marmalades and other food items straight from Puglia, or Apulia as it’s also known, the region of Italy where Vilella is from. Everything she serves in the cafe, except for the deli meat, also is imported from that region of southern Italy that forms the “heel” of the country’s “boot.” So, the cafe provides a taste of Italy. “They have authentic Italian because I’m the one cooking and preparing everything,” she said. “And they can enjoy a very good wine.”

The apericena idea of dining may be foreign to many Americans. Apericena is from an Italian word, aperitivo, which means aperitif,” said Vilella. “It’s the tradition of enjoying a cocktail or a glass of wine and a bite to eat (before a meal). You order your drink; it comes with food.” So, when guests order a glass of wine or a mimosa, bellini or spritz cocktail, it comes with mini Italian bites served similar to a charcuterie board.  

“I have cheese and cold cuts and artichokes, mushrooms, peppers, olives, everything,” said Vilella, who serves selections designed to best accompany the alcoholic beverage ordered. “I will have little bites of pasta dishes sometimes. Just a little thing.” 

Apericena items may be bruschetta, varieties of cheeses or olives, mini meatballs or small pieces of cooked pizza dough topped with prosciutto, salami, capicola or mortadella. “Everything comes from Italy,” she said. 

La Bella’s small menu also includes soups, salads, cheese plates with fresh grapes and marmalade, antipasto, flatbread pizza and meatball, mortadella or Italian sausage sandwiches. 

Previously a manager of restaurants in Italy for 15 years, Vilella relocated to the United States to be a general manager of an Italian-American restaurant in Naples before she opened her own restaurant, La Casa dell’Anima, last year in East Naples. She closed it, though, after finding a better location for her new La Bella Apulia in a former retail store in Naples. The cafe has small tables inside as well as outside on the boardwalk alongside a small marina.   

The new business is open 3 to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, noon to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday. It’s closed Mondays and Wednesdays for now.

Copyright 2024 Gulfshore Life Media, LLC All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without prior written consent.

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