In most Italian families, life revolves around the stove. Sergio Bellofatto’s home cooking was no different.
“I grew up in southern Italy. When I was around eight years old, I started watching my grandmother cook,” he said. “I also watched my dad in the kitchen and learned how to make everything from sauces to minestrone. Grandma taught me 80% of what I know today.
“We also had the iconic large table which could seat around 25 people. There was a lot of eating, drinking, talking, arguing – but always respect.
Bellofatto immigrated to the United States and worked for 37 years in Italian restaurants before buying the Little Roma restaurant in La Mesa.
“After 34 years, the restaurant where I worked closed and that’s when I realized it was time to move on. Bellofatto and his wife bought the Little Roma restaurant from the previous owner who was ready to retire. “It’s a family restaurant. My wife, I and my child all participate.
Most of her recipes are family recipes and are all made to order. His cuisine comes from all over Italy: classics, northern Italian, southern Italian and Sicilian desserts.
Each plate is made fresh at the time of ordering. “My food may take a little longer to come out, but I prepare it on the spot.” He wants every dish to taste like home.
Bellofatto wants you to feel at home. Enjoy the terrace. Enjoy your meal. Take your time.
“People bring their friends with them. They love the terrace. They love to sit there with a bottle of wine and my food and relax, talk and cool off. I love seeing people leave the restaurant with big smiles on their faces and say, ‘Hey, I’ll be back next week.’ We work hard for this. Good food and good service are key.
Adding to the ambience is the unique decor with beautiful paintings on the walls and ceilings. “An artist came from Rome in 1999 and painted the murals. They are still beautiful and have never needed touching up. We just clean the walls,” he said.
Bellofatto offers an extensive menu with soups and salads, fresh and dry pasta, fish and shellfish, the standard staples such as lasagna, lobster ravioli, manicotti, gnocchi and eggplant parmigiana.
“I offer daily specials where I experiment with different cuisines. My prices are not high and people appreciate that,” the chef said.
At the end of the day, he said, “Working in a kitchen is not a job, it’s a passion. There’s a lot of headaches but at the end of the day — it’s a passion.”
Visit Little Roma at 5575 Baltimore Dr, Suite 104 at La Mesa. Check out the menu at: littleromarestaurant.com.
– Robin Dohrn-Simpson is a local food and travel writer. Contact her at: robindohrnsimpson.com.