Cuisine & cocktails made with ‘love’

  • The restaurant has a full bar, a bar and entertainment area, and also separate dining areas to suit diners

Almost all chefs will tell you they cook with “love,” but at Ciao Bella Ristorante Italiano, mixologist Caitlin Schwab feels the same about creating cocktails.

“I just love bartending,” says Schwab, “especially here. I enjoy making the drinks, talking to the people who come here ... hearing their stories.”

For the Sun Times’ series on local drinks and desserts, Schwab decided on an espresso martini with a cocoa rim, and espresso and vanilla vodka finished off with Kahlua.

Her Bourbon Manhattan is with bitters, sweet Vermouth and a house bourbon; while her mojito is with Bacardi Limon rum with a fresh mint swirl.

In the kitchen, chef Juan Cortazar picked three popular desserts – a light and fluffy Tiramisu made with lady fingers, eggs, cream and Mascarpone cheese; Crème Brulee, also with cream and eggs as a basis, but with some “secret” ingredients as well, and a homemade Key Lime Pie that Cortazar says is a firm customer favorite.

As a prelude to the drinks and desserts, Cortazar says look no further than Ciao Bella for authentic Italian cuisine.

In business for nearly three years at its Collier Boulevard niche in Heritage Plaza opposite Publix, the restaurant takes diners on a regional journey of Italy, he says.

The various choices are all available at the restaurant's website.

An exception

One major special that is not necessarily Italian, but universal, is the “famous” pork chop, stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella cheese and finished with mushroom sauce.

It's a “special” sauce, says Juan Cortazar, and he again offers no further details.

Prices at the restaurant range around $9 for appetizers to under $30 for entrees.

It has a full bar, a bar and entertainment area, and also separate dining areas to suit diners.

On the cover: Chef Juan Cortazar's key lime pie has the standard ingredients, plus a few "extras" he chooses not to divulge. Photo: Quentin Roux/

If you go

What: Ciao Bella Ristorante Italiano

Where: Heritage Plaza, 1000 N. Collier Blvd., opposite Publix

Theme: Italian

Prices: Medium

Hours: 5 p.m.-close (around 9 p.m.), seven days a week

Reservations: Suggested, particularly for big groups

Summer specials: 20 percent off bill Monday-Thursday, 20 percent off takeout orders

Summer happy hour: All day Friday and Sunday

Live entertainment: Saturday

Call: 970-0505