When head chef and manager Michael Pedicini goes to work every day at Stella Restaurant and Bar, his late grandmother Maria is on his mind. That’s because many of the dishes he makes at the restaurant, which recently opened in town at 213 Greenwood Avenue in the Dolan Plaza, are inspired by her.
“My grandmother was an immigrant of Italy. She was your traditional stay-at-home grandmother. While I was growing up in Stamford, she taught me the basics of cooking Italian food,” said Pedicini, of Bethel, who has worked at restaurants throughout Ridgefield and Bethel for 20 years.
Stella is next door to Peachwave self-serve frozen yogurt, and in the former location of Pancho's & Gringo's, which has closed.
The owner, Ava Agolli, said her family has worked in the restaurant business for 30 years, specializing in Italian food. They are co-owners of Prespa Restaurant & Bar on Mill Plain Road in Danbury, which has been in business for five years.
From 1989 to 2004, the family owned the former Prezzo Restaurant in New Canaan, and from 2000 to 2004, they owned the former Mirabella restaurant in Ridgefield.
“We built everything in this place from scratch. Our bar is made from 150-year-old cherry wood,” said Agolli, a Danbury resident.
The restaurant—whose name means “star” in Italian—seats 105, and has a year-round outside patio that seats an additional 50 people.
Dinners include “medallions di vitello con agra dolce,” which is pan roasted veal medallions topped with sweet and hot pepper sauce for $22; and pollo alla fungi Stella, which is semi-boneless marinated grilled chicken served over roasted potato and porcini mushroom hash for $19.
The meatball and shaved parmigiana antipasti dish “polpette delia Nonna” is taken directly from Pedicini’s grandmother’s recipe.
The menu also includes antipasti dishes such as gamberonini grigli, which is marinated prawns in Sicilian chardonnay; as well as salads and pasta. In addition, customers can order specialty pizzas that cost from $12 to $19.
“We use all locally harvested produce in our dishes,” Agolli said. One farm where the restaurant gets its many of the ingredients is Cherry Grove Farm on Platts Hill Road in Newtown.
According to Pedicini, Stella’s serves Northern-based Italian cuisine.
“I take classic Italian food and bring it to age," he said. "I use a lot of French and Asian inspired techniques in my dishes.
“I don’t use any store-bought product. All the products I use are as from scratch as you can get. Also, I don’t use tomato-based and cheese-topped Italian products. It’s not traditional Italian (styled-food) to put cheese over meat,” Pedicini added.
Customer Kathy Guariglia of Redding said she dines at Stella’s for lunch or dinner every day.
“Everything on this menu is wonderful. The veal scaloppini is so lean. It’s just like butter. You can cut it with a fork," Guariglia said.
"The pasta, meatballs, and sausages are just like my great grandma’s, and the salmon dish is served on a plank with wasabi sauce. It’s out of this world."
“My husband Carl and I are pure-bred Italian. My great-grandmother Katherine (who lived in Westport) taught me how to cook. These dishes taste just like hers did,” Guariglia added.
Agolli, who was a former school teacher, said the camaraderie she has with her customers is what she enjoys most about the restaurant business.
“I’m a giving person and nurturing people is in my character," Agolli said. "My own family lives back home in Macedonia (Yugoslavia), and I miss them very much. This is why I feel my customers are a second family to me. When I provide food for them, I feel just like a mother in her kitchen, making food for her family.”
Stella Restaurant and Bar, located at 213 Greenwood Avenue in the Dolan Plaza, is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday; and for dinner 4 to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday to Saturday, and 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Call 203-797-8131 for more information.