Everybody has a restaurant that they wish they could rename to more accurately reflect what they personally get out of the establishment, and I’ve found mine: it’s a great little do-everything hole in the wall on Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill called Pizza Bellino. Now, I don’t mean to disrespect their pies, because I’ve had a couple slices before, and the “Pizza” part of their name is quite accurate. But if you were to glance at the storefront and the name, you’d assume that the building housed just another pizza place in a neighborhood that already has too many, and you’d be one hundred percent wrong. Reading Bellino’s menu is like running a marathon: I’m always exhausted by the time I get to the end of the 175-item menu (believe me, I just counted.) However, as you might expect, I always find myself mired in the hoagie section by the end because of the unbelievable variety and depth that Bellino’s offers. I’ve sampled a few, and am intent on trying more, but I haven’t found one more spectacular than the Supreme Pesto Chicken Hoagie.
Before I get into the ingredients, I have to preface the ‘wich description with the framework of all Bellino’s hoagies: they take all the ingredients, put them in between fantastic Italian bread, and then wrap the sandwich in aluminum foil and bake them in an oven. That’s right: the whole shebang gets baked, and it’s this technique that truly puts their hoagies on a newfound level of delicious. The bread gets this unbelievably perfect crunch, with the edges being crispier than the middle of the bun, and yet not being painfully crunchy; the folks at Bellino clearly have the art of their hoagies down to a science, because the consistency in quality immeasurable.
Now, on to the meat of this review. (Get it? It’s funny because the sandwich has meat in the middle. That’s why it’s funny.) The Supreme Pesto Chicken Hoagie consists of “Grilled chicken, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, pesto mayo,” all put together on that great Italian bread and then baked in the oven as I’d described before. This ‘wich breaks down into two distinct pieces, the warmth (the grilled chicken, provolone cheese and pesto mayo) and the cool (lettuce, tomatoes and onions), which compliment each other perfectly. It’s yet another example of the role that the constantly overlooked trio of lettuce, tomato and onion play in sandwiches all the time.
I don’t think I can review the sandwich ingredients separately because of the way the ingredients play off of each other, so I’ll start with the all-star and focal point of the ‘wich, the warmth. The grilling of the chicken gives it a nice neutral flavor, subtle enough so that the pesto mayo (which I’ll touch on shortly) has a platform to shine on, and yet not too neutral that you can’t even tell what you’re eating: the grilling brings the natural chicken flavor to the foreground. Then you throw in the pesto mayo, which is one of the most amazing spreads I’ve ever experienced on a sandwich: it’s got just enough of both pesto and mayo, not too much of either one, so that they work cohesively rather than dominantly, one over the other. The flavor of pesto, with it’s pine-nuttiness and the calming effect of the basil, works perfectly with chicken, but would be too overpowering and texturally jarring alone, which is why the mayo is necessary to bring a certain creaminess to the sandwich. And then once the provolone cheese is added, the pesto mayo and provolone combine to make an unparalleled cheesy-pesto-y combination that coats every inch of the chicken.
However, if you know your sandwiches, nobody wants a ‘wich that is solely hearty heat and meat; it threatens to become overwhelmingly heavy, almost like the sandwich is attacking you. That’s where the holy trio of sandwich veggies, the Big Three, come in. Lettuce is the integral first step: with all that warmth and chewiness going on, you need a new texture to draw your attention to a different part of the ‘wich to avoid texture malaise, and the crisp crunch that lettuce brings is perfect to add a different feeling without messing with the flavor profiles of the star ingredients. Then you have the tomato, which brings a completely opposite flavor to the sandwich: where the rest of the ingredients are salty and savory, the tomato gives you acidity and a certain bite that hits each bite; where the lettuce avoids texture malaise, the tomato helps avoid flavor malaise. It’s key for a sandwich to keep you guessing, and that’s the job of the tomato in this sandwich. And finally we come to the onion, a great part of any sandwich. Here, it adds a kick of spice and heat that wasn’t present anywhere else in the hoagie: just when you think you have this ‘wich pegged, you take a bite with a big piece of onion and all of a sudden you’re in a completely different part of FlavorTown.
In case you can’t tell, I’m seriously impressed by this sandwich. The pesto mayo is some of the best stuff I’ve ever tasted, the baking technique that is implemented makes for some of the most texturally interesting sandwiches I’ve ever eaten, and the composition of the complimentary ingredients makes for a wholly complete sandwich. Thumbs up, Pizza Bellino, thumbs up.