Melinda Guevara found inspiration for her family’s latest local restaurant from memories from her childhood – particularly her days spending time in the kitchen with her mother and late grandmother.
Carmela’s is named for Guevara’s grandmother, Carmela Nuara, who with her mother, Assunta Nuara, crafted a few of the recipes prepared at the restaurant.
Guevara, along with her husband, Belmont Pizzeria co-owner Victor Guevara, will soon open the new pizza joint in the former Halligan Bar and Grill space at 3 N. 17th St. in Shockoe Bottom.
“For me, Carmela’s is about a celebration of who they are,” Guevara said of her mother and grandmother. “They are two of the strongest women that I know, and I love them both so much. It just seemed fitting that this place pays tribute to the awesome women and cooks that they are.”
Carmela’s serves up a variety of Sicilian options, but pizzas are the main course.
Each pie is cooked in a gas-fired Forno Classico oven at 700 to 800 degrees for about three minutes, Melinda said, with special attention paid to the crust to ensure that the base of the pizza slice does not bend or break when grasped by diners.
“Victor is a perfectionist and worked for weeks on the dough for Carmela’s,” Melinda said. “He nailed it.”
In addition to Carmela’s and Belmont Pizzeria, the family also owns Bel Cibo Pizzeria in Short Pump, which is co-owned by Victor and Melinda’s brother, Salvatore Nuara.
Patrons at Carmela’s can customize their own pizzas by choosing from a list of about 20 toppings that include salami, pepperoni, arugula, anchovies and capers. They can also choose from a variety of signature pizzas such as the “La Carmela,” which is made with parmesan creme, arugula, artichokes, garlic, onion and lemon zest.
The menu also includes antipasti and salads, such as its polpette di patata — lightly fried potato cakes served with garlic aioli — and panelle, which are chickpea fritters served with calabrian chili aioli. Both are recipes originally crafted by her mother and grandmother.
“These were handwritten recipes that were passed down to me,” Melinda said. “I absolutely love these dishes and I wanted to share them with others.”
Carmela’s is open for lunch and dinner service, seating up to 40 people, Melinda said. An additional 20 people will be able to sit on its patio, which it hopes to open in the coming weeks.
The restaurant is open for dine-in or carry-out only from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Sunday. It has no immediate plans to work with any third-party food delivery services.
Melinda said eventually Carmela’s will offer Sunday brunch, which it hopes to launch in about a month.
Rooted in tradition
For Melinda, being Sicilian is to be loyal to family and tradition. She’s reminded by the major influencers of her life by the design of Carmela’s.
A portrait of her mother crafted by local artist Nico Cathcart greets patrons as they enter the restaurant; while a mural of lemons dangling from the branch provide a pop of color and remind Melinda of the lemon orchards back in Sicily.
“We still have a lot of family that we visit in Sicily,” said Melinda, who’s set to give birth to her and Victor’s second child, a boy, in September. “I wanted to feel like I was there, and bring some openness and light to the space.”
But the biggest, and most obvious, tribute is to the family matriarch: her grandmother Carmela, with whom Melinda shares a middle name and still credits for her love of Sicilian dishes.
“We did everything as a family, and I was very close with my grandmother and remain very close with my mother,” Melinda said. “Carmela’s is an extension of who I am.
“They built our family on tradition…and that’s what I want to do here.”