Putting some life into a strip mall vacated by a big box store, Big Belly offers a dining experience with a friendly neighborhood feel.

Entering the restaurant we quickly spotted the dessert case on the left, and seated ourselves at the request of a smiling server. The room is large, with a big screen TV at the back and the front, tuned to stations featuring reruns when we were there. The tables are equipped with rolls of paper towels, which is appropriate foreshadowing for what was to come.

Since we spotted the dessert case first, we will discuss it first. On our visits we tried three different offerings. The good dessert was the lemon pound cake ($3.99). The better dessert was the limoncello cake ($4.99), a soft sponge cake between custard and icing with a lemon tang that cuts the sweetness. The best dessert was the Italian cream lemon mist cake ($4.99). The cake was moist, the filling in the middle was firm and lemony, and once again, not too sweet thanks to the lemon. (There are also some desserts without lemon in them.) Please note that all the desserts are already packaged to take home, and that’s what we did, as we were stuffed from our meals. Remember the name of this restaurant?

The menu features appetizers, salads, burgers, subs, pizza, stromboli and pasta. If you go for appetizers, the selection starts with onion rings (3.99) and ends with bacon cheese fries ($4.99 for small). In between there are mozzarella sticks ($5.99), hot wings ($8.99 for 10) and the one we enjoyed the most — fried cheese ravioli with marinara ($6.99). The ravioli were crisp pockets filled with melted cheese, and the marinara had that fresh, tangy tomato taste. The generous portion is one reason we took home some of our dinner and the dessert to go. If ravioli is not to your liking, we recommend the fried zucchini ($5.99). The crispy wedges with a soft zucchini in the middle taste great dipped in ranch dressing.

The pizza menu features some house specialty combinations, and a wide selection of toppings to build your own. Some options you don’t normally encounter include fresh spinach, feta cheese, giardiniera (pickled vegetables) and gyro meat. Your have a choice of flatbread or crusts from 10 inches to 16 inches.

We ordered a 10-inch Hawaiian ($8.99) from the specialty menu. We don’t agree on pineapple as a pizza ingredient, but we had no complaints about this one. During the same visit we ordered a cheeseburger. The half-pound burger with lettuce, tomato, mayo and onion ($6.99) was an excellent example of an American cheeseburger. The bun was soft, the vegetables fresh and crisp, and the roll of paper towels on the table was a necessity, as the juices dripped while enjoying the burger. You can add fries for $1.99.

Big Belly’s sub sandwich offerings come in 8-inch and 12-inch sizes. There are 11 different subs, including an Italian, a turkey and cheese, a chicken and a steak Philly, a ham and cheese and others. The 8-inch meatball parm ($7.49) featured six tender meatballs with melted mozzarella cheese and that tangy marinara sauce. The sub was toasted. Our initial reaction was “how do you pick it up?” The paper towels on the table were once again in the game.

The most intriguing sub was the Combo Mambo ($7.99 for 8-inch). We could not pass up the combination of soppressatta (a dry-cured salami), salami, turkey, ham, lettuce, tomato, onion, provolone, banana peppers, Italian dressing and mayo. Our server explained if you fold it up and squeeze it gently you can fit it into your mouth. The banana peppers set off the rest of the flavors. The sub roll was soft, yet toasted just enough. This sub is not for the dainty eater.

Spaghetti is something many places overcook but the spaghetti with meat sauce ($9.99) we enjoyed had pasta cooked al dente. The marinara sauce was tangy with a generous ratio of ground meat, and the portion was enough to take home and enjoy again. It is served with a side salad and bread. The salad was mostly lettuce with tomato, onion and black olives but the veggies were fresh. The bread was soft dinner rolls with garlic and herbs.

On another visit we ordered a gyro ($6.99) which featured lamb, beef, lettuce, tomato and onion with a refreshing tzatziki sauce on pita bread. The pita was soft and made it possible to squeeze those ingredients enough to actually bite into the over-stuffed gyro. Paper towel roll to the rescue, again.

We did not have the opportunity to try the salads on the menu. With a name like Big Belly we were not expecting a choice of salads, but examples include a Greek, a chef and a grilled chicken.

While we were dining, a steady stream of patrons came and picked up to-go orders. Big Belly is a casual place where the owner might be the one ringing out your check. Most likely after your meal you will leave feeling like the restaurant lives up to its name.

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