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MidVil residents target wood-burning eatery

A new restaurant in Middle Village appears to be pleasing diners with its high-end Italian food, but some neighbors are complaining that its old-style wood-burning oven is giving them a face full of soot.

La Bella Cucina opened Sept. 4 at 69-61 Juniper Blvd. South and soon afterward hosted a Republican fund-raising dinner for City Council candidate Tom Ognibene and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Its Web site touts its authentic, brick-oven pizzas.

But neighbor Bernice McCormick told Community Board 5 in October that black smoke pours from the restaurant’s wood-fired oven most of the day, making her eyes burn.

“When my granddaughter comes to visit, she says, ‘Grandma, barbecue,’” she said.

Caroline Connors, the restaurant’s general manager, said those complaining of smoke are a small contingent of neighbors and that the quantity of smoke is no more than what comes from fireplaces that are commonplace in Middle Village.

“I really don’t understand what it is they’re referring to, unless you really just detest the odor of wood burning,” she said, noting she goes outside periodically during the day to check on the smoke. “I’m at a loss as to what it is we can do.”

CB 5 District Manager Gary Giordano said he had written to the owner asking her to stop using the oven and contacted the city Department of Environmental Protection, which issued a $400 violation against the restaurant Oct. 14 for odor emissions from the smoke. The restaurant is slated for a hearing on the violation Nov. 30.

“I thought maybe that did some good, but then, like the last two Sundays, it was pretty bad when I passed by,” he said.

A DEP spokeswoman said the agency had received 10 complaints involving the restaurant between September and the beginning of November.

The DEP said it recommended the restaurant either use a different fuel to light the fire in the oven before switching to wood or install a filtering device on the chimney to reduce smoke and odor.

Connors said the restaurant wants to work with neighbors and will try burning the wood for a shorter period of time during the day, but noted that extinguishing the fire and lighting a new one for each pizza was not a practical option.

“It takes quite a while for the wood to start up .... [And] if you don’t keep it going, you lose the effect of the brick ovens,” she said. “It’s a difficult issue to solve.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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