A friend has been singing the praises of Cafe Bella for months now. While I was (gratefully) stuck with a 4:45 table on Valentine’s Day at one of my favorite spots in town, she was able to saunter, without reservations, into this understated restaurant. At a decent hour. On the Amateur’s Night of dining. For a meal that was a fraction of the cost of mine, and a lot less harried. That Cafe Bella wasn’t overbooked does not reflect on the quality of the food or service. Rather, it says plenty about the unwritten constitution of the place. I made my inaugural visit to the restaurant a few weeks ago, and am a fan.
You’re not going to find advertising for Cafe Bella in the neighborhood weeklies. Chances are, you won’t find an “open” sign in the window. And you’re definitely not going to find a written menu. Words and graphics are absent at Cafe Bella, which, for a woman whose livelihood revolves around these methods of communication, is strangely freeing. This restaurant survives on repeat customers and word of mouth referrals. The food selection changes daily – or hourly – depending on what’s available in the kitchen.
I felt as if I were a guest in the chef’s home. He made a few suggestions as to what we could eat. I said that either the salmon or the eggplant sounded good. My companion asked for pasta. He brought out all three, on a single plate, to be served family-style. The food, (mostly) local, and purchased that morning, was amazing. It was all I could do not to snag up the majority of it for myself. Whether you’re a convert to the locavore movement or not, fresh local food, put together in a simple manner, just cannot be beat.
Even without giant graphics on the walls announcing so, it’s apparent that community is a key element to Cafe Bella. Most everyone on the small outdoor patio (enveloped by pots of seedlings) seemed to know one another. The seedlings, which were in every free square foot of space, including above us, are for The Giving Garden, an organization (fed financially by the restaurant) that gives vegetable plants to food banks throughout the city. By the end of the meal, which included an unannounced plate of cannoli, new friends were made. I placed my credit card on the table, having no idea how much my three courses would cost me, but knowing that every penny would be worth it.
The only words I encountered in my dining experience were on the credit card slip. My meal was $9. Amazing. They say that you get what you pay for. In the case of Cafe Bella (and The Giving Garden), you get, and by proxy, give, a whole lot more.
Cafe Bella & The Giving Garden
2593 North High Street