Enjoyable, eclectic Italian eating
4632 Eastern Ave., Linwood 513-871-5862 or www.bellalunacincy.com
"Hmm ... looks interesting" you think, only to realize you're walking into the bottom of an apartment building across the street from a factory. Undeterred and your curiosity growing, you step inside the restaurant, only to discover leopard print carpeting, blue velvet curtains and walls full of Frank Sinatra pictures.
Welcome to Bella Luna, the funkiest, most eclectic and enjoyable little Italian restaurant in Cincinnati.
"We are happy when (our customers) are happy," says Harry Stephens, who co-owns Bella Luna with his wife, Gay. "We attempt on a daily basis to serve authentic Italian food, which is food that is hearty, flavorful and meant to be enjoyed without very much pretense."
How steeped in Italian heritage is Bella Luna? The framed marriage certificate and Ellis Island immigration papers of Stephens' grandfather Angelo Scurtzavara are in the "grandparents booth" in the first of the restaurant's three rooms. Of course, you'll have to step past the bar to get there provided you don't get distracted by the checkerboard floor, bright blue accents and the old radio that doubles as the hostess stand.
Continue on, and you'll also eventually discover the heated veranda and the red and blue room perfect for private parties. Both are so charming and quaint, it would be understandable if you just came to Bella Luna to chill with friends.
But there's award-winning food to eat here - and eat it, you should.
A multiyear winner at the Taste of Cincinnati (most recently a 2007 Best of Taste award for the "imperata di cozze" mussels appetizer, $9.99), Bella Luna ha a menu culled from Stephens' Italian heritage and the time he spent in his native New York. That background has resulted in a menu full of authentic cuisine ranging from lasagna ($14.99) to house specialties such as veal saltimbocca ($19.99).
And if you're not opposed to an impromptu floor show, manager Sara Vaught says you're in for a treat.
"Harry walks around and talks to every table ... he may not remember names, but he always remembers faces," she says. "He loves talking to people and telling stories about New York and the Italian community he grew up in, playing sports, acting (and) God knows what else."
HOURS: 4:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday, 4:30 to 10 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday and 4:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
APPETIZER: Sautéed calamari (squid) and polpi (octopus) in a spicy arrabiata sauce ($9.99)
ITALIAN ENTRÉE FAVORITE: Veal saltimbocca balsamico - scallopini veal stuffed with sage and prosciutto with balsamic vinegar sauce served with spinach risotto ($15.99)
NON-TRADITIONAL ENTRÉE: Grilled lamb chops served with spinach risotto and fresh vegetables ($24.99)
DESSERT: "Torta de pane" bread pudding with amaretto butter sauce ($6.29)
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