2593 N. High St.
Columbus Ohio 43202United States
Unconventional and inexpensive, Cafe Bella is an experiment in dining that gets mixed results.
Located in a busy commercial area a short distance north of the Ohio State campus, Cafe Bella may remind you of the student apartment you shared with your college friends. It's tiny and has mismatched, bought-on-a-shoestring tables and chairs; there is no air-conditioning; you enter through the kitchen; and the vibe is retro flower child. In the summer, owner Vincent Withers uses the open-air dining patio behind the restaurant for a makeshift vegetable garden where basil grows in repurposed paint buckets, tomato vines crawl across white wire shelves, and a Rube Goldberg-style system of pipes and hoses provides irrigation. Although the community-minded Withers donates much of what he grows to a food bank, he also uses his produce in the Italian-accented dishes he cooks for customers. Cafe Bella has no printed menu because its cuisine varies daily, depending on available ingredients and what Withers wants to cook. A typical main course consists of crispy wedges of fried eggplant, ground beef and sausage meatballs laced with flavorful onions, and garlicky tomato sauce garnished with basil and served over linguini. Generally, the food is good, but a few things gave us pause. Cafe Bella is a BYOB restaurant, which is common in Chicago, but unexpected in Columbus. Our summertime cucumber soup arrived lukewarm instead of ice cold, which was totally unappetizing. And rather than presenting a written bill, your server just tells you what you owe. The price, however, is right for students or anyone else on a budget -- about $15 for a four-course meal.