On breezy September afternoons, Bella Luna props its doors wide, inviting patrons inside with smells of wood-fired pizza. I was one such patron this past Monday, though I was not on the prowl for pizza.
Bella Luna finds its home in the stretch of locally owned restaurants on West Water Street downtown, a three-second stroll from the central parking deck. It is hard to miss if you look for the large barn doors and chalk-board sign boasting five dollar pizzas during happy hour.
Much like the rest of downtown, Bella Luna’s industrial-vintage interior flaunts exposed air ducts, brass door knobs, hefty support beams, meshed metal furniture, and an exposed brick wall that will steal bits of your sweater if you get too snuggly — all elements you can find in a mid-price range restaurant in Harrisonburg. On the walls hang an assortment of colorful, cartoony canvases, which vibes well with the oldies music jazzing out of the stereo system. But I did not come to Bella Luna looking for original atmosphere.
I came because I was hungry and I wanted food.
One of the many items offered only for lunch, the Bella lives up to its name: a subtle, expertly crafted sandwich with a “this-isnot- American” flair. I am tempted to pronounce its name with an Italian accent and kiss my fingers. The Bella: roasted seasonal vegetables, goat cheese, and arugula layered together on a buttery croissant, with a large leaf pile of vinegared greens on the side. “Muah!”
Now, before you wrinkle your nose at “goat” and “cheese” and “arugula” in the same word sandwich, let me introduce a concept: complements. Arugula is a naturally bitter green, one that will bite your tongue before you have finished biting its. Goat cheese is smooth, sweetened, seasoned with herbs, and gives your tongue something to soothe the arugula aftermath. The zucchini contributes a flavor of fall, a bit of juice, while the croissant cradles everything together. The best way to enjoy the Bella is to let it take turns with the salad. The greens are light and flavorful enough to cleanse my tongue of the arugula. But here arises a problem: if I switch from sandwich to salad, I must set the sandwich down, which means I must pick it back up, which means all the juices will drool on my hands, my plate, my napkin, my pants, and everything else on the way to the floor.
Such is the price I pay for a few mouthfuls of the Bella. Or, if you ask my wallet, I pay eight dollars.
Most patrons visit Bella Luna for the pizza, and I get it: wood-fired in an impressive clay oven, composed with unusual ingredients, and really cheap if you come for happy hour. Of the twenty of us who chose Bella Luna for lunch Monday, the majority ordered pizza.
But if you do not like pizza, or you are looking for something new, lift your eyes to other sections of the menu. Let Bella surprise you. She has more to offer than melted cheese and oldies music.