Restaurant Review: Cafe Bella

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Amidst the mournful moans and howls of a Nick Cave song (a favorite performer of mine) I heard Vince Withers unrelatedly say in his little cafe, "I used to make bombs for the man, now I'm giving back."

It was an unusual introduction, but then Withers runs the most unusual restaurant in Columbus - which includes an eccentric, edible-plant-decorated patio.

What Withers meant with his catchy intro is that he gave up a straight-laced engineering gig to launch his '60s commune-minded Cafe Bella. You see, Cafe Bella is bereft of a paper or even chalkboard menu and prices are "suggested but not set."

How it operates is Withers shops for the freshest ingredients he can find each particular day, then he makes (probably) salads and pastas, (maybe) some soup and (likely) sandwiches all in veggie, meat and seafood varieties.

Then after your meal, your bill - which is only delivered orally - arrives with a shoulder shrug ostensibly denoting a made-up-on-the-spot afterthought. Obviously this is not a business model promoted by any reputable textbooks.

As for the "giving back" part, Withers donates the produce grown all over his patio - on the sides, at your feet, above your head - to SDA Choice, a local food pantry that instructs clients in sustainable horticulture.

Rounding out the BYOB back porch's quirkiness is a vivid mural (with paint running across utility gauges) depicting a Venetian canal scene that melts into a hilly "Ottoman" castle-scape that segues into the Downtown Columbus skyline and ultimately ends with (of course) sunset in Negril.

See what I mean by the most unusual restaurant in Columbus?

Foodwise, don't expect subtle cheffy cuisine prepared with finesse. Instead, expect pristinely fresh stuff made with the verve and panache of an enthusiastic home cook throwing a party for family and friends.

On a recent evening, that translated into a colorful salad constructed with tender and beautiful mixed greens, bursting-ripe strawberries, blueberries, mozzarella cheese plus slices of red and yellow baby bell peppers all carefully dressed in a tart vinaigrette made with sesame oil. If the salad's ingredients sound disparate, know that it still worked.

As for mains, Withers "suggested" my dining partner and I get a couple of his pastas. Mine had a prettily crusted piece of very clean-tasting tilapia above a bed of veggies (mostly zucchini) and noodles tossed with plenty of oil and garlic.

The other dinner featured another pan-fried triumph - this time golden brown chicken parmesan crowning spaghetti with a thick, rich and chunky tomato sauce heavy on the oregano.

Toss in some kind of great bruschetta (cheese, tomato, balsamic and a wonderful bread treatment), some beefy dense meatballs, and cannolis with a fruity, nutty but not overly sweet homemade ricotta cheese filling, and it was quite a charming outdoor dinner.

Is Cafe Bella for you? Well, if you're in a rush, like a gatefold menu, dislike the flavor of garlic powder and need your water glass constantly refilled, then probably not. As for yours truly, Cafe Bella had me at Nick Cave.

Cafe Bella

2593 N. High St., North Campus


For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog Under the Table at