Thursday lunch for my co-workers and I is generally at Esca, on Links and Main. However, when we arrived yesterday we found the place closed with a sign saying no more lunch service for the summer. This is a disturbing trend. In the short time I've been in Sarasota this is the third place that closed for lunch, and another has closed entirely for the summer.
However, some one knew of a place that opened not far away so we walked to it. This place is called Bella Gente.
Bella Gente is, of course, yet another Italian deli. I can think of 8 other Italian cafes on Main between Washington and 41, but apparently there's always room for one more. At least these folks are open for lunch.
The cafe is fairly small and well lit. The place has an airy feeling about it. It was fairly attractive and looked clean. Service was very prompt. We had barely been seated when the waitress came over and took drink orders.
When asked for unsweetened tea we were told they don't have that. This is the first place I've ever been that didn't serve plain ole iced tea. However, they have a wide assortment of extremely sweetened tea if you're in to that sort of thing. They do carry some sort of sparkingly water that is not Perrier or Pelegrino. I ended up drinking "Sarasota water".
In a bid to be different Bella Gente doesn't bring bread to the table... they bring a plate full of mozzarella. I added some oil and pepper and it was tastey. It was like a caprese without the tomato and basil.
Their menu is primarily salads and focaccia breads. They have fancy Italian names for them but I like calling a spade a spade. Almost every item on the menu is made with Italian meats (porchetta, prosciutto, salame, etc) and cheese (mozzarella, mozzarella, and mozarella). At first glance the menu seems reasonably priced. In fact, I'd say its inexpensive by normal downtown Sarasota standards.
The three items ordered were: Porchetta focaccia (with artichokes and lettuce), Lasagna (with a bolognese sauce), and the Pasta al Forno.
I ate the lasagna. It was pretty good. I'm a huge fan of bolognese sauce and this was as good as most. The chef added some sort of dry, crunchy thing on top... I couldn't tell of it was bread or something else. It made for interesting texture but definately detracted from the overall taste of the dish. The portion was smallish, but well suited for lunch. All in all, this dish gets my approval.
The Porchetta focaccia got a resounding "it's ok".
The owner of the Pasta al Forna was a little disappointed. Apparently this means "mac and cheese" in Italian. Literally this was a bowl of elbow macaroni covered with various melted (and unmelted) cheeses. The description on the menu mentioned "seasonal vegetables", but I'm guessing Italy has no veggies in season right now since none actually came with the mac and cheese. It looked pretty good for mac and cheese so we'll nudge the score up a little and call this "ok+".
It appears as though my lasagna was the big winner here. As well it should since it was the most expensive thing on the lunch menu coming in at $12.90. The other dishes were significantly less.
All told I'd give a thumbs up to this place. The low cost (for downtown Sarasota) combined with the above "ok" average rating for the food makes this a nice value.
Their menu has some breakfast items on it which appear to be bread covered with sweet things. Its not really my cup to tea so I'll pass on it. If anyone tries this be sure to leave a comment. They appear to have lots of nice deli meats and cheeses (including cheese that is not mozzarella).
Here are the details for place:
32 S. Osprey Ave
Sarasota, FL 34236
(Note: the URL above doesn't seem to work even though its listed on their menu. Maybe its just not working yet at the time of this review.)