467 5th Avenue South, Naples, FL
It sounds like an impossible challenge: go to Naples’ resident roadway of luxury and glamour and sit down to a dinner for two that costs less than $30. But here at coastalbeat.com we’re not afraid of asking for extra bread and counting our pennies, we even look good doing it.
Fifth Avenue South’s cheap eats options are limited to say the least. Though the street’s six commercial blocks are packed with restaurants, finding one in our price range isn’t exactly easy. Still, a friend and I decide to head to pizzeria Café Luna and try our luck at fitting downtown dining into our outskirts budget.
Set just back from the street in the space formerly occupied by Panificio, Café Luna marries a neighborhood pizza parlor with a chic city wine bar. Although it’s easy to miss from outside, the restaurant’s interior is a seamless blend of casual and hip - there are no sticky booths or laminate tables here. Instead, it is decorated with original paintings by local artists, and a stylish wooden bar serving beer and wine acts as the room’s simple centerpiece.
Café Luna, which opened in January, has a light but steady crowd on this Thursday night, and a pair of black-clad servers shuttle back and forth between tables as customers munch on wide slices of pizza and swirl red wine in their glasses.
While the restaurant is preparing to renovate its tiny kitchen and expand its menu to include more entrees and pasta plates, for now the two-page menu displays a solid list of straightforward pizzas, salads and Italian-derived appetizers.
Though the list lacks some creativity, I am surprised to find that most of the options fit easily into our budget. We settle on a pair of bready dishes: an appetizer of roasted eggplant and Gorgonzola cheese ($9.50) to start and a perfectly simple 14” half pepperoni half mushroom pizza to share ($16).
One of my favorite things about Italian restaurants is that they almost always provide a basket of tasty bread to nibble on. No sooner have we placed our order than a server arrives with a warm half loaf of bread and a small dish of herb spiked-olive oil. Café Luna is off to a good start.
Before we manage to gobble down every last bite, the first course arrives. Our baked eggplant and Gorgonzola is a brand of reinvented bruschetta. Instead of tomato cubes, warm soft chunks of eggplant and small bits of pungent blue cheese are heaped onto four thick slices of crusty bread. With little extra seasoning, it is a simple dish, and the eggplant’s distinctive smoky flavor nearly overwhelms the cheese hidden within it. Nevertheless, we devoured most of the plate eagerly.
With two bread-based courses out of the way, we are ready for our third. A server delivers the pizza, placing it gently on the pedestal-like wire stand that waits on our table before stepping back to assess the almost sculptural presentation of our dinner.
In fact, piled high with gray slices of mushroom and shining red pepperonis, the pie does look almost too good to eat, or rather too good to let cool before we rip off pieces and dig in. My companion even burns her tongue on the first bite. Such are the risks of freshly baked pizza.
Cafe Luna’s brand of pizza succumbs to none of the trendiness that has begun to filter into pizzerias around the country. It isn’t crunchy or pita thin, and it isn’t extra doughy or topped with salad and truffle oil. It is good old-fashioned pizza with a chewy thin crust that flops in your hand until you get a few bites deep. My friend declares it her mother’s favorite kind of pizza, and though we both agree that it’s good, we have to pack up our last two pieces for tomorrow’s lunch.
When the bill arrives, I almost feel like doing a victory dance. At $27.03 Café Luna came in well under the $30 mark, proving once and for all that for those in the know, it’s never impossible to eat cheap.