La Mezzaluna Café in Charles Town doesn’t look like much from the outside. The exterior entrance is just one more storefront in a row of similar entrances located in an aging strip mall. The sign declares simply "Café" and leaves it at that. Once inside, the prospects are more encouraging. This isn’t a fancy restaurant, but it is not without charm. There is a large scenic Italianesque mural along one wall. Tables and booths maximize the space available without undue crowding. This is an oilcloth versus tablecloth kind of place. Nonetheless, bottles of Italian wine, assorted vessels containing dry pasta, and small decorative items with a Mediterranean theme are tucked here and there to contribute to a modest sense of mood.
The décor aside, the real draw for La Mezzaluna has always been the food. Certainly the menu is unexpected. This is Charles Town, West (by gawd) Virginia—a small town with no dsscernable Italian heritage. A first-timer might well walk in expecting to find spaghetti, lasagna, and possibly veal parmigiana—and you will find these at La Mezz. But you will also find such specialties as gnocchi Bolognese, fresh tuna grigliata, agnolotti casalinga, and mellanzane alla parmiagiana. All are made to order and are preceded by warm garlic knots and large bowls of salad full of fresh ingredients. The selection of entrees offers something for about everyone—some made with Italian sausage, fish or seafood and others that will satisfy most vegetarian tastes.
La Mezz always has a special, which is usually an Italian seafood dish. My favorites are those featuring a white fish and/or scallops with pasta and a white wine sauce. Dishes with variations of these ingredients are offered frequently but are not on the menu—so I look eagerly at the special board when we enter. Failing to find a special that tempts me, my favorite offering from the menu is spinach ravioli made with a white cream sauce. Himself likes the agnolotti casalinga, a halfmoon-shaped pasta rich in black pepper, stuffed with porcini mushrooms, and smothered in a Bolognese sauce. He also likes delizie de mare, which is chock full of scrimp, mussels, clams, and calamari—all smothered in marinara.
Aside from the entrees, appetizers and desserts are offered, though we rarely partake of either. Both sections of the menu feature Italian staples, including antepasto freddo and panzanella for the appetizers or tiramisu and cannoli for dessert. In our opinion, if La Mezz has a weakness, it’s with the desserts. I love tiramisu and have tried it here on a few occasions. It is almost always a tad frozen in the center and lacks the fine taste of an in-house-made dish. I figure it to be a store-bought offeringbut have never asked . All things considered, we’re happier ending our meal with the restaurant’s excellent fresh-brewed coffee, which is always strong and flavorful. There is also a children’s menu and a small but reasonably priced wine list.
We eat here five or six times a year (most recently in March)—often enough to be recognized but not often enough to be regulars. Our meals are without fail appetizing and well presented. Service is friendly and well paced. La Mezz does not take reservations, so expect a wait period (particularly on weekends) before being seated. We have waited up to an hour-and-a-half on a Friday night. Frequent patrons know and understand the drill and are willing to wait anyway—no doubt a resounding testimony to the quality of food. Weeknights are better, when wait times are generally nonexistent.
Prices are entirely reasonable for the quality. On a more or less typical visit, we each indulge in one of our proven favorites, then we share a bottle of wine and polish off our meal with coffee. The tab comes to about $65, wine and tip included—with variations depending on whether we order from the higher end of either the menu or the wine list. We highly recommend this restaurant. We even recommend its somewhat proletarian atmosphere. To our way of thinking, we get the fancy food without the fancy prices.
© BawBaw, GoneOnTravel
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