Thursday 24 January 2019
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A Taste of Tuscany in the Lowcountry: Bella Luna Café

story by Lindsey Lenoir    photos by Paul Nurnberg
The dinner table is the heartbeat of all Italian life. Family and friends gather together to savor the moment, decompress, and reconnect. This traditional and familial experience is what owner Maria Jackson wanted to bring to Beaufort when she opened Bella Luna 10 years ago. “I was involved in the food industry when I lived in Los Angeles. When you are coming in from the outside, you tend to run towards what you are used to, you go to your comfort zone. That was Italian food for me. I never had a big epiphany, I just thought, ‘Ok, what resources do I need to bring it here? I tried to figure out why it was not already here, and is there a need for it?’  Maria decided there was a need. “I really just wanted to give the community some good food.”
Just off of Sea Island Parkway, in St. Helena, Bella Luna is conveniently located on the tourism tract of the islands. “People come from all over to experience the Sea Islands and it is nice for them to have options along the way.” When it first opened, Maria says there were no other businesses out there. “Now, with all of the other restaurants and shops, it makes it more of a destination for people.”
Although grateful to the many tourists that stop by the restaurant, Jackson says, “ We have tremendous support from the locals. Breakfast is like the watering hole.”
Generations of families pass through the doors of Bella Luna. “It’s so nice to see grandparents, children, and grandchildren coming together. It gives the community a connection and to do it over a good meal, that is one of the best compliments!”
Maria and most of the kitchen staff at Bella Luna have been together from the beginning,  “changing, refining and evolving” their traditional dishes. “We work together, developing and refining our recipes, what works, what doesn’t work….we are willing to try it all.”
Traditional Italian cuisine is an ovation of produce and seasoning. “We take pride in everything we do. I think we do a really good job with what we have locally. We get our eggs from Myers Family Farm and Dempsey Farms has been so generous and kind to us.” Deriving inspiration from the local farming community and their labor-intensive work, Maria believes, “Buying something processed is just a disgrace. You can’t beat using ingredients that are locally grown and harvested. Our vegetable omelets are literally made from the eggs and produce down the road and that is amazing!” Bella Luna serves breakfast from 8am-11am, “or whenever you see my car out there.” admits Maria. “Our intention with serving breakfast is that people would come back for dinner, and they do!”
Maria is happy to see “Southern food” trends shifting to include more fresh ingredients with less and less “fried, battered, and over-processed foods.”
Nothing at Bella Luna is pre-made, and they change their specials on a nightly basis. “We do a lot of different things with our specials, but we are able to accomodate most any request or dietary needs.” Maria explains that “Along with our specials we have traditional dishes, but, if we have the ingredients and you have had a dish from Italy that you absolutely love that isn’t on the menu…” give them a little direction and they will certainly create a plate for you.
Bella Luna also invites patrons to bring their own wine. “We enjoy tailoring a meal to pair with what people choose to bring in.” They also have a variety of drink options, infusing many with the classic Italian liqueur, “Limoncello,” which is apparently “molto delizioso!”
Maria relates, “There is an influence here from everyone in my family, which in many ways has kept the integrity of the food.” She wants her customers to have an inviting, interactive, familial experience. “Whether you are Italian or not, it really makes a difference when the food comforts you.”
Bella Luna is open for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, Mon.-Sat. Beginning at 8am, and closed on Sunday.