If you go
Where: 467 Fifth Ave. S., Naples
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily for lunch; dinner hours 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Prices: Starters $4.99-12.99; lunch entrees $7.99-12.99; dinner entrees $18.99-27.99
Information: 239-213-2212 or cafelunanaples.com
Literally changing the face of Naples' Fifth Avenue South with its blockbuster "A Veally Good Deal," Cafe Luna has expanded, just in time to celebrate its fifth anniversary.
Rated as one of the top 10 restaurants in Naples by U.S. News & World Report, it is nestled in between Paddy Murphy's watering hole and recently opened Osetra Champagne caviar bar.
Business has steadily increased since opening, said Ed Barsamian, who owns and operates the smoke-free eatery with working partner Shannon Tiwell and a staff of 35.
The revamped bar area now wraps around to seat five patrons outdoors, for a total of 15 seats. Slender, elongated pendant lighting and three flat-screen televisions offset the new granite-covered bar top.
With cozy table seating for 50, the indoor bar and dining room features boldly hued wall colors of deep orange and red selected by Barsamian that serve as a backdrop for the commissioned artwork of local artist Steve Baffa.
Larger-than-life oil paintings of Sinatra and the cigarette-toting Rat Pack imaged as superheroes share space with another art piece with ruby red lips that beckon patrons to "mangia," or "eat" in Italian.
And eat you can in an adjacent new dining area that seats 32 and is opened to the outdoors. Guests can dine watching a flat-screen television or the diners seated on the outdoor patio.
Getting down to how Cafe Luna has made its presence known and felt in the competitive restaurant arena, it's the "deal" that has hit big.
With an eye-popping price of $29.99 for two dinners and a bottle of wine and a nice view of Fifth Avenue, Cafe Luna has amassed a roster of loyal customers.
Look around at restaurant advertising and see the adage at work that imitation is the best form of flattery, as more and more restaurants offer two-for "deals" for similar or the same prices.
But serving numbers such as 196 on a recent Wednesday lunch or 220 to 300 for dinner shows folks are eating up the deal not only for the savings to their wallets but also because the food is just that good.
Compare the marinara sauce to the equal of any found on plates on Fifth Avenue that demand $24 to $30 per dish, thanks to house recipes and the culinary skill of Chef Eddie Marchese, the former executive chef of Maxwell's and the Waterfront Grill, who has played a critical part in the new expansion.
With white linen-covered tables overlaid with glass, a friendly but not overbearing wait staff serves up a basket of warm bread, olive oil and grated cheese — enough to munch on while deciding on your feast.
Selecting one of the seven $29.99 deal entrees from chicken or eggplant parmesan to penne Bolognese is not that easy; they are all superior in portion and taste.
Upgrades for $5 more expand choices to shrimp scampi with linguine, gnocchi or veal parmesan with spaghetti. Upgrade by $10 and select from steak Diane (10-ounce black Angus cut), veal saltimbocca or pan-seared scallops.
Upgrade to any $40 or less bottle on the wine list for $10 and add small appetizers for $3.99 such as fried calamari, mozzarella sticks and more.
"The way the deal is structured and managed, it is profitable for us; we turn tables quickly, offer upgrades and offer the freshest food. This has made Fifth Avenue more affordable to locals and visitors alike," said Barsamian.
"I would like my fellow businessmen to be as busy as I am — that is my wish," he added.
And to prove the viability of the regular menu chosen by more and more patrons — and which is served exclusively two times a year, on Christmas and New Year's Eve — on that last day of 2010, Barsamian said he served a whopping 720 covers.
Diners those days chose from items such as antipasti ($7.99-$12.99), soups ($4.99-$6.99), salads ($5-12.99), to house specialties ($18.99-$26.99), pasta ($15.99-$21.99), pollo ($18.99-$22.99) and frutti di mare ($23.99-$27.99).
The "lunalicious" lunch menu offers salads ($5-$12.99), soups ($4.99-$6.99) appetizers ($5.99-$9.99) to sandwiches ($7.99-$11.99) and lunch plates such as spaghetti and meatballs and rigatoni vodka ($8.99-$12.99).
Hand-tossed pizza is made fresh daily, and a gluten-free menu is available.
A lunatic happy hour with half off all wells, premium liquors, beer and wine bottles from 4 to 6 daily with a choice of six $2.99 bar items is sure to fill the bar seats indoors and out.
Opened in January 2007 with 50 seats and no outdoor dining, Barsamian added 50 seats on the covered patio by the end of that year.
In April 2010, the restaurateur rented space that became available next to his patio, which upped his total seat count to 150 — enough to get a liquor license and warrant the new expansion to its current 182 seats.
"I owe a debt of gratitude to Phil McCabe, who has been a tremendous help in many ways. Life really is a 'veally good deal.' Come in and try it," added Barsamian.