Laid Back Italian: Marcella's fills

The stacks of plates at the center of each table vary in design. Only a few chairs at the table match.

Heck, even the tables are different sizes.

The maestro of upscale metro Columbus dining has gone way casual with his newest restaurant, Marcella's, scheduled to open a week from today in the Short North's Yukon Building.

"It's going to be boisterous, it's going to be crowded, and, we hope, it's going to be a fun place where people will get together to try lots of different types of great Italian food," Mitchell said.

The new restaurant represents a U-turn for Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, which runs 30 others under eight nameplates.

Marcella's, 615 N. High St., is two blocks north of the Greater Columbus Convention Center and just below the first arch at the Short North's entrance. It was designed to emulate an Italian enoteca.

These traditional wine bars typically are casual places where you can eat a home-style meal, sip some wine and kick back.

The atmosphere reflects that, from the wood floor and distressed mirrors to the menu items and variety of Italian wines served in different-size carafes.

The magazine rack located just past the restaurant's front door holds Italian magazines and newspapers. The servers are receiving lessons in Italian pronunciation.

Meanwhile, the windows along High Street will fold, accordion-style, to link the restaurant to the sidewalk. Tables are placed close to one another.

"This is all about sharing," Mitchell said. "Sharing the food with one another, sharing friendships. Being part of the community. This is something we really wanted to do."

Sharing is the reason for all the small plates on the tables. The idea is to let everyone at the table sample the cheeses, cold cuts and appetizers, as well as the main dishes

The wine glasses are small - juice-size. And although Marcella's has the typically high Mitchell wine markup, the prices are consistent: A quarter bottle is a quarter of the price of a full bottle.

The restaurant (pronounced mar-CHELL-uz) takes its name from the woman who prepares meals for Mitchell and his family when in Tuscany during summer vacation.

Marcella's carries the tag "ristorante, pizzeria and wine bar."

Another of the authentic touches is the four-sided salumeria, or delicatessen, in front of the open kitchen.

That's where the meats and cheeses are sliced and the almonds and olives are stored.

The antipastos join the pastas, pizzas, salads and some special entrees on the menu. Most of the pastas cost $10. The most expensive dish is the Veal Milanese at $19.

Marcella's will make its own sangria and lemoncello.

The new restaurant cost $1.2 million, about half what it usually costs the company to open a store. The price is just one indicator of the approachable nature of Marcella's.

"This is something we're doing for fun," Mitchell said.

The restaurant will seat 120, including at the bar, located along the north side of the building. It will be open seven days a week from 4 p.m. "until late." Reservations are recommended.

Mitchell's other recent venture, Mitchell's Ocean Club, was created with its expansion into a chain in mind. A second Ocean Club is set for Troy, Mich., with a third in Scottsdale, Ariz., and possibly another in New York.

But there are no such expectations for Marcella's. Still, he said, if the reception is overwhelming, "Who knows? We would never say never to anything."