The Bonobo is humankind’s closest relative, along with chimpanzees. They also happen to be a cool pizza place in Portland’s West End known for their delicious wood fired pizza, excellent salads, and a very good beer and wine selection. Bonobo sells slices and seems to have a significant amount of takeout business. This is evidenced by the fact that every time I am there, there are a bunch of pizzas sitting at the front counter waiting to be picked up.
Bonobo promises no nitrates, hormones, or antibiotics in their meats so you know you’re not getting a bunch of garbage on your pizza. They use lots of local and organic ingredients and offer a gluten free crust for those who have a gluten intolerance of some sort. There are always local beers available too.
What I immediately noticed when I first went to Bonobo is that all their specialty pizzas have names, like farm, goat, and ocean. The names are based upon the toppings on the pizza. One of my favorites, marley, is made with jerk chicken sausage, roasted red peppers, hot peppers, and scallions. Another favorite of mine, caspian, is topped with roasted chicken, smoked tomatoes, garlic, basil, and 2 cheeses.
Following a bit of a wait at this popular establishment, we were seated and promptly provided with waters and menus. Perusing the menu for a suitable drink, I decided on the Unibroue Maudite, a Belgian strong red from Quebec. My wife ordered a glass of chardonnay. Upon delivery in an appropriately branded beer glass, I found the Unibroue to be delicious – a typical Belgian red with just a hint of fruitiness to it. It was a perfect choice, but I was unlikely to go wrong with any Belgian.
A few sips of beer were consumed and the waitress came back to take our order. We both quickly knew that we would get the house salad, which is one of the reasons we went in the first place. My wife ordered the margherita pizza and I ordered the marley.
The deliciousness of Bonobo doesn’t stop at pizza. They have what could be the best salad in Portland. Their house salad might not be correctly named as it actually doesn’t include any houses, but it does have romaine, arugula, spinach, endive leaves, pickled cukes and a lemon vinaigrette dressing. The dressing is one of the best I have ever had and really adds to the flavors in the salad. My impression of pickled cukes was always that they should just be called “pickles”, but these are a little different than a typical pickle. They are sort of a take on a sweet pickle, but with a slightly softer texture and a little lighter on sweetness. They are – if I may say – magnificent.
Salads came out quickly and were excellent. The only minor issue with them was that they were a little heavy on the dressing this time. They’re usually dead on with the dressing volume, but a little less would have been better. Nonetheless, this was a minor misstep in the scheme of things and we definitely still enjoyed them and would order them again in a second.
After the salads, we waited for pizza. And waited. And waited. And then we waited some more. The wait at Bonobo is usually reasonable, however, we figured out that the inside of the restaurant was busy, but the takeout business was overwhelmingly so. We didn’t care much, having had a big lunch and passing the wait time by looking for weekend getaways on our phones. This isn’t the normal order of business at Bonobo, but it is something to consider if you go for a sit-down meal and are really hungry on a night they just happen to also have a huge number of takeout orders. You may want to consider going early, passing the time with heavy drinking, or just don’t be too hungry when you go there.
Our food Frisbees did eventually arrive as expected. We got shakers of crushed red pepper and grated parm and went to town. The pizzas were both strong examples of the typical Bonobo product. The ingredients taste fresh, the wood fire cooks them perfectly and gives them excellent flavor, and they are more than enough food for your average, hungry restaurant visitor. The pizzas are all “more or less 13 inch”. I always hope they are more since I am typically very hungry.
When digging into my marley pizza, I imagine that the jerk chicken sausage is actually made from little bits of Bob Marley. Some days it’s the musician and then, since we’re in Maine, I make it fun, switch it up a bit, and change it to the comedian. I think my pizza yesterday was made from the musician – probably a bit of foot and ear.
We ended up taking about half of our pizza home and enjoying them the next day. When I’m hungry, I can easily eat a whole one, but I don’t think most people could. The food at Bonobo isn’t cheap compared to other pizza places. Our bill came to about $60 for two of us before tip. That included two drinks, two salads, and two 13 inch pizzas. I always believe that quality is worth the price though and Bonobo delivers every time. Even with a couple minor issues, the heavy dressing and the long wait, we enjoyed our time and the food was definitely high quality. We’ll be keeping this one in our regular pizza rotation for a while.
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