Before I visited Bruno’s, I knew nothing about it other than that it existed somewhere in the multiverse. I had driven by many times in the past, but paid little attention to the 35 year veteran of serving Italian cuisine in Portland. I surmised that it was now time to learn more when my online search for a Portland restaurant to visit turned up Bruno’s as one of the options and then my wife suggested we try it. She had been there years ago, but it was so long that it would essentially be new to both of us.
Mrs. Portlandeater tried to find a parking space and I went into the tavern side – there is a tavern side and a dining room side – and checked out the situation thinking that the tavern might be the fun part of the restaurant. Indeed it was fun as the place was absolutely jammed with people eating, laughing, carousing, and whatever other -ings occur in taverns. I walked deep into the room to an area reserved for functions. It didn’t look to be set up for a banquet of any sort though a few people were seated at banquet tables. It seemed that they were seating there because every other seat on the tavern side was taken.
I left and waited outside for my wife and then explained to her that there was simply no room for us inside. She suggested making our way to the dining room. When we got there, that too was packed. We checked in with the hostess who was able to spot the only open table in the entire restaurant and get us seated. As I observed the decor and atmosphere of the restaurant, I found it to be purely old school Italian. It lacked any modern look or feel, but that didn’t seem to deter all of Portland from showing up.
As I started to look at the menu and took pictures of it like bloggers often do, I heard the people at the next table complaining about how I was taking so many pictures and that I should put my phone away and actually decide what I wanted to eat. Unfortunately, they didn’t know I was blogging superhero Peterpeterportlandeater and that I have a job to provide all of Portland with the most accurate reviews possible, for which I require lots of pictures. It didn’t happen immediately, but in time I did as they wished and started to make some decisions about what I would order.
When the waiter came over and asked about drinks, my wife ordered the Dark and Stormy – Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, ginger beer, fresh lime. I wasn’t really ready yet, but I quickly picked out a drink which is always perfect for my girly drink desires, the Lemon Drop Martini – Grey Goose Citron, Cointreau, lemon sour. I turned down the offer for a sugared rim though as I generally find that just too sweet. With libations taken care of, I went deep into the menu to figure out what food I I would enjoy that evening. I skipped past the entrees and pizzas because I was in more of an appetizer and sandwich mood.
Ordering something different than my ususal apps was a priority for me. Immediately, I spied the Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms – mushroom, Maine crab, and cracker stuffing. I never ordered those in the past because I used to make them when I was a cook and they were so good that I’m always afraid I’ll be disappointed if I try them when they’re made by someone else. I eventually decided it was the night I would go ahead and try those mofos again. I hoped with all the hope I had that they would be winners. After that decision, I began considering all manner of sandwiches and burgers. I wasn’t committed to one or the other and there were many options, so I still had work to do.
While continuing to contemplate my final food selection, our drinks arrived looking beautiful as could be. We put in the order for mushrooms and held off on a main course. As I went to sip my drink, I realized we had some bread at our table. I thought to myself that I must have blacked out when it was delivered. Nonetheless, before drinking, I poured some of the oil that was also nearby into a plate and shared the pieces of focaccia with my wife. I dipped the non-phonetically-pronounced bread into the slippery liquid and bit into it. The oil was very well seasoned and the bread was soft and fresh. I was quite happy with it, but I still added a bit of both salt and pepper to the dipping plate and made it even better. Yum!
Once a few bites of the bread were down the hatch, I was finally ready for a sip of the lemon drop. I pursed my lips, raised my pinkie high in the air, and took a tiny swig of the seriously citrus cocktail. It was…*cough, cough*…very strong. I have never complained about a strong drink and I’m not going to start now. It was potent, yes, but very tasty. I took sips of that, finished the focaccia, and moved on to the slice of white in the bread basket. Mrs. P. added that her cocktail was quite a hearty one too.
Our waiter returned and we were presented with a dish full of four well-stuffed white mushroom caps. At that point, we were ready to finish placing food orders. She went with the Chicken Parmesan – Chicken cutlet, tomato sauce, three cheeses, house rigatoni. I asked which item was recommended between the Dominic’s Special – grilled chicken, fontinella cheese, pepperoncinis – and the Bruno Burger – grilled pepperoni, pepperoncinis, fontinella on an egg roll. At the waiters suggestion, I chose the latter and awaited my Brunotized beef party.
The waiter left and I was intent upon getting my grubby mitts on the mushrooms. Each large cap had a bulbous ball of stuffing implanted into the top of it and all were set on a dish in a pool of butter. We both grabbed one and I cut it in half, readying it to be placed into my stuffed mushroom hole. I put it in without hesitation and gave it the business. It was wonderous with a nice, fresh base filled with plenty of crab, cracker, and butter. These were no joke and very similar to how I remember having made them myself. Save for the one eaten by my wife, I got them all into my belly as quickly as possible, still sure to savor every bite.
A salad which came with my wife’s meal was brought to the table shortly after the shrooms were gone. She had chosen the house-made peppercorn dressing to go with it. After starting to nibble on the greens, she told me the dressing was on the sweet side. I tried it and confirmed that for me it would have been too much, but she seemed to like it. As soon as that was gone, our meals came out. Her plate was half chicken/half pasta. Mine was filled with a burger and the fries I had chosen over potato salad or cole slaw when the waiter assured me that they were cut in-house.
Immediately upon the dropping of the plate in front of me, I noticed an issue with the fries. They were far from crispy. I tried one to verify my visual assessment and they were borderline soggy. I dipped a couple in ketchup which helped me forget their undone-ness a little. I moved on to the burger. It was made with an eight ounce patty which is the perfect size unless you’re a six-year-old. My first bite was a lesson about the awesomeness of grilled pepperoni on top of beef. It was superb seasoning for the meat. The cheese and pepperoncinis added even more great flavor flav to the burger burg, but I would have liked more of the greenish-yellow pepper between my buns to create a bit more zing. Regardless, it was a tasty offering.
My burger kept creeping into my craw and my wife’s chicken parm seemed to be going down smoothly too. We finished all the food with me consuming the last bites of her meal. I’m not a huge fan of chicken parm, but there’s no doubt it was a good example of the Italian staple. The sauce was well done with proper garlic notes, plenty of cheese, and the pasta cooked el dante which is my preference. We waited for the waiter to return, agreeing that we would look at a dessert menu for something to potentially share. I was – as always – ready for something with peanut butter but was also willing to consider my second favorite dessert item – cheese. Restaurants that have both ingredients in one item automatically earn my nonexistent Award of Dessert Awesomeness.
We scanned the menu as the waiter described both the Cheesscale of the Month made with a Kahlua fudge crust layer and a Bailey’s Irish Cream cheesecake layer and the Justina’s Cheesecake topped with Grand Marnier sour cream frosting. The waiter left to let us decide, but not before letting us know that he was also the pastry chef and would be insulted if we didn’t try anything. He was joking about the last part I think, but after describing the cheesecakes, I was pretty much convinced we needed to share the boozy COTM. My wife wholeheartedly agreed and we placed the order when our pastry chef/waiter made his way back, adding a decaf coffee to the mix for good measure.
Dessert came out and looked delicious with a chocolate drizzle, whipped cream on the back end, and a powdered sugar poof on top of it all. We both dug into the glorious piece of cake at the same time. The cheesecake was magnificent. The booze was light and gave just a hint of each flavor to the treat. The primary punches of chocolate fudge and cheese were pronounced and well-balanced. The smooth cake went down easily as we worked our way toward the back of it where we got to the small dallop of cream which helped wash it all down. Just like that, the cake was done, we were full, and all seemed right with the world.
Our meal came to about $65 before tip. It was a fair price for food which provided me with happy moments and very good service. The fries needed some work or at least some more frying time, but other than that, the food was right by me. We went to Bruno’s not knowing what to expect and left knowing a return trip at some point in the future might not be a bad idea. If you don’t mind a little old style decor and a crowded restaurant and you like Italian food, put Bruno’s on your list of places to visit. Going there turned out to be well worth it.
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