Photo by Saria Dy
Find my original article here
Once a dinner-only spot in Cellar Door Coffee’s space, Portobello Vegan Trattoria has really grown since its June opening in its Southeast Division location. Just this week, Portobello has opened its doors to allow vegans and Italian food lovers alike to get their fix at lunchtime, too. It’s no secret that Portland has a flourishing vegan community. But while other Portland vegan spots feel like they are missing more than animal products, Portobello has stepped on the scene to create phenomenal Italian food just right, no matter who the audience.
Lunch is now served from 11:30 to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and the dishes on the menu are reminiscent of their outstanding dinner fare—just with an extreme price decrease. On the current lunch menu is a sandwich section including a Portobello mushroom frittata sandwich, and one with cashew ricotta, chard, pears and caramelized onions. Other parts of the menu include pizzas, soup and pasta—almost all in the $6 range. Since lunch is a new addition to the vegan spot, the menu will be changing and evolving in the next few weeks, according to Chef Aaron Adams.
“We folks at Portobello change the menu super often with the seasons, so keep coming back for new stuff (like big salads and some baked pastas),” reads Adams’ comment on the first lunch menu.
For those who haven’t experienced Portobello and are new to vegan food, this restaurant’s offerings are far from soy curls and tempeh nuggets. The dishes offered at Portobello are studded with fresh vegetables prepared in classic Italian style. Although they may be missing cheese, butter and meat, it doesn’t feel like a single thing has been omitted. The dishes are all flavor.
Portobello’s pizzas are prepared in a pizza oven at extremely high heat, allowing the crust to have the best amount of crisp on its edges. Traditional Italian crusts are vegan anyway, with just Caputo “00” flour, yeast, salt and water, so Portobello didn’t have to tweak their pizza recipe to vegan-ize it.
A recent pizza offering this week was the Autumn Pie, which was topped with silky butternut sauce, Brussels sprouts, chanterelle mushrooms, sage and peppers. The soft and warm fall flavors of the squash, mushrooms and sage play well with the tang and spice added by the peppers, creating a complex and interesting pizza. The single-serving pies are quite large for just $5–$7, so there’s lots of room to try new things on each visit. Other pie options come from their dinner menu, like the arrabiata, which has cherry peppers, garlic, spicy chili-fennel marinara, chili oil and Daiya “cheese.”
Daiya, for those not knowledgeable of vegan products, is a cheese substitute made from tapioca starter. And unlike many “substitutes,” Daiya imparts a smoky, creamy flavor that melts well atop the pizzas at Portobello, tasting not like a substitute, but a privilege.
Another condiment used on this menu is the cashew cream, which is drizzled atop some of the pies. In the vegan community, cashews are often ground up to make sauces reminiscent of butter (due to their creaminess), and Portobellos’ sauce resembles somewhat of a thin sour cream.
A soup recently offered (which can be added to sandwiches or pizza pies for an additional $3), was a hubbard squash soup with chanterelles and Brussels sprouts. The creamy texture of the squash thickens the soup, while highlighting the meatiness of the mushrooms—the soup feels just like autumn in a bowl.
Another standout dish on the lunch menu is the baked gnocchi with red sauce. Each dumpling is soft and flavorful, bathed in a rich marinara sauce that can likely be attributed to the Italian olive oil they use (Oleum Priorart).
Whether you are vegan or just a lover of carefully prepared Italian food, Portobello’s lunch menu is sure to make you a believer.