On a recent Sunday afternoon, as the Cincinnati Pride parade made its way along a sun-baked Hamilton Avenue in a riot of color and, um, ill-fitting black leather, I stopped in at Portofino's in Northside (1609 Chase Ave., 513-542-5858), momentarily trapped by gays, lesbians and police barricades. I sat in the bright and airy Victorian dining room and studied a menu filled with choices: Buffalo wings, hoagies, pizzas and calzones, salads and plenty of other options.
Just half a block to the east, the sidewalk was lined with men wearing women's pants, women wearing men's pants and people who couldn't decide whether they were women or men who weren't wearing pants at all. But here inside Portofino's, the parade is a world away. Here it is quiet and cool, and everyone wears pants.
In addition to pizzas and hoagies, Portofino's offers Mediterranean and Middle Eastern items such as falafel sandwiches, gyros and spanikopita -- delicious Greek spinach pies made of filo dough and generously stuffed with fresh spinach and feta cheese. My dining companion and I order six Buffalo wings with hot sauce and blue cheese dressing ($3.49) and a spanikopita ($2).
We order a gyro meal ($6.25) and a calzone stuffed with bacon, banana peppers and black olives ($5.99). Both arrive at the table quickly and fill the room with the fragrant smell of good, basic, fresh food. The gyro is almost overstuffed with grilled lamb and beef. The meat is juicy and tastes perfect alongside the sharp bite of the fresh onions, the sweetness of the tomatoes and the yogurt-based tzatziki sauce. The calzone is steaming hot, wonderfully browned and generously filled with hot cheese, bacon and peppers. It is delicious and is brought to the table with a spicy tomato sauce to dip it in.
The biggest problem Portofino's presents is that we're unable to sample the entire menu in one sitting. As we pack up our leftovers, we make plans to come down one evening to try one of the pasta dinners, the lasagna ($4.50) or the mousaka ($5.50), or something more adventurous like the gyro pizza ($16.99 for a 16-inch pizza).
And then we leave, and venture back into the heat of the afternoon and the rainbow-colored and leather-clad throngs of the Cincinnati Pride march. Grade: A
Every Thursday from 4-8 p.m. Maggiano's Little Italy in Kenwood Towne Centre (513-794-0670) is hosting Martinis and Crostinis, a weekly happy hour with $4.95 martinis and a free appetizer buffet. ... According to the sign on the door, Olive's Restaurant and Bar will be opening in space once occupied by Za on Ludlow Avenue in Clifton, featuring American fare. Stay tuned for more details. ... Shop with a chef at Second Tuesday Chefs at the Wyoming Farmers' Market on the second Tuesday of each month. The program pairs a chef from a Cincinnati restaurant with a local farmer to demonstrate how to get gourmet results from market goods. On July 10, Chris Singleton from Gabby's Café shows shoppers how to kick it up a notch. The series continues through October. For more information, visit www.wyomingfarmersmarket.net
CONTACT LORA ARDUSER: larduser(at)citybeat.com