The Bottom Line: When the stars make you drool Joost-a like pasta fazool That's amore ~ Dean Martin
It took an entire day to recover from our outing to Portofinos Italian Restaurant, but Ive managed to regain my upright stance. Weve seen the place several times while shopping at the Franklin Square Mall but have never made the plunge. Im a rather demanding Italian diner and I havent had a decent Italian dinner since moving to North Carolina, and this includes pizza.
The real estate is unassuming, looking like a typical strip mall pizza parlor. What you cant see, from the outside, is the delightful dining room adjacent to the pizza area. The moment you open the door you are hit with all the aromas of finely cooked sauces and bubbling cheese since you enter through the pizza parlor. If all you want is a quick pizza, they do have several table available for that with a ringside view of the art of hand-tossing a pizza. I could have set there for hours and watched that guy throw that dough.
To the right of the pizza stand, you enter through an archway to the dining area. There is, and isnt, ambience in this area. It is fairly dark but you dont have to strain to read the menu. The tables are standard wood tables, mostly seating four, with basic wood chairs. No cloths, no placemats, nothing fancy or pretentious. The only thing on the table, other than your place setting which is wrapped in a linen napkin, is salt and pepper. None of that advertising schlock and 100 condiments cluttering the table.
One side of the room is covered in archways, which look into the pizza parlor. They have glass windows, so it is almost like looking at an outdoor cafe while you are dining. The other large wall is covered with a colorful mural depicting a scene from Italy. If you are looking for glitz and glamour, look elsewhere, because the main idea of this room is eating and drinking if you so desire.
The owners are the cooks and often wander about the restaurant, chatting with guests and checking on their meal. In fact, most of the workers in the establishment have a heavy Italian flair about their appearance and you get the feeling of a warm, homey family dinner. The main exception to this would be the general wait staff. During meals, and while waiting to be seated, you hear a peppering of heavily accented speaking among the owners and staff, often times a few words of Italian.
Then along comes the waitress, and, as long as I live in the South Ill probably never get used to it, expecting the same Italian accented voice speak and take your order you get What can I get yall?. I have to laugh to myself every time I hear it, bless their hearts. I am whisked out of Italy faster than you can gobble a cannoli. I just love it.
Speaking of loving it, the food. Come prepared to get your fill because they certainly dont stint on the proportions. I settled on the spaghetti and meatballs in tomato sauce. I wish I had gone with the marina sauce, but you learn from your mistakes. For a mere $9.95 you get a quarter pound of spaghetti and 3 golf ball sized meatballs, covered with ample sauce. I will mention I was surprised, with all the authenticity of the rest of the place, they did not have homemade noodles. Despite that, I had my fill and then some, of a delightful meal. The sauce was not heavily spiced and the taste was not overbearing. The meatballs were tender and juicy with delicate seasoning.
Diane settled on the Veal Parmigania with a side order of pasta, priced at $12.75. Although she requested it sans cheese, it was still served with the cheese melted over the veal, however it was easily removed. The veal covered half the plate and she had enough pasta for a meal in itself. It was all covered with a yummy looking marina sauce and she said it was quite tasty. The veal cut easily with a fork, seeming tender enough to me.
Salads accompanied the meal, heavy on the Romaine side, with carrots, olives, cukes, and tomato slices. There was adequate dressing supplied on the salad, I opted for make my own with balsamic vinaigrette and a light oil. A basket with a freshly baked bread loaf, perfect for two, came with the salad. We ordered another before the meal was served, which could have been the reason I had such a full carryout box to bring home.
Their pizzas come in two sizes, large and larger - 14 & 16, and looked delicious. You can get them made up almost anyway possible, starting price is $9.75 & $10.75, for cheese. Not a bad price for the size of the pie. While we dined, they seemed to do a brisk business on the pizza side. This was during standard dinner hour, on the weekend, so the people were constantly coming and going. We arrived around 6 p.m. and had a 15 minute wait. Not bad for a room that has about 30 tables.
Their drink list included wines and beers, espresso, cappuccino, soda and coffee. Of course, being the South, iced tea was available.
Overall their menu covered several salad selections, pasta a plenty served anyway imaginable, chicken and veal dishes, seafood dishes, pizza, subs, steak sandwiches, and appetizers. The most expensive meal I saw on the menu was Rossini [pollo or vitello] for $14.95. Most pasta dishes ran in the $10 range, and the veal/chicken dishes in the $13.00 range.
They do not offer children portions, unfortunately, or I would have order one of those. If you do have children, I would suggest ordering a meal and splitting it among them, there is plenty to share.
Overall impression I will have to give this one a thumbs up, both on the food and courtesy. The price was very fair and the portions were ginormous. The food wasnt heavily seasoned and the meat was very tender. The staff was very attentive without being overbearing. I would certainly stop here again. We visited the one in Gastonia, NC., but they also have one in Charlotte. You can visit their website at: www.portofinos.us
Kid Friendliness: Yes Notes, Tips or Menu Recommendations Come hungry, prepare to leave full.