Tuesday, August 4, 2009


46 Pine Street

I'll admit at the outset that Bonobo is my favorite Portland pizza place. I'll also warn you that I can't help but compare Bonobo to Flatbread Pizza. This is because the quality of Bonobo's pizzas is as good or better than that of Flatbread's, for, like Flatbread, its pizzas are made from fresh, zesty ingredients and cooked in a wood-fired oven. Plus Bonobo has just as many--if not more--fresh salads than Flatbread does. Bonobo's location makes it that much better. Nestled in the heart of the West End, Bonobo escapes the buzz and long lines so common to Flatbread. There may be no ocean view, outdoor seating, or air conditioning, but Bonobo exudes a pleasing blend of neighborhood charm and hipster entrepreneurship that no other Portland pizzeria offers.

Bonobo is also remarkably accommodating. While I lounged with my friend Jen, her baby Celia, and her brother Andy on the Eastern Promenade, we confessed to a mutual craving for wood-fired pizza. Our concern, of course, lay with Celia; at a mere 8 months of age, dinner at a restaurant is challenging for her. Jen worried that the time it took to sup would result in crying and fussiness on Celia's part. "See if we can place our order before we arrive," Jen suggested. I figured it wasn't standard procedure, but I tried anyway. The woman who answered the phone said, "We don't usually do this, but..." She let us place our order. Dear readers, remember: this was not SOP.

When we arrived, our pizzas were already waiting. They were nice and hot, too. Jen and I had ordered a Verde ($15), which is a pizza with pesto, spinach, roasted onions, leeks, parmesan cheese, and ricotta cheese. Andy ordered a Gruyere (also $15), which features potatoes, prosciutto ham, spinach, leeks, gruyere cheese, parmesan cheese, and roasted garlic butter. A note to compassionate carnivores: all of Bonobo's meats contain no antibiotics, hormones, or nitrates.

As for me, I usually order the Goat (dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, spinach, rosemary, goat cheese, parmesan cheese, and roasted garlic butter) or the Taleggio (taleggio cheese, smoke roasted tomato, leeks, garlic butter, and arugula), so I was excited to try something other than "the usual." We dug in, sipping chilled white wine, while the kids one table over began entertaining Celia.

The Verde was just as good as other Bonobo pizzas I've sampled. The crust was crispy on the outside, just kissed by the smoked flavor of flames. The toppings were ample, with generous globs of ricotta cheese piled atop the pie. The roasted onion and leeks worked nicely with the cheeses. Though this could be considered a white pizza, it was still plenty moist, for the fresh pesto and roasted onions ensured that this was not a dry dish. Much to our delight, our four-year old table neighbor continued to coo and giggle to Celia.

Once our meal culminated and the bill was paid (thanks, Andy!), we packed up our stuff and headed for the car. This was when Jen and I spotted the ice cream window at the back of Bonobo. We wanted some! Unfortunately, a sign informed us that Bonobo closes its ice cream window on Mondays. As we absorbed our disappointment, two more parties came up to the ice cream window, hoping to having a sweet treat as well. We broke them the bad news. That's when one couple told us that Bonobo usually features three or four flavors made especially for Bonobo by Smiling Hill Farm, a local creamery. Jen and I pouted at each other. Local creameries are just our style.

Of course I'll go back to Bonobo. This is my fourth or fifth visit there, after all. Its rustic but artsy ambiance and creative menu hit the spot every time. Until then, I'm going to cruise the corner of Pine and Brackett with my eyes fixed on that ice cream window.