Tomaso’s Canteen sits on Hampshire St. in Portland. The little neighborhood eatery and drinkery seems to draw a relatively steady stream of patrons through its door. With only five tables, a medium-sized bar, and a little shelf space against the wall near the entrance, there isn’t a ton of room to sit in the place, but when I’ve been, there’s usually at least a single table available. They attract a pretty diverse crowd and always seem to have a good selection of specials in addition to their menu.
On a mid-Saturday afternoon, we decided Tomaso’s would be our choice for a bit of a linner, as the meal between lunch and dinner is now called…by me. Signs outside promoted weekend brunch and Ice Pik Vodka drinks. When we entered, it was to the usual scene – busy, one empty table, a couple seats available at the bar, and a jovial mood in the place. We sat and the bartender/waitress came to bring us drinks and water. We took a good look at the specials on the chalkboard above the bar and then took a peek at the menu.
We decided to skip drinks even though they had some appealing beer and shot combos, but planned on ordering quite a bit of food. The food options were quite simple – bar snacks, wings, burgers, sandwiches, and plates. The choices were slightly different from my last visit, but most of the items I remembered were still available. My wife and I discussed sharing an app and going from there. I considered Mac and Cheese or Haddock Tips, but after some discussion we decided upon Onion Rings w/ Ponderosa Sauce.
Our next selections revolved around main courses. It was either a sandwich or a burger for me. I went with the Tomaso Burger – ground chuck/andouille patry, bacon-tomato-onion jam, blue cheese, pickled cabbage, garlic toasted jumbo English muffin and added a side of Mac and Cheese to make up for the mac app I didn’t have. She went with the Fried Chicken Sandwich with side of Fries. When the waitress came back, we put in the orders all at once.
While waiting for the food, I noted that there were Ice Pik drink special signs on the inside too. I was contemplating the Tomaso’s/Ice Pik Vodka connection when the onion rings came out in all their glory with a little cup of sauce accompanying them. They appeared to be sprinkled with some grated parmesan. I grabbed one and took a sizable chomp out of it. They were crispy and nicely seasoned with the parm as an excellent topper. I tried the ponderosa sauce which looked like a ranch, but had a bit more zing to it.
The rings went quickly because we were hungry and sharing. We had a little break in between our onion jewelry and the rest of our order which was fine. The remaining food came out in due time and looked good. My burger was unique with the large English muffin housing it. The mac and cheese was a relatively large portion for the extra $3 it cost to add it to the burger. Mrs. Portlandeater’s chicken consisted of a couple large tenders which was different than the single piece she remembered on the sandwich in the past. I inspected my food, making sure all the toppings were in place and verified it was so.
With my mouth wide, I tried to fit in a massive burger bite. Yup, the flavors were excellent. I was most impressed by the modest amount of cheese which didn’t bomb the beef with blue, but instead just added that small amount of flavor which mixed so well with the jam, cabbage, and garlic. The English muffin was a first for me, but I enjoyed it. The mac, which I had tried on a previous visit was delicious. The spirals, with crumbs on top, thick cheese, and some added herb really hit the spot. It was a very slight diversion from a more traditional mac because of the way it was seasoned, but it was well done.
My wife enjoyed her sandwich and l tried her fries which were crispy like the onions rings were. My food continued to bring me happiness and after a time, we were both done our meals. I wasn’t super hungry anymore, but there were a couple desserts on the board above the bar. One of them was Peanut Butter Pie. I didn’t need it, but sure as heck wanted it, so when the waitress came, I reluctantly ordered the PBP and as she walked away, I did a happy dance in my seat.
When the pie came out, it looked like it probably wasn’t made in-house which is what I generally prefer of course, but if a restaurant is smart enough to carry peanut butter pie, I’m not sure I care where it’s made. My first taste was perfect with a heavy peanut butter flavor, chocolate bits, some glaze/frosting on top, and the requisite chocolate cookie crust. I didn’t care if the pie was made in Siberia, it was good. My wife decided she should try a couple bites and I gave her the evil eye roll as she did. Then I started eating faster so I could finish before she had a chance to stick the fork in it again.
After all was eaten and done, our bill came to about 39 bucks prior to tip which I felt was a good deal. I left smiling because Tomaso’s has something I find special. Their food is remarkably good for a little neighborhood joint and I have yet to have anything there that isn’t where it should be. The service is excellent too, but there’s something about the atmosphere that really sets it apart. It’s like that guy Jay. You remember him, right? You hung around him a couple times in college, but couldn’t put your finger on why he was great to be around. You just knew he was super nice, a little rough around the edges, wanted to have a good time, and really liked Old Milwaukee and cheese danish. Tomaso’s is Jay in the form of a restaurant and bar. Go there for a drink, some food, or both and just enjoy it even if you can’t pick out exactly why it’s so awesome.
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