Italian take on a Philly great A not-so-little-calzoncini.
Things can go very wrong when Italians head south. When Roman soldiers ventured into Africa it was to slaughter whole cities and salt the earth. The Godfather’s Fredo Corleone sold his soul in Miami and Havana before the family cut its loses and headed back north. A few years back two of Portland’s favorite Italians shuttered their restaurant, Rachel’s L’Osteria, and moved south to the legendary Florida tennis town Vero Beach. Who knows what happened down there. But two years later they have returned nearly all the way back north, stopping in South Portland and opening the charming new restaurant Enio’s.
Enio’s sits on that swath of Cottage Road just before scrappy South Portland slides into snooty Cape Elizabeth. The space is wide and shallow, but the room feels spacious enough. Three tables are tucked into each wing, and the rest of the seating is at a long bar facing a wall of Italian wines, or a long counter along the long front window. This sort of arrangement hasn’t hurt Eventide any, and it should work fine at Enio’s. The place has an informal kind of elegance, with the sort of tile floor you would find in your favorite spot in New York’s Little Italy.
In keeping with its scrappy/snooty location, the menu lets you choose between a more or less formal meal. There are a few entrées and elaborate pastas in the $20 range, but also a couple of simple pastas at $13, as well as three categories of small plates. Co-owner Bob Butler seems very comfortable in the front of the house, discussing the dishes and wine with casual expertise. The service got a touch slow at times, especially when finicky Cape types monopolized the servers with endless questions.
Co-owner (and Bob’s wife) Laura Butler shows an expert hand in the kitchen. One group of small plates offers small jars of liver, fish, or eggplant to spread on grilled bread. The smoked fish had a nice sharpness from the caper and onions and a smooth creamy texture. The bread was grilled with plenty of olive oil, something common to many dishes at Enio’s. Another category of plate, little bites, featured a calzoncini that was not so little. Its flakey filo dough kept it from getting too heavy, while the shaved steak, onions, and Taleggio cheese lent it the flavors of a great Philly sandwich.
A third category includes salads, a flatbread, and antipasti. We tried a broccoli rabe, sautéed with garlic and served with sausage. The bitter vegetable worked great with the sweetness of the crumbled sausage, the sharp garlic, and a tangy-salty Romano cheese.
The rabe was a nice accompaniment to the very simple and well-executed pasta con erbe, also made with garlic and Romano. The angel hair had just the right texture — soft but with a touch of chew, and not at all sticky. The mild herbs mixed nicely with the sweetness of the olive oil. In contrast to this lighter pasta, an entrée of beef tenderloin with ravioli was rich and filling. A dark earthy sauce with lots of mushrooms enriched the flavors of the two generous pieces of beef. The hearty ravioli were stuffed with more beef, braised into a rich ragu.