Five months after launching Morso in the Pearl District, former Bluehour chef Kenny Giambalvo has stepped down from day-to-day operations at the casual Italian-American cafe. While he remains tied to the brand as "culinary director," owners Bob Lightman and Ryan Finley will play a larger role in the flavorful future of the eatery, which also operates a location in Tigard.
The first menu shake-ups are already evident, marking a slight shift away from "Italian American" flavors towards straight-forward Americana. The stars of the new fall menu? A trio of unctuous pulled pork sandwiches inspired by Southern barbecue and rib-sticking picnic fare.
The sandwiches start with slow-braised Carlton Farms pork shoulder that then gets tossed with a spicy, vinegar-based South Carolina BBQ sauce, sweet and bold Memphis BBQ sauce, or melted white cheddar and pickled jalapeño The pulled pork is tender and flavorful, the best I've tried in Portland, but the departure from masterful Italian flavors leaves me hoping the space can maintain the focus and freshness that has captivated diners in the neighborhood.
"The original concept was informed by the casual culinary traditions of Italy and New York," says Lightman, "but the plan was always to riff from there. If you got to Italy their focus is on simple food with simple ingredients and regional expression in sauces. This inspired us to look to American regional flavors, but the casual Italian comfort food is still at Morso's heart."
Because the space is committed to fresh ingredients sourced locally, several summer favorites will be nixed from the menu as its pared down for autumn. Sadly, that means no more Morso Turkey salad (a contender for the best entree salad in town), but in its place comes a more customizable menu, with options to add fresh mozz, bacon, chicken, Italian ham, tuna, or crab to any bowl of greens.
In addition, sandwiches will now be served with a choice of sides (a long list of delicious small bites that were often overlooked in the previous menu format) including roasted squash, rich farro salad, and white bean puree. Dinner entrees are still in the works, and Morso's Italian-inspired happy hour will still be available from five to seven pm every day, complete with complimentary appetizers like fresh tomato bruschetta or house charcuterie with every beer, wine, or cocktail purchase.
25 NW 11th Ave
and 7291 Southwest Bridgeport Road