By Camas Davis May 19, 2009 Published in the September 2008 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Jenna Biggs

SOME 70 YEARS AGO, when the bright-red firehouse at NE Dekum Street and Seventh Avenue was still operational, the smell of burning wood set off alarm bells. Literally. But today the scent of burning oak is a welcome one: It’s coming from the brick oven in the back of the rustic restaurant.

When owners—and New Seasons kitchen veterans—Matthew Bussetto and Eric Rose opened Firehouse in June, they wanted to create an Italian osteria aesthetic. And they nailed it. Reclaimed Douglas fir tables and brick walls create a warm interior, while the pork shoulders and whole chickens roasting on a rotating spit at the center of the kitchen further add to the restaurant’s charm. In addition, on warm nights several large garage doors are left open, allowing diners’ chatter and laughter to spill out into the street, just as you might expect to hear at a riverside eatery in Florence.

The menu is full of classic, Italian-leaning, somewhat Chez Panisse-inspired dishes: arugula salad with shaved pecorino, fried zucchini blossoms, pizza margherita, spit-roasted leg of lamb with dandelion greens. A small selection of Italian, Spanish, French, and Oregon wines sold at reasonable prices make Firehouse an excellent place to sip from a glass and graze on shared plates like fried, stuffed olives or pork-confit crostini. And the chefs seem content to keep the fires burning in the kitchen until you’re fully sated, so don’t hesitate to order more. Closed Mon, Tue.