Introducing Tuscan Food Cart Burrasca

A Florentine native nails Italian classics for a shoestring budget.

By Benjamin Tepler February 3, 2014 Published in the February 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

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Peposo (braised beef with polenta)

Image: Nomad

At his Florentine food cart parked inside the quiet lot on SE 28th Avenue and Ankeny Street, chef-owner Paolo Calamai slings a dish that will change the way you think about street food.

That small masterpiece is called inzimino, an umami-bomb of slowly braised squid in a rich, garlicky sauce of tomato, red wine, and spinach. It’s one of the best plates in the city served trailer-side, and something you’d happily eat at twice the price inside a bona fide brick-and-mortar establishment.

Calamai, an always-smiling 51-year-old native of Florence, doesn’t cut corners: his old-school Italian cuisine draws from the traditions of his youth, complete with cart-baked bread and hand-rolled pasta.

The menu of four Florentine classics rotates with the seasons, starting with a pitch-perfect ribolita soup for winter—buttery smooth, thick with black cabbage, cannellini beans, a strong poultry backbone, and hit with a healthy dose of black pepper. Pappardelle al cinghiale brings silky ribbons of pasta with rich, slow-stewed wild boar and a generous dusting of parmesan. Lesser-known comforts, like crespelle alla fiorentina, paper-thin crêpes stuffed with spinach and ricotta, and served with bubbling béchamel tomato sauce draped over the top, are worth some serious exploration.

Burrasca is just the beginning for Calamai, who hopes to open a restaurant in Portland someday. Handmade pasta better than your nonna made it? For $8? Get it while you still can. 

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