Is this Stretch of Downtown Portland's Little Italy?
The block of Southwest Morrison between 11th and 12th avenues is starting to look—if you sqint hard enough—like a minature Little Italy. Mucca Osteria (1022 SW Morrison St.) and Ristorante Roma (622 SW 12th Ave) have been neighborhood lynchpins for four and ten years respectively, with their own comfort-driven followings.
But two easy-breezy, cocktail-focused newcomers with Italian leanings, Shift Drinks and Marmo Deli and Bar, are making the busy stretch of Southwest Morrison a new post-work destination.
1200 SW Morrison St.
Set inside the cavernous Terminal Sales Building, Shift Drinks, a 90-seat cocktail and wine bar in shades of gray and chrome, looks straight out of Portland Art Museum’s Italian fashion exhibit, Sprezzatura! Multnomah Whiskey Library alums Anthony Garcia and Alise Moffatt have culled through an impressive 100-bottle wine list, and dreamt up fun, classically-influenced cocktails like the Besos for Pesos, a take on the Basque kalimotxo with red wine and Coke, and the Palermo Viejo #2, a sipper of gin, cynar, pamplemousse and mint.
While the bar program roams around Western Europe, the simple, drink-friendly food is mostly confined to the boot. Marinated asparagus, anchovy, lemon, and Calabrian chile bruschetta, and crisped paninis holding sweetheart ham, hot mustard, and oozing fontina, offer solid, crave-able Italian flavors that work well ordered en masse across the long, party-ready tables at Shift Drinks.
1037 SW Morrison St.
One block east of Shift Drinks, you’ll find Marmo, the brainchild of owner Kevin Chambers, a restaurant manager fresh off a stint at Chefstable, and Thomas Boyce, a former Los Angeles hot shot who has been off the radar since his departure from Bluehour in 2013. Boyce helped set up the menu; by now, he's already on to his next consulting project.
The 30-seat, all marble eatery (marmo: Italian for marble), sports another accessible Italian menu, with meaty sandwiches, basic pasta salads, and simple bruschetta (including a very good white bean and tuna with capers and anchovy). Early tastes, like a pasta puttanesca and a zingy Italian sub, are still shaking out, but the focaccia, an airy, flexible dough made fresh by Thomas Boyce’s wife, Kim Boyce, at her acclaimed pastry spot, Bakeshop, is a requirement.
Marmo’s Italian-spirit-heavy cocktails, tailor-made for summer, call like a siren song at the end of a long, hot day. Try the tart, balanced Ciao, Tom with tequila, vanilla-citrus liquor, and a red wine float or embrace the Marmo Cup, a sunny drink of Campari, basil, strawberry, cucumber, and ginger beer. Meanwhile, Chambers is reportedly working on a batch of house-made limoncello, just in time for the solstice.