Take a little Israeli-riffing Shalom Y'All. Add Ox's leaping flames and meats roasting over open coals. Toss in Tusk's artful seasonal salads and a little Mad Greek Deli neighborhood vibe. Mix with a sweet light-filled room, ouzo-laced cocktails, and a blistering house-made playlist of hip, jazz, and post-punk. The ingredients are super casual but the flavors are detailed and spiced to thrill. You order at the counter, but food is delivered by the kitchen crew. And no bussing your own table, a shocker in Portland.
And that, in a nutshell, is the recipe for Bluto's. The new wood-fired, nominally Greek-inspired restaurant opened in early February at 2828 SE Belmont St., formerly home of the handsome Tonari. The concept comes from Portland sandwich lord Rick Gencarelli (Lardo, Grassa) and his long-time restaurant-group partners, Chef Stable. Gencarelli calls it “fast casual plus” and a model for the future. As he sees Portland Next, he envisions a wave of elevated counter service spots. “I think we'll see lots of creative, innovative, delicious fine dining in casual atmospheres,” he says.
In its brief life, Bluto's lives up to that idea: convenience meets quality, fast and friendly, with personal, cheffy touches and a few killer moves. Portland kitchen vet Barry Fitzpatrick is helming the menu. Dining options are indoors, takeout or delivery, with outside tables coming.
For now, the menu is tightly focused: four souvlaki skewers, two kinds of hummus, a pair of intricate seasonal salads, and some wood-charred vegetables—recently rangy cauliflower florets lit with smokey black urfa chili, herbed tahini, and preserved lemons. A la carte prices average $7-12. Fans are forming around the Greek fries, shrouded in shredded haloumi cheese, lemon zest, and za'atar. An extra dollar gets you the house ketchup, blended with amba, a sour mango condiment. In the fast-casual-plus world, nothing is free.
Dessert is frozen yogurt—chocolate or vanilla—with toppings like halvah and honey and tahini white chocolate magic shell. Neither did much for me. My friend Julien summed it up: “I’d rather have soft serve ice cream,” he said after a few bites. “Actually, I’d rather just have halvah and honey!”
Bottom line: Bluto's is a keeper. Three things not to miss:
The hummus rocks: Hummus is one of those yardstick dishes. Show me your hummus and I'll tell you who you are. The kitchen jumps off the roadmap created by Israeli superstar chef Michael Solomonov, who lards his famed Philadelphia version with high-quality Soom tahini. Right now, Bluto's hummus is contending for Portland's best, not to mention its prettiest—super-creamy, blobbed with bright, herbaceous schug, swirled with good olive oil,, laden with firm-soft whole chickpeas on top, and finished with a blend of sumac, oregano, and thyme.
The city's best pita is here: The big winner here–incredible pita bread, from fresh house dough, made daily and grilled to order. Unlike giant puffs elsewhere, these are more tortilla-sized, each bite a perfect blend of soft, chew, and toasty griddle spots, with one side dusted in salt and oregano. Be warned: they're $3 a pop and you probably want two.
Lamb skewers, pita, and tzatziki = Portland's best new sandwich: So far, Bluto's mushroom skewers are forgettable (sorry veg people). You can't go wrong with a spear of loukaniko sausage, chunks of the great Greek sausage made by Olympia Provisions. But my money is on the rich, juicy ground lamb shoulder, which comes on like a fine lamb kebab, sided by punchy red cabbage pickles. They're delicious alone, but even better piled into one of those pitas with some creamy tzatziki.
The biggest surprise at Bluto's? The outstanding playlists are laboriously assembled by Gencarelli, who was once a high school DJ. “I'm obsessed with music,” he confided. He's making a deep cut for customers on Spotify at blutopdx.
Bluto's, 2828 SE Belmont St., open daily 11 a.m.-10 pm