Restaurant review

Restaurant review: Bluto’s Greek-inspired menu is exceptional

Take some Shalom Y’All to Israeli riffs. Add the leaping flames of beef and meats roasting over bare coals. Add Tusk’s clever seasonal salads and a little Mad Greek Deli neighborhood vibe. Mix it up with a soft room bathed in light, ouzo-based cocktails and a mind-blowing house-made playlist of hip, jazz and post-punk. The ingredients are super casual but the flavors are detailed and spicy to delight. You order at the counter, but the food is delivered by the kitchen team. And no bus to your own table, a shock to Portland.

And there you have it, in a nutshell, the recipe for Bluto’s. The new, Greek-inspired, wood-fired restaurant opened in early February at 2828 SE Belmont St., formerly the home of handsome Tonari. The concept comes from Portland sandwich lord Rick Gencarelli (Lardo, Grassa) and his longtime restaurant group partners, Chef Stable. Gencarelli calls it “fast casual plus” and a model for the future. Seeing Portland Next, he envisions a wave of elevated counter service outlets. “I think we’ll see a lot of creative, innovative and delicious fine dining in casual atmospheres,” he says.

In its brief life, Bluto lives up to that idea: convenience meets quality, speed and usability, with personal, cheffy touches and some killer moves. Portland Kitchen veterinarian Barry Fitzpatrick runs the menu. Dining options are indoors, takeout or delivery, with outdoor tables to come.

For now, the menu is very focused: four souvlaki skewers, two kinds of hummus, a pair of complex seasonal salads and a few charred vegetables – freshly elongated cauliflower florets lit up with smoked black urfa pepper, tahini with herbs and candied lemons. A la carte prices average $7-12. Fans form over the Greek fries, wrapped in shredded haloumi cheese, lemon zest and za’atar. An extra dollar gets you the homemade ketchup, mixed with amba, a sour mango condiment. In the fast-casual-plus world, nothing is free.

The dessert is chocolate or vanilla frozen yogurt with toppings like halva and honey and a magic shell of white chocolate tahini. Neither did much for me. My friend Julien summed it up: “I prefer soft serve ice cream,” he said after a few bites. “Actually, I’d rather just have halva and honey!”

Conclusion: Bluto’s is a keeper. Three things not to miss:

Rock hummus: Hummus is one of these reference dishes. Show me your hummus and I’ll tell you who you are. The cuisine jumps on the roadmap created by Israeli superstar chef Michael Solomonov, who larded his famous Philadelphia version with high-quality tahini Soom. Right now Bluto’s hummus is vying for the best in Portland, not to mention its prettiest – super creamy, splashed with bright herbal schug, swirled with good olive oil, loaded with firm, soft whole chickpeas on the top, and finished with a mixture of sumac, oregano and thyme.

The best pita in town is here: The big winner here – amazing pita bread, made with fresh homemade dough, made daily and toasted to order. Unlike jumbo puffs elsewhere, these are more tortilla-sized, each bite is a perfect blend of soft, chewy, toasted grill spots, with a side sprinkled with salt and oregano. Be warned: They’re $3 a pop, and you probably want two.

Skewers of lamb, pita and tzatziki = the best new sandwich in Portland: So far Bluto’s mushroom skewers are forgettable (sorry vegetarians). You can’t go wrong with a sausage spear of loukaniko, chunks of the great Greek sausage made by Olympia Provisions. But my bet is on the rich and juicy ground lamb shoulder, which comes like a thin skewer of lamb, served with punchy red cabbage pickles. They’re delicious on their own, but even better stacked in one of these pitas with creamy tzatziki.

The biggest surprise at Bluto’s? The outstanding playlists are painstakingly assembled by Gencarelli, who was once a high school DJ. “I’m obsessed with music,” he says. It makes a deep cut for customers on Spotify at blutopdx.

Bluto’s, 2828 SE Belmont St., open daily 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.