Recently selected as one of Travel & Leisure's "A List" travel agents for Italy, Portland-based Colleen Lamont of Journeys Peak Travel has been helping clients explore Europe's "boot" (and beyond) for 33 years. Of course, not all of us are working with an intercontinental budget ... especially after the holidays. So we managed to catch up with the avid traveler between trips to get her tips on where to go in Portland for a taste of Italy.
Colleen Lamont: It’s got this cozy, intimate feel with tiny little tables. Everyone’s very close and the focus is Italian. The owner Michael has a very discriminating palate when it comes to wine, so he always has some exceptional wines, and they aren’t necessarily all pricey. The selection is changing constantly and adding new, so it’s a nice treat. I would say it’s my all-time favorite [Italian restaurant in Portland].
CL: It’s a very tiny place, but Piazza Italia’s great. A gentleman owned it by the name of Gino, who has since passed away. He had a lot of spunk. His children have taken it over, and it has a very Italian feeling. He used to have one of the waitresses sing opera, and she’d belt out a song on a crazy night when they were jammed and 20 people were waiting to be seated.
CL: This is a great bakery over on the other side over on North Killingsworth. [The owner, Patricia DiPrima] is a New York gal who is of Italian extraction, and her little tratteria and bakery is excellent. She makes biscotti and canolis, and on the holidays she does a lot of traditional Italian cookies.
CL: A neat deli that has been around for decades, it’s family-run. You can go in and get deli sandwiches and all the Italian pastries and cookies. There’s a big deli section where you can go in and get prosciutto sliced or order all the Italian salamis. [They also have] Tuscan cheeses and good aged parmesans. They have a great wine collection as well…It’s a fun store. You’ll walk in and you’ll feel like maybe you’re stepping back a little bit in time. When I entertain, I almost always prepare Italian, and it’s a nice store to go to.
The Cellar Door
CL: As much as others, if not more so, this place gets me psyched about Italy. The owners [Karen Hinsdale and Bryan Shuttleworth] spend a lot of time and energy visiting Italian, French, and Spanish wineries. They know the owners and they have the connections. The highlight for me is [when] they do wine tastings paired with food. They usually do it at the Mallory Hotel [now called the Hotel deLuxe] and they plan the menu based on the wines they’re going to serve. I’d say twice a year Karen and Bryan do an Italian tasting and drink strictly Italian wines paired with food that is intended to enhance or compliment the wines. Bryan and Karen, or sometimes [a guest] winemaker from Italy, will talk about the wines as they’re poured and tasted before the food is brought out. That is definitely, truly a taste of Italy because it’s not only visual, you’re smelling and tasting [the cuisine], as well as visiting with people whose common interest is Italian wines.