By Richard Campbell
After reviewing some of the new guns in the South Boston restaurant scene, I was recently tempted back to an old favorite: Café Porto Bello. Friends beg me to go there whenever they visit South Boston, and over the years I’ve tasted most of the standards on this menu. Café Porto Bello is cozy and the staff is efficiently down to earth. You often get to kind of know your neighbors in this relaxing atmosphere, and that’s possible because unlike a lot of new trendy places, they have the common sense not to blare bar music during dinner. The wine list is fairly sturdy, and the menu offers quite a variety. In short, this is a real neighborhood Italian dinner place with a dedicated following.
Truthfully, I often have gone to get their addictive pizza, but the antipasti on the menu (mainly the calamari) tempts me back to the three course meal with some regularity. It is almost impossible if the smell of garlic and oil floats out from the kitchen to avoid the shrimp scampi or other buttery garlic sauces. Their sauces- whether the red sauces or white creamy ones, usually have that extra kick that some South Boston Italian places don’t get. You can mix and match things on this menu and come out with dinner that is pretty reasonable. Fair warning: you must remember to come with cash, as the restaurant doesn’t take credit cards.
Speaking of reasonable, the pizzas here are loaded and go from $12.95 to $16.95. The black olive and roasted pepper pizza is a crowd pleaser for your vegans, as is the fresh mozzarella and basil, or their house special with Portobello mushrooms with gooey pleasing fontina cheese. But my favorite is the hot cherry pepper pizza with Italian sausage. If I go the pizza route I usually forgo the bread they bring, and order a Caesar salad, which is full, and has a tangy dressing. The Pollo Parmigiana is tender with plenty of mozzarella cheese, though you should ask for the sauce on the side. I know it kind of pegs me as a standard person when I order it, or the Pollo Marsala, but they are both very consistently pleasing.
In the seafood category is Scallops Rockefeller, a creamy delightful appetizer designed to make you feel rich-only if you don’t split it! Their antipasto plate is more of a sharing item, it looks great, and is just enough. The big kahuna in so far as seafood is the Fiore Dell Mare, that includes shrimp, scallops, and muscles in garlic olive oil with either pesto or marinara sauce. This time I wanted to try the funky looking Tortellini Alfredo that has prosciutto and peas in a creamy cheese sauce, but I stuck to my favorites. People order pizza here for pick up all the time, and I didn’t realize they had lunch sandwich specials. This could be more romantic with a few candles, a dessert selection, and espresso coffee offered at the close of dinner. In short, you can go for a big meal or special occasion, or just a quick weeknight bite, and flavors will not disappoint.