Regulars frequent this West End bistro for its superb wine list, good cocktails and unbeatable food.
Caiola’s doesn’t have a happy hour, but they hardly need one. Residents of the Portland neighborhood occupy the snug bar – there are just eight seats – nightly. The bartenders and servers know almost everyone’s name – some can even predict drink and food orders. It seems a discounted drink hour would simply serve a handful of loyal customers.
In the span of an hour on a recent weeknight, two separate parties at the bar celebrated a birthday with their neighbors and trusty wait staff, which might give you an idea as to how homey Caiola’s can feel.
But the casual ambience doesn’t necessarily reflect the menu. While not pretentious in the least (tasty buttermilk fried onion rings are on the appetizer menu, after all), Caiola’s is a bit fancier than your typical neighborhood joint. There’s an entirely separate wine menu that’s robust but selective. Cocktails range from $8 to $11 (starting with the sangria), the cheapest appetizer is $7 (same price for soup), and the burger is $15. Caiola’s has a similar price point and feel as the East End’s Blue Spoon – each end of town needs a cozy, sophisticated bistro.
However, Caiola’s does include cheap beer selections like Pabst Blue Ribbon, and good standbys, such as Geary’s HSA, Peak Organic and Stella Artois. And if you stick with a soup or an appetizer, it’s definitely possible to leave with a bill under $20. The Gorgonzola Sformato (baked) appetizer with red wine cherries, walnuts and crostini is beautiful, filling and reasonable for $7.
The cocktails are consistently good and are one of the reasons people in the neighborhood don’t go elsewhere – why walk farther in zero degree temperatures if a good cocktail is just around the corner?
Some cocktails, like the French Maid (Hendricks gin, St. Germain, fresh lime and Prosecco for $10) are deceptively small. Served in a tall glass, there’s quite a bit of ice, but the drink is strong and tart.
The aforementioned sangria is a generous pour and nicely presented.
Since 2005, Caiola’s has been enticing customers with consistently great cuisine and a comfy bar. On Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., hoards of devoted brunch seekers frequent Caiola’s.
If eating or drinking at the bar, try earlier than later. The bar starts serving at 5 p.m., a half hour before dinner service.
Claire Jeffers is a Portland freelance writer.