Bistro Leluco is located in the former home of Enio’s in South Portland. Photos by Angie Bryan

I spent four years in Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France. I went to quite a few of the famous, starred restaurants, but what really stole my heart (not to mention my stomach and liver) were the small neighborhood bistros, the cozy places with limited but perfectly curated menus, a welcoming atmosphere and direct contact with the chef and/or owner(s). Those were the places I made sure to bring my visitors.

Bistro Leluco, while more of a Mediterranean-inspired bistro than a specifically French one, hit all of those memories for me. I left feeling a little bit jealous of everyone who lives in South Portland close enough to walk over there whenever they feel like it.

The brainchild of owners Antonio Rappazzo and Michele Trizzino, Bistro Leluco is named after their three children: Leo, Lucca and Coco. The talented chef is Will Durst, who used to be at Hen of the Wood in Vermont, and their imaginative barkeep, who designed their entire bar menu, is Jack O’Brien.

When my drinking companion and I entered, we had several options for seating, all on comfortable wooden chairs or banquettes. We opted to sit right at the bar, where we were warmly greeted by the bartender and a man who we later learned was Rappazzo himself.

The cocktail menu is small, featuring three “near classics” and three “house originals,” all ranging from $14 to $16. There are five $8 beers on tap and seven wines by the glass (one sparkling, three white and three red, all ranging from $9-$11). It wasn’t your usual list of wines by the glass – it was clear that someone had put a lot of thought into which ones to offer. Rappazzo later told me that he (with the assistance of his friend Terry at Nappi Distributors in Gorham) hand-picks the selections from past favorites, from regions they love and have family in, and based on pairings that work well with their menu.

Potato Toronto and Naked & Afraid cocktails from Bistro Leluco.

But onto the cocktails. My friend picked one from the Near Classics section, while I opted for one of the House Originals. She chose the $16 Naked & Afraid made with bourbon, green Chartreuse (a French herbal liqueur), Aperol, and lime. I’m assuming it’s a nod to the Naked & Famous, which is made with equal parts mezcal, green Chartreuse, Aperol and lime, but it’s also really close to the Last Flight, which uses equal parts bourbon, green Chartreuse, Aperol and lemon. Either way, the end result was delightful. The other two options in the Near Classics section were the House Gibson (featuring a three-onion syrup and house-pickled shallots) and the Humble Jalapeno (their version of a margarita, using heat-removed jalapeno).


I went with the $16 Potato Toronto, made with rye, Sfumato (a rich and smoky Italian bitter Italian liqueur from the amari family), Branca Menta (the mint version of Fernet Branca, another Italian amaro), potato and bitters. Yes, that’s right, I deliberately ordered a cocktail that involved both mint and potato. I like to live on the edge.

My gamble paid off, with a balanced and nuanced cocktail with multiple layers of flavor in every sip. The kind of masterpiece that I could never re-create at home. The other two options in the House Originals category were the El Diablo Viejo (tequila, lime, raspberry, ginger, club soda, habanero tincture and Salers, a bitter French aperitif) and the Motivational Speech (Brazilian spirit cachaca, lemon, lime, grapefruit, beet and fig-infused Baijiu, a Chinese spirit – fusion cuisine in a glass).

I’ll close with two words about the food options: chocolate torte. You’re welcome.

Retired diplomat Angie Bryan writes about Maine’s cocktail bars while making as many puns as her editor allows.

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