A large portrait of chef Marco Roberti’s grandmother Gilda hangs in the foyer of her namesake restaurant; she smiles approvingly at tables of other grandmas. Gilda’s Italian Restaurant, a Caesar-bust garnished hole-in-the-wall in the apartment district surrounding Jeld-Wen Field, has become a bluehair party destination—most nights, you’ll find two or three tables of senior celebrants raising their oversized wine glasses for toasts. 

The reasons for this demographic imbalance are a little obscure—it might be because Gilda's is located a block from the Social Security office, or because its hours are suited to early-bird diners. But I'd guess Gilda's appeal is based on the place being a distinctly Portland hybrid: It uses voguish, locally sourced meats—Olympic Provisions salami, Tails 'n' Trotters pork—in traditional, heavy Sicilian cooking. Here is the new wrapped in the familiar, like the prosciutto stuffed into Silvies Valley Ranch beef rolls to make Grandma's Braciole ($23). This dish, like many others, is drenched in a tomato sauce thick enough to remind you why Italians call it “gravy.” 

Grandma's Meatballs, each the size of a baseball, are the house specialty: They're available with spaghetti ($18) or as a stand-alone appetizer, polpette ($8). I'd suggest getting them in the latter presentation, since that will allow you to order the lemon chicken ($19) as an entree. A Draper Valley breast covered in a zesty sherry sauce and mushrooms, it's the strongest main course. The most breathtaking item on the menu is the fritto misto appetizer ($13), a trawler-sized pile of squid, scallops and tiger shrimp, all battered and lightly fried. Plenty big enough to share, it would pair nicely with two glasses of pinot grigio as a pre-Timbers sidewalk seafood date. 

But Gilda's is primarily a place to tuck into big portions of pasta that will put you to bed early. The patrons here are people who have lived enough to decide food no longer need be a challenge or a chore; better to sink into comfortable decadence, like one of those emperors. After a certain point, it's all gravy.

  • Order this: Fritto misto and lemon chicken.
  • Best deal: Arancini ($7), crispy fried mozzarella rice balls.
  • I’ll pass: On the lunch menu’s unremarkable sandwiches.

EAT: Gilda's Italian Restaurant, 1601 SW Morrison St., 224-0051, gildasitalianrestaurant.com. Lunch 11 am-2 pm Monday-Friday; happy hour 4 pm-5:30 pm Monday-Saturday; dinner 5 pm-8:30 pm Monday-Thursday and 5 pm-9:30 pm Friday-Saturday. $$ Moderate.