There’s nowhere to hide on a small menu: no place to tuck a less than excellent but high-profit-margin chicken dish, no spot for a sneaky, sad seasonal salad. Fortunately, there is no need to bury mediocre food on the menu at Bluto’s, a new “wood-fired, Greek-inspired” restaurant on Southeast Belmont Street. Almost every single dish is a banger.
Bluto’s, named after John Belushi’s hard-partying frat brother character in Animal House, comes from Lardo and Grassa mastermind Rick Gencarelli and the ChefStable restaurant group (see also: St. Jack and Ox). Like Lardo and Grassa, Bluto’s aims for that fancy, fast-casual niche, with counter service and midrange prices belying some seriously tasty cooking.
Staples include the lineup of five souvlaki skewers along with a pair of hummus plates. The rest of the menu is rounded out by a handful of salads, roasted veggie dishes, and some solid breaded Greek fries dusted with tangy, shredded haloumi cheese and lemon zest.
The portion sizes are perfect for sharing, so covering a table in a variety of dishes and allowing the flavors to mingle is the right way to eat here. The bright, zippy citrus and sour labneh in the chicory salad ($12) should be eaten in between bites of the savory skewers ($6-$12) and hummus scooped up with pita bread.
That dip ($6-$10) is a true treat: It’s as smooth as Bruno Mars on a satin waterbed, dolloped with herby green schug, whole soft chickpeas, and olive oil.
The pita bread might be even better. A departure from the UFO-sized rounds at restaurants like Nicholas, these are hand-sized, impossibly fluffy discs served in individual paper pouches. The outsides are crispy thanks to the wood oven and coated with salt and oregano, while the insides are steamy and dense. A warning: They are $3 each and do not come with hummus.
When it comes to the skewers, the ground, spiced lamb and the Olympia Provisions pork loukaniko sausage are the standouts (don’t ignore the spicy pickles served alongside the latter, either). If you’re with a group, get one of each and share.
I’ve seen Bluto’s busy at lunch on a Wednesday, during dinner on a Friday and all times in between, so it’s already going just fine for Gencarelli and company, but as someone who often needs a work-from-home lunch break, I’m personally begging that they add a gyro to the menu. Ostensibly, the ingredients are already there: the $3 pita, the $9 lamb skewer, the $3 tzatziki…but what if it were like $13 and assembled for the diner? Pleeeaaaassse?
When you’re not rushing around in the middle of the day and have time to lounge at dinner, don’t skip the ouzo. The anise-flavored aperitif is similar to sambuca or arak, and it shows up all over the cocktail menu. It gives an edge to the mojito ($11), an often too sweet drink, and comes as a $5 shot for those of us (me) who want to throw back two or three straight.
Although Bluto’s offers some nice soft serve, which you can get served in a tahini magic shell, ouzo straight is how I always want to end a meal there.
EAT: Bluto’s, 2838 SE Belmont St., 971-383-1619, blutospdx.com. 11 am-10 pm daily.