I told my friends I’d meet them at “the new Sangillo’s,” but it turns out that’s not fair to Sangillo’s or to the new Tomaso’s Canteen. Tomaso’s (in the building of the late Sangillo’s) has some dive flare, but it’s walking the line of dive and gastropub. The drinks range from $2.50 cans to tasty cocktails with local liquor, and the food is simple but delicious.
The space is still tiny, with about a dozen bar stools at the wraparound pine bar, plus a few small tables. Four big screens hang near the chalkboard menus. Faded photos of sailors and a family hang on the wall. Those, I was told by the woman next to me at the bar who is related to the bar owner, are all old family photos. She was eating a haddock sandwich with her young son after a ride on the Polar Express. Her sandwich smelled so amazing and fresh that I almost ordered the same.
But first, a drink … or two, as it turns out. Tomaso’s features a “beer and shot” menu. You could order a “Grownup PB&J” which pairs PBR with a shot of Jack Daniels for $8. Or maybe the HST, a Heineken and Old Crow for $7, named for Hunter S. Thompson.
The bartender pushed the El Guapo combo on me – a can of Tecate beer and El Jimador Blanco for $8, a bestseller. The tequila was sippable, the beer cheap but ice cold. It’s worth noting Tomaso’s also has craft beer in cans, but cheap Mexican beer with tequila sounded more fun.
My friend ordered a Munjoy Mule made with local Ice Pik vodka, ginger beer and lime ($8), which arrived in a pint glass. “Interesting presentation,” she said. And there’s the mix: The presentation was all dive, but the drink itself was exquisite.
She followed that up with a Used Cadillac ($9), which was essentially a margarita with a splash of orange juice, making it burst with tangy sweetness.
Two men down the bar from me each had huge, juicy burgers ($8 to $10). They told me emphatically that I needed to try the double burger, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. You see, Tomaso’s makes its own sausage. I had to try the hot Italian sausage sandwich with peppers and onions ($8). The sub was delicious and not at all greasy. The major spicy kick was tempered by the sweet green peppers. That sandwich is the right kind of hot. I walked into Tomaso’s “not that hungry,” but I must have been mistaken because next came the mac and cheese ($2 side add-on).
Mac and cheese is definitely having its moment in Portland, but this one has got to be one of the top three in town. The crumble topping gives a perfect textural juxtaposition to the big, soft spiral noodles. But it’s the hint of garlic pushes it to the top of my short list. I thought my friend was going to stab me over the last noodle.
Next came the dirt wings ($11). Tomaso’s has several wing varieties: buffalo, Thai chili, jerk and dirt. Get the dirt. They’re double fried, “super healthy,” my bartender Anthony said with a chuckle. They came out hot and salty. They reminded me of the teriyaki Chinese chicken wings of my buffet-on-the-weekends childhood — in the best way.
If you went to Tomaso’s for a burger and beer, you could escape with a bill under $10. But if you want to meet a friend in a quirky, somewhat hip bar for a nice drink and basket of wings, this would be a great place too.
18 Hampshire St., Portland | 207-536-1285 | tomasoscanteen.com
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. every day.
AMENITIES: Daily specials
PARKING: On street
BOTTOM LINE: Sangillo’s closing was a loss for the community, and Tomaso’s definitely doesn’t replace it. But in some ways that’s great. You’ll still find the affordable drinks and “beer and shot” menu, but now the space is verging on gastropub territory, with its amazing food, specialty drinks and relaxed vibe. The location is hole-in-the-wall enough to feel like a secret, but it’s right off Middle Street.