Headed out to the newly opened Tuscan Table over near the mall in South Portland, I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting much. As soon as I walked in, however, I was met with a gorgeous setting, anchored by an imposing bar, and that expectation suddenly rose.
Large and impressive chandeliers hung from the ceiling in a lavish lighting display. White marble and stone complemented organic wood decorations and created a cohesive design that felt high-end but also warm and inviting. It wasn’t until I sat down and was greeted by a bartender that I found out the owners of the Tuscan Table also own the Royal River Grill House in Yarmouth and the Tuscan Brick Oven Bistro in Freeport.
Their wine and beer list struck me as wide ranged and impressive, with craft beers on tap that go beyond your average Maine staples. Ellen’s Coffee Stout, brewed out of Bar Harbor ($6) and the Thirsty Botanist IPA from Boothbay Harbor ($8) both piqued my interest, but ultimately, I’m a cocktail girl at heart. And the cocktail list here at Tuscan Table was too good to ignore.
I started with the Italian Old Fashioned ($13). This spin on the classic drink was creative, and simply put, it just worked. The Bulleit 95 Rye mixed beautifully with the amaretto liqueur, orange bitters and Amarena cherries. And the chai sugar cubes gave it a spiced sweetness that blended the two alcohols seamlessly. It was a refreshing and delicious take on a drink that in my opinion, thanks to Don Draper, has grown tired.
The drink that won my heart, though, was the Fig Mule ($12). The traditional Moscow Mule is another one of those cocktails that everyone seems to want to put their own mark on and make it their own. Most of the time, I can’t even tell there’s a difference, but Tuscan Table has created a stunning cocktail that is not only is seasonal in an original way but memorable and delicious with fig-infused 22 vodka, elderflower liqueur, Maine Root Ginger Beer and agave. The elderflower liqueur initially made me nervous; it can easily ruin a drink with its overpowering sweetness and floral notes. However, it was used sparingly in the Fig Mule and the result offset the spice of the ginger and complimented the fig perfectly.
Lastly, powerless against the delicious smell of dough and cheese, I tried the trio of mini calzones. Though the dough was very thick (and hard to cut through), the inside fillings ranged in flavors. My first bite was of the prosciutto, tomato, basil, and ricotta — the most classic take on a calzone of the three. The second had a fennel and salumi filling with tomato and mozzarella. But the third calzone was easily my favorite, with butternut squash, caramelized onions, mushrooms and smoked mozzarella. All three were delicious and a great nibble while sitting at the bar.
There’s also an entire after-dinner bar menu with dessert cocktails (tiramisu martini, anyone?), cordials, scotch, grappa and brandy, as well as some desserts that look so rich they could probably foot the tab. Of all the bars I’ve been to in the area, this one had me the most pleasantly surprised. And a good thing about it being in the mall is that I can go buy new pants after I gorge myself on profiteroles and decadent dessert martinis.
WHERE: 390 Gorham Road, South Portland
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
AMENITIES: Full bar, reservations, lunch, dinner, gluten-free, gorgeous décor, upstairs level, parking
BOTTOM LINE: If you can get over the idea of coming to the Mall for an incredible bar and dining experience (and really, you should get over that), Tuscan Table will be an amazing night out. The food extended beyond typical Italian fare, and the drinks are cleverly designed and expertly mixed. You will not regret your choice to drink or dine at this beautiful establishment.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes