Monday, July 07, 2014

Great People and Great Food Make A Great Story: Burrasca

Just named one of the Oregonian's top ten food carts, Burrasca is a celebration of the foods of owner Paolo Calamai's native Florence, Italy. After sampling many of Paolo's offerings at his food cart on SE 28th Avenue, I knew I had to write about him and his wife, writer Elizabeth Petrosian, and their journey to Portland. Here's an excerpt from that article, "At Portland food cart Burrasca, homey Italian dishes are rooted in owner's Florentine past."

When they announced their decision to move their family lock, stock and pasta machine from Florence, Italy, to Portland, Oregon, to open a food cart, American friends of Florence native Paolo Calamai and his Michigan-born wife, Elizabeth Petrosian, were aghast.

Gnudi con pomodoro.

“But you’re living in Florence!” the friends wailed, thinking their life in Italy must be like all those I-left-my-boring-life-for-the-Tuscan-sun books that were popular a few years back.

The life their friends imagined the couple was living?

“It was a postcard,” Paolo said. “You’re living in a postcard or you’re living in the reality.”

Paolo, educated in restaurant management, had traveled back and forth from Italy to the United States many times since his maiden voyage in 1984 when he visited the families of Stanford students he’d met at the Florence villa that university owned. Remembering his first trip to the states, his expression still carries the awestruck quality of his younger self.

Pappa al pomodoro.

“It was a beautiful experience,” he said. “Visiting the national parks and seeing the Grand Canyon, the big cities. I mean, you see New York in the eighties, oh my god, to us, coming from Europe it was like, wow.”

After that first trip, he worked the front of the house—as waiter, manager, wine buyer and menu consultant—in several high-end Italian restaurants in New York and San Francisco. He met Elizabeth at the former Etrusca restaurant in San Francisco where she was supporting herself as a waitress, saving on food bills by taking full advantage of shift meals at the restaurant while attending graduate school in English literature.

The proprietor.

“She was the cutest one there,” he said. They dated, then moved across the country to work in New York, he at Pino Luongo’s Tuscan Square in Rockefeller Center, a forerunner of market-based restaurants like Eataly, and she at Gramercy Tavern. While it may have sounded glamorous from the outside, they realized that they weren’t able to spend much time together or enjoy the city. Plus they were missing the slower pace of life on the West Coast.

“We realized there’s something about the West Coast lifestyle, it’s closer to a Mediterranean life,” she said.

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