Update: The Meatball sub has left the menu! Wipe your tears and try the Cassoulet that we hear is vegan-izable. Be sure to report back if you see new options!
|Aalto Lounge Brief Review|
|Overall||Service||Food Quality||Atmosphere||Vegan Options|
|Location: 3356 SE Belmont St, Portland, OR 97214|
|Hours: Opens daily at 5pm-2:30am
Happy Hour 5pm-7pm
|Times Visited: 4|
When I was informed that the Aalto Lounge on SE Belmont had a vegan meatball sandwich, I did a double take. A few years ago I can recall browsing the posted menu and scoffing at a couple of possibly vegan finger foods listed, like a fruit, nut and cheese plate minus the cheese. The cocktail peanut mix is still there, but vegan friendliness is joining in. When you walk into Aalto, the setting whistles ‘hipster‘ – it shares a front entrance with Stumptown Coffee, for starters. The tables and setting are slightly IKEA and overall quite clean, there’s a turntable station built into the bar, it’s dimly lit, and most of the people are somewhat disheveled and beautiful. The walls are wood paneled with rotating vertical wide strips of blue and red and average sized framed black and white photos showcased. Don’t look up when sitting at the front row tables. There’s a deer head mantle up front, but there’s a more amusing and colorful large painting of a deer and a newborn to distract you.
Home to another cool back patio to add to the favorite list, Aalto has both the meatball sandwich and a vegan panini on their food menu. As usual, there’s a list of classic, refreshing cocktails. During happy hour, the meatball sub is $5 and the cocktail nut mix is $2. As a hungry vegan, you’re faced with no good reason not to order the vegan meatball sandwich. Unlike the altogether awesome Bye & Bye, the meatballs at the Aalto Lounge are housemade. They’re a bean-based, herbed firm mass with a hint of spicy heat. Studded with a decent amount of fennel, they’re certifiably delightful. For the record, I’m only so-so with the taste of fennel, and still found it that delightful.
The sandwich comes with five or more of the hearty bean balls in a zesty, fresh tomato sauce served on fresh baguette. When ordered at happy hour, this sandwich comes with crunchy potato chips and as a dinner item ($7), with a side salad tossed with almonds. While you will likely find yourself using a fork and breaking apart the bread so it doesn’t fall apart on your lap, it’s truly an oversight when the meal itself is that good. But, if it weren’t for the comical mess factor of this sandwich, the Aalto Lounge would just scream date location.
Now, don’t get too excited – on my second visit, a vegan friend tried to order the vegan panini listed on the late night menu and it was a no go. The server delicately warned us that it was just a ‘late night menu’ sandwich with white bean spread, salad greens and tomato. She suggested we opt for the vegan meatball sandwich, and that she’d talk to the management about increasing their legitimate vegan options. However, on a third visit, the vegan meatballs ran out and same vegan panini was first reluctantly, then graciously, dished out. It was grilled and served with salad. The staff’s nice concern overlooks that fact that the sandwich described could easily pass as at least a mediocre vegan option around town, and according to my friend, it was even better – “gooey and delicious!” The bottom line? Hopefully a vegan panini will make its way permanently onto their regular food menu as a second valid option, so more vegans can give it a try. Add some olives or fresh basil and call it definitely better than mediocre, I bet.
Seating in the Aalto Lounge has a corner for each of your bar-going personalities. There’s the basic outdoor patio, with strings of red lights, prime for sitting and relaxing during a warm, early evening. There are a couple of tables located directly in front amongst heavy foot traffic, large row and small tables for two in the main room, standard bar seating and a dark, cornered back room that you can escape into on your way to the XX or XY bathrooms. Whichever you go for, order your snazzy cocktail or soda and eat a delicious meatball sandwich, to hammer in the point of this post.