Review: Tooliani’s restaurant

Italian options in Bend’s NorthWest Crossing

By John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

Published Feb 14, 2014 at 12:05AM

Tooliani’s Italian Bistro & Pizzeria

Location: 2755 N.W. Crossing Drive, Bend

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 2 to 10 p.m. Saturday, 2 to 8 p.m. Sunday

Price range: Appetizers and salads $3 to $9, sandwiches $8, entrees $14, pizzas $8 to $25; daily lunch specials $5 to $7

Credit cards: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa

Kids’ menu: Several $5 selections

Vegetarian menu: Choices include caprese salad, eggplant parmesan and veggie pizza

Alcoholic beverages: Beer and wine

Outdoor seating: Possible seasonal sidewalk seating

Reservations: No

Contact: www.toolianis.com or 541-647-2554

Scorecard

OVERALL: A-

Food: A-. Hearty, home-style Italian cooking; some dishes could use a little tweaking.

Service: A-. Counter orders are delivered to tables by a friendly and efficient staff.

Atmosphere: B+. Neat, clean and well-maintained if decidedly non-descript.

Value: A. Excellent prices, from $14 pasta plates to bottles of wine for under $20.

If you live in Bend’s NorthWest Crossing neighborhood and want a burger and fries for lunch, you’re out of luck.

French pastry and coffee? No problem. Chile relleno and a margarita? Sure. Phad thai noodles? Just down the block. There’s even a catering operation, Tate and Tate, that prepares gourmet meals and casseroles that you can take out and serve in your own home.

But that burger or fried chicken? Nope.

When Pisano’s Pizza closed last June (and later relocated), leaving a restaurant vacancy that could offered everyday American food, NorthWest Crossing instead got another Italian joint. Tooliani’s Italian Bistro & Pizzeria opened in mid-October. But the restaurant serves much more than pizza. There are pasta entrees, soups, salads and sandwiches, plus an extensive selection of modestly priced beers and wines. Chicken lovers will be glad to know that Tooliani’s also serves wings — mild, medium or hot — even if the rest of the bird has another residence.

Right timing

Owner Mike Toolan, a high-tech sales director for Oracle Corp., is no newcomer to the restaurant industry; he managed restaurants in New York and Boston from his teens through his 20s, working his way through college and eventually running a corporate sales team for TGI Friday restaurants along the Eastern seaboard.

When he joined Oracle in 2003 and moved with his wife to Bend, he still wasn’t sure that he had put food and beverage behind him.

“I was pretty close to opening the exact same-named place (Tooliani’s) where the Broken Top Bottle Shop is now,” he confessed. “Then my wife became pregnant with our first child, and I put it on the back burner.”

The timing was right 10 years later, however. Toolan oversaw a renovation of the old pizza parlor, hired local restaurant professional Rob Cammelletti as manager, and opened a neighborhood cafe with family appeal.

Patrons enter a space that is neat, clean and well-maintained — not overdone, but a step above the typical, uber-casual pizza joint. A single flat-screen TV hangs high on the only wall not filled with windows or occupied by the kitchen. A background soundtrack is provided by Frank Sinatra and other similar singers.

Guests order at the counter, where they may choose from 16 rotating beer taps and a good selection of modestly priced wines. Hard cider and kombucha are also available, as are gluten-free and paleo diet food choices.

Dinner entrees

On two visits to Tooliani’s with my dining companion, I found the menu offerings to be basic but well prepared. While not something I might consider for a special night out, they are certainly a far cry above a franchise establishment or a meal prepared at home from pre-packaged ingredients.

On our first visit, we chose from a selection of seven pasta-based entrees, starting with a cup of soup and a half salad.

The soup of the day was Tuscan white bean, not far different from Italian wedding soup or minestrone. A thick and mildly spicy broth was chock full of vegetables — tomatoes, onions, carrots and celery — as well as white beans. It was quite tasty.

My companion found her Caesar salad to be simple but delicious, thanks in part to just the right amount of anchovy paste and garlic complementing the romaine lettuce. House-made croutons and a few wedges of tomato finished the dish.

Her spaghetti-and-meatball main course was also good. Three large meatballs, hand-made from a blend of meats, parsley and other herbs, sat on a bed of al dente spaghetti noodles, finished with a generous topping of tasty marinara sauce.

My eggplant Parmesan was nearly identical, served with spaghetti. The vegetarian entree was different from the meatball plate only in its four thin slices of overly breaded, pan-fried eggplant. The noodles and sauce were the same.

Return visit

On our return visit several nights later, we zeroed in on a pizza. Tooliani’s offers three sizes (10-, 14- and 18-inch), from a small $8 cheese pizza to a $25 family size with the works. We opted for a “supreme” with three meats — pepperoni, meatballs and Italian sausage — and three vegetables. We substituted mushrooms for green peppers, and also enjoyed onions and black olives.

This was a very good pizza. There was no scrimping on the toppings, and the thin crust was crispy but far from cardboard quality. I would require no arm-twisting to order another.

We also shared a sandwich special, a Mike Toolan special dubbed the “steak pizzaioli.” It’s not presently on the regular menu, but could turn up there soon. Slices of lean beef were stacked on a toasted hoagie bun and topped with melted cheese and house-made marinara. I enjoyed it, but I think it could have been made better with a smear of something spicy — perhaps a garlic aioli mayonnaise, in keeping with the “pizzaioli” name.

Toolan described his concept as “a friendly bistro with great food, great atmosphere and a friendly staff. I’d like to have a varied enough menu that families will come in once or twice a month. To that end, we want to be reasonably priced.”

Eventually he said, he might consider establishing a second Tooliani’s on Bend’s east side.

“But our goal initially is just to get this one 100 percent dialed in,” he said. “Whether it’s a Sunday afternoon or a Friday night, we want our patrons to get the same level of service and food.”

— Reporter: janderson@bendbulletin.com

SMALL BITES

Ingrid Rohrer-Downer has joined Bend’s Oxford Hotel as the new executive chef at 10 Below. A graduate of the California Culinary Academy, she was most recently a chef for Bon Appetit Management in the Portland area. A new menu features such dishes as prosciutto-wrapped chicken speidini, calamari steak sandwich and spicy vegetarian cauliflower cutlet, as well as steaks, seafood and pastas. Open 6 a.m. to close daily at 10 Minnesota Ave., Bend; 541-382-1010, www.oxfordhotel bend.com/the-kitchen.htm.

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