While Chicagoans bustle above, walking back and forth from River North to the Loop, the vibe is relaxed under the bridges and riverside at Pizzeria Portofino. Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’s opened the restaurant on Monday, debuting thin-crust pizzas, coal-fired seafood, and a bevy of sparkling beverages near Clark Street and the Chicago River. The pizzeria is part of Lettuce’s four-level restaurant space that includes RPM On the Water, an upscale seafood restaurant slated to open this fall or early winter.
The pizzeria sits on the same level as the riverwalk, with patio seating overlooking the water. Customers could wave to guest sipping drinks on the river’s south bank at Tiny Tapp. The look and menu is inspired by the Italian Riviera. The wait staff is dressed in shirts with horizontal stripes like Italian gondoliers. But LEYE still retains its roots as the kitchen is using Midwestern grains in the pizza dough which produces a light crust. Varieties include Due Funghi (roasted mushrooms, mozzarella, red onion, porcini creme) and Piccante Verde (Cerignola olives, fior di latte, basil pesto, pepperoncini). The seafood options are supposed to be a preview of RPM On the Water’s menu.
LEYE retained the services of the Rockwell Group to design the space, pouring at least $50 million into rebuilding the former Bridge House Tavern. Customers could ride an elevator or descend down the concrete stairs to the restaurant. The riverside setting is an atypical situation. Valet parking is available, but will have to turn in the driveway just north of the restaurant. Once downstairs, veer to the left, and talk to the host to be seated indoors or outdoors. Umbrellas shelter diners from the sun, while boats passing by on the river are welcome to dock in front of the restaurant.
The interiors are reminiscent of recent LEYE restaurant openings Aba and Ema. It’s a clean design with a bar inside the narrow space. The Melmans, the family behind Lettuce Entertain You, plan to open RPM On the Water, a spinoff of RPM Italian and RPM Steak. Those restaurants are collaborations with celebrity couple Bill and Giuliana Rancic. The Rancics have their fans which will make for good patio watching. Pizzeria Portofino reservations are available via Tock.
Take a look at the space below, as the city of Chicago tries to bring more attention to the river.
The space screams for sparkling beverages.