A local favorite, Café Portofino is the place to meet, eat and enjoy a good time with friends. It’s located in a 100-year-old railroad repair station, used by none other than Tweetsie Railroad. Completely modernized, with a friendly open kitchen, cozy dining room, bar and outdoor seating, this is the place to chow down on 5-star meals, without the 5-star price. The menu is an eclectic mix of sandwiches, pastas and steaks. Café Portofino offers daily culinary specials and fresh seafood as well. (“Like” us on Facebook to see daily specials.) Their extensive wine & beer list and all ABC permits compliment any dining experience. Come see what the Boonies already know!
Sunday: 11:30 am - 9 pm
Tuesday-Thursday: 11:30 am - 9 pm
Friday and Saturday: 11:30 am - 10 pm
Tuesday-Saturday: 11:30 am - 2 am
Sunday: 12 pm - 12 am
Business Spotlight: Big Changes at Cafe Portofino
by Jesse Wood
Feb. 4, 2014. Many changes – including the recent hiring of veteran chef Joe Turner – are occurring at Café Portofino, but co-owner Olga Esterson promised that its signature dish, the spiced sirloin, is to remain on the soon-to-be revamped menu.
“The spiced sirloin is not going away,” Esterson assured. “That’s what everybody is crazy about.”
In 2008, Esterson and Joanna Sahm purchased Café Portofino, which initially opened in 2000, after hiring Blue Ridge Business Brokerage to search for available businesses for sale in the Southeast. At the time, the Florida natives were both working in insurance and were ready to try something new, according to a business profile published one month after the two purchased the company.
After visiting the High Country, Esterson and Sahm fell in love with the idea of owning and operating Café Portofino, which is located in downtown Boone in a 100-year-old building on Rivers Street that once was the original maintenance station for Tweetsie Railroad.
Today, Esterson and Sahm continue what Esterson dubbed a “unique” operation with the college-style bar separate from the family restaurant.
One-half of Café Portofino features the bar, pool tables, jukebox, foosball tables, big screen TVs and darts, while the other half of the business is a full-fledged kitchen and family restaurant.
“We are able to please all different types of people,” Esterson said. “We are not just a college bar, but we are considered a family restaurant, too.”
And don’t forget about the two outside patios that are pet friendly. New chef Joe Turner said he cannot wait to put a grill on the patio in the summer and serve up some cookout-style cuisine.
That will likely happen because Esterson has given Turner free range in the kitchen to be as creative as he wishes to be.
“He’s got carte blanche,” Esterson said.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Turner has 20 years cooking experience. His career began in Asheville, where for five years he worked at Savoy and Salsas. He made the move to the High Country 15 years ago, working in country clubs such as Elk River and the Eseeola Lodge. Now he’s the executive chef at Café Portofino.
He described his cooking style “Mardi Gras meets County Fair.” When asked to describe his cooking philosophy, he said, “Keep it simple with fresh, local ingredients.”
Esterson said the impetus for bringing in Turner was his creativity.
“It was time for us to be more creative with our specials, time to inve
st in someone creative like Joe. We are doing things that we have never done before,” Esterson said. “We’ve always been a great place to have a great meal, but he’s bringing so much more to the table with his creativity, his approach to food. It’s going to take us to the next level.”
A Nightclub Three Nights a Week
Along with the new executive chef and pending changes to the menu, Café Portofino will turn into a nightclub on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. While a live DJ performs on Friday nights currently, staff – beginning in March – will clear out the restaurant area and Café Portofino will take over the local nightlife scene for three nights a week. New lighting and a DJ booth will be set up and the restaurant room will be cleared for dancing and mingling. The fun will start at 11pm.
“We’re taking our night life to the next level, too,” Esterson said with a big smile.
Café Portofino is located in downtown Boone and neighbors the campus of Appalachian State University at 970 Rivers Street.
The restaurant is open Sunday and Tuesdays through Thursdays from 11:30am to 9pm and on Fridays and Saturdays from 11:30am to 10pm The bar is open from 11:30am to 2am Tuesdays through Saturdays.