Playing with fire is act two for a Portland restaurant couple.
It’s a family story: “I wasn’t really looking to open another restaurant, but…” Chris Gould tells me his version as we sit at the marble bar at Tipo, the restaurateur/chef’s second venture. Gould and his wife, Paige, also own Central Provisions, an Old Port favorite known for innovative, small-plate dining. “We had talked about another place a little bit,” he says, “but we weren’t seeking to do something. When the real estate broker told us about this space, I wasn’t interested. But then I heard there was a brick oven.” The wood-fired oven, built by the previous occupant, sealed the deal for the couple. “The oven dictated Italian food for us. And we always knew pizza would be the next thing that was going to happen,” says Gould.
As we talk, sous chef and pizza maker Sarabeth Gabrielson is cleaning ash from the oven, getting ready to fire it up again with maple, oak, and ash logs. “When we open in the morning, it’s still at 600 degrees,” Gould explains. “We use it all day, not just for pizza. We prep ingredients for other dishes in there.” This includes an array of roasted vegetables—including onions for the smoked onion aioli—or sausages to be served at brunch over buttery Tiger’s Eye beans. “Just having that oven changes everything,” says Gould. But the pizza is Tipo’s superstar. The oven makes its distinctive crust perfectly chewy and lightly charred. There are several types of pizza on the menu, each created with unexpected ingredients and surprising combinations. I tasted the clam and soppressata white pie with leeks and fontina. The spicy Italian salami and chili pepper was an excellent counterpoint to the chopped clams, reminiscent of a great pasta alle vongole. The cauliflower and mushroom pie goes far beyond the standard veggie offering, with a drizzle of saba, a balsamic vinegar-like condiment, crispy garlic, and a finish of lemon zest.
Tipo is named for the type of finely ground “00” flour from Italy that’s used to make the very best pizza crusts and pasta. All the pasta at Tipo is handmade, and paired with a sauce that complements its shape. The chewy rye cavatelli is well suited to boldly flavored pork ragu, tempered by the addition of mascarpone and made slightly spicy with a trace of Calabrian chili. The wood-oven-roasted lamb ragu clings to the ridges of garganelli, a rolled pasta, spiked with a sweet touch of apricot and the tang of pecorino cheese. All the pasta dishes are offered in half-size portions. “Paige and I like the small plate approach to dinner,” Gould says. “They’re good for sharing and you can have a lot of different tastes.” Tipo’s small plates menu presents a wide range of inviting options that change often, taking advantage of what’s in season. A simple dish of vegetables, including sweet potato, beets, and carrots, becomes wildly delicious when roasted in the oven and dressed with oil, anchovy, herbs, and a bit of orange. The hand-pulled mozzarella is a mild canvas for the pleasantly salty olive tapenade with golden raisins and capers. Octopus gets a turn in the oven, rendering it lightly charred and tender; it’s served over fregola (a small, round pasta) with chermoula, a pungent herb sauce. Both Gould and chef de cuisine Mike Smith love bold, full-flavored food. “We have similar backgrounds and similar palates,” says Gould. “We have the same ideology about how food should be put together. It makes menu collaboration easier, because we know exactly what the other person is talking about.” Fluke ceviche is a beautiful example, the fresh fish mixed with shaved radish and fresno chilies, topped with a tangle of arugula.
The room has a modern feel, clean and light with lots of white tile and white-painted walls, punctuated by vintage Italian posters and a collection of colorful license plates hung beneath the bar. “It’s elegant but simple, like Italian food,” says Gould. Unlike the uber- popular Central Provisions, Tipo is more of a neighborhood place, drawing in locals from the Woodfords and Back Cove areas. Dinner, on the early side, is very much a family affair with kids chewing happily on pizza crusts and helping themselves to a bite of their parents’ pasta. Parents and grandparents are sipping glasses of Italian wine and beer and happily enjoying each other’s company. Soon the new outdoor patio will be open, with sliding doors and a big pergola strung with lights. It sounds incredibly inviting, a perfect summer setting for an Aperol spritz at happy hour or weekend brunch.
As Gould and I finish our conversation, I watch as Camille Mann carefully feeds dough through a pasta maker, rolling it thinner with each pass. She lays it out on the prep table and cuts it into circles, stamping each one with a corzetti, a carved wooden stamp that embosses the Tipo logo onto each piece. Later this evening, there will be a happy diner savoring a plate of that handmade pasta, maybe with an Italian cocktail at hand. It’s just what the Goulds had in mind for their second act.