Restaurant Review: Poeta

All-day Italian cafe brings the romance

The “wafflegatto” served with maple gelato and warm espresso butter (Photo by Jessica Attie Photography)

When you walk through the doors of Poeta, the all-day Italian cafe that also serves as the entrance to the tiny Frances Modern Inn on East 11th Street, you might get the sense you’re walking into an old-timey saloon, or maybe a mob hangout. There’s the old upright piano behind the host stand and the black-fringed lampshades, and the semi-private room with heavy curtains perfect for doing business in hushed tones. All it needs is a set of swinging doors and the clink of spurs on the floor, or maybe some cigar smoke and menacing men who say things like “gabagool.” But Poeta, from the team behind Intero, is a lover, not a fighter, as evidenced not only by its name, but also by its romantic approach to elegant Italian fare.

We made our first visit to Poeta on a Tuesday night and were surprised to see a full and bustling restaurant. We started our meal with an order of fried artichokes and the roasted beet salad. The ’chokes were lightly breaded and tender, served buried in a mound of shredded parmesan and grated lemon rind. They were a delightful light bite to kick off the meal. The beet salad comprised a mélange of golden and red beets tossed with candied pecans and avocado and a too-subtle citrus dressing. We wanted just a bit more acid to complement the earthiness of the beets and the creamy avocado.

Photo by Jessica Attie Photography

For our mains, we chose the cappelletti and the roasted pork chop. The cappelletti – large, plump pasta purses filled with blue crab and napped with a brown butter and preserved lemon sauce – was rich and succulent and perfect for sharing (I think it might be a bit too indulgent for just one person, but your mileage may vary). The roasted pork chop was less successful for me, partly because the texture of the brined-then-roasted chop was a bit strange, a bit dry and chewy. If we’re trying for bacon, let’s just go with pork belly and revel in its bodacious succulence. The composition of the dish demanded a “perfect bite” arrangement on the fork: To fully appreciate it, you had to have a bit each of pork, crispy fingerling potatoes, arugula, and the bracing, tangy goat cheese sauce.

We took home a piece of tiramisu for dessert; I enjoyed it with my morning coffee the next day. As a small finisher (or pre-breakfast), it suffices.

Things were much less popping when we returned for Saturday morning brunch; we almost had the place to ourselves, which made for fun people-watching as the numerous staff alternated between milling about and looking for something to do.

Photo by Chase Daniel

After our mocktail (for him) and oat milk latte (for me) arrived, my spouse and I went big with our order, partly because we were quite hungry and partly because there were too many attractive items on the menu we wanted to try. I loved the arancini, four crispy rice balls served in a sea of lamb ragu and topped with two silky poached eggs and a smattering of fresh basil.

The meatball panini wasn’t so much a panini (which I believe is universally understood as a grilled/pressed sandwich) as it was a huge wedge of bread with its guts scooped out to serve as a boat for three golf-ball-sized meatballs smothered in sauce and mozzarella cheese, then topped with more grated parmesan. The meatballs were dense and meaty – no cost-cutting fillers here! – and quite flavorful. It’s definitely a fork-and-knife situation.

We topped off our meal with the “wafflegatto,” a large Belgian waffle served with a scoop of very frozen (but not icy) maple gelato on top, with warm espresso butter (yes, just espresso and melted butter) poured on top at the table. The entire concoction was delightful: not too sweet, the bitterness of the espresso perfectly balancing the gelato. I loved this dish, even though I worried I might not sleep for the next day after consuming it. If I had to choose between returning to Poeta for brunch or dinner, I would absolutely choose brunch so that I could have this dish again (and that’s saying a lot, because that cappelletti is sublime).

Just as the food was ever-so-slightly uneven, so was the service. Our waiter at dinner was diffident, perhaps shruggingly aloof, but capable. He didn’t ask any questions, offer much information, or engage in any conversation (which is fine, but a little bit of warmth is nice in a hospitality environment). Conversely, our waiter at brunch was friendly and funny, asking about any food allergies (“Anything that might kill you or make me lose my job?”) and recommending his favorite dishes at our request.

Photo by Chase Daniel

Despite the saloon/mafia den look and feel upon arrival, the main dining room is light and airy, with large windows looking onto 11th Street. The side room has a more intimate feel for more romantic outings, although the tables are somewhat close together. Unlike most restaurants, at Poeta you can have a conversation with your dining companions without having to scream over the acoustics and the music, which is a welcome deviation from the current norm.

The only negative comment I have about the ambience is that during dinner, a support staff member cleaned off a recently vacated table using a very strongly fragranced cleaning solution (I’d be willing to put money on it being Mrs. Meyer’s basil scent). This may seem like a nitpick, but it seems like an unforced error to fill a dining room with a strong fragrance that folks might be sensitive to (or who might just want to enjoy the aromas of their food and not cleaning solutions).

If someone were to ask me for a recommendation for a romantic dinner or brunch, I’d give Poeta my full-throated endorsement. I’m not sure I’d go there for a regular-degular lunch or weeknight dinner, but it’s definitely worthy of consideration for a special occasion meal, one meant more for wooing than for warring.


1123 E. 11th

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Poeta, Krystal Craig, Ian Thurwachter, Intero

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