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Frozen-treat fans get a hot new hangout

RESTAURANT OF THE WEEK: Caffe Pallino
by: JIM CLARK, Its gelato is a big draw, but Caffe Pallino (with manager Katie Vanderfleet, background) makes a nice stop for coffee and sandwiches, too.

Gelato shops have been spreading across the city like Canada geese. Much to the delight and relief of the many children in the Division-Clinton area, the spread has brought Caffe Pallino to a new, sleek, modern building next to Rudy's Barbershop, just across the street from Clay's Smokehouse Grill.

The tempting aromas wafting freely from Clay's conflict a bit with the supremely stark minimalism of Caffe Pallino; it's hard to find satisfaction with a lunch of austere grilled cheese when the smell gets you in the mood for brisket smothered in barbecue sauce.

The place only has been open a few weeks, but already the flavors of the house-made gelato have changed frequently and demonstrate a willingness to experiment.

There has been dark and mossy green-tea gelato, sweet and alcoholic tiramisu, subtly spicy chili chocolate, 'caramelatte' and several candy-colored fruit flavors.

One whole side of the many-windowed space houses the deli/bakery case, shiny stainless-steel cooking surfaces, appliances, espresso machine and serving counter.

The case holds a few salads - ingredients like fennel shavings and fresh mozzarella rounds kick them above the usual greens - an array of sandwiches and pastries. Sandwiches, like grilled vegetable or turkey and cheese, are mostly simple affairs, but they are grilled to order.

More substantive lunch items are available until 2 p.m. - a daily soup, a half-dozen or so pastas cooked to order, such as spaghetti in a tomato-and-sausage sauce or ravioli in a bright, oily pesto.

Breakfasts are typical scones, croissants or toasted baguettes with butter and jam. The baguettes are prepped elsewhere but baked in the restaurant, and the freshness is obvious.

Weekend brunch brings more choices. The a la carte menu is reasonably priced, but hungry campers might need to order a few things to feel sated. For $2.75 you can get oatmeal, grits or roasted potatoes. For a dime more, get bacon or eggs.

Though the place is new, it already has the feel of a neighborhood hangout, with regulars spreading out with laptops and magazines. It's a place to sit and linger with free Wi-Fi and a pretty good latte, though Stumptown up the street has set the bar pretty high.

The name, incidentally, was intended to mean 'Coffee Spot,' but sheepishly the staff acknowledges that's not the most common translation of 'pallino.' It more typically means cue ball or the small clay ball used in boccie.

But in Portland anything goes with coffee.

- Audrey Van Buskirk

3003 S.E. Division St., 503-232-0907, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, $4.95-$7.25