Michael Mitarnowski

The word "balaboosta" is a Yiddish term meaning the "perfect housewife," which doesn't seem like the most progressive thing to call a new Portland restaurant. But since the name was thought up by tough downtown restaurateur Lisa Schroeder (also owner of Mother's and Mama Mia Trattoria) I guess I see no reason to complain outside the fact that it sounds kind of silly. And I suppose if I were to subscribe to the idea of a perfect housewife's dining area, the ambience of Balaboosta would fit the bill—a cozy, carpeted little nook off a busy street that warmed me up on a rainy day and filled my belly with good, solid comfort food.

Actually, Balaboosta will do more than fill your belly if you're not careful. Modeling it after an authentic Philadelphia deli, Schroeder has stocked the menu with enough meat to clog all the human arteries in town. Hot sandwiches include a meatball hero, a Hebrew National All-Beef Hot Dog, and a sausage-and-peppers concoction straight off the streets of Little Italy, with butterflied Italian sausage on Italian bread, sautéed onions and peppers, and melted mozzarella or provolone. Or if you're a lunatic who prefers a cold sandwich despite the wet, frigid weather we're experiencing, Balaboosta offers a salami and cheese rendition, a cold Mom's Meatloaf with mayo, lettuce, and tomato, and a ton more.

But what Balaboosta and Schroeder seem to be touting the strongest, via a press release that says things like, "I've always seen my culinary role here in Portland as providing foods people yearn for but can't get"—are the basics, in particular, classics like the corned beef sandwich, the Reuben, and the good ol' Philly cheese steak. "Finally, real corned beef brisket and rye bread are available in downtown Portland," brags the press release.

Brined for seven days, soaked for one, then braised for an additional five hours, Balaboosta's corned beef is certainly a labor of love—and yet it's by far my least favorite thing the restaurant puts out. It's served with little fanfare between two slabs of mustard-slathered homemade rye bread, putting all the emphasis on the thick pile of red-tinted beef, which I found somewhat dry and tasteless, though not as dry as the bread. Far better was the Philly cheese steak, a shaved hunk of grilled NY strip loin topped with melted provolone and sautéed onions on Italian bread. "This is the REAL deal," shouts the menu, and though I can't concur with that, having never actually had a Philly cheese steak IN Philadelphia, I can attest that the sandwich was REAL delicious.

Subsequent visits produced a pretty standard, pretty oily, chopped antipasto salad with Genoa salami, more provolone, lettuce, red onions, tomatoes, chickpeas, basil, and olives; as well as a smoothie titled "The Elvis." Made from bananas, strawberries, peanut butter, and apple juice, this invention wasn't nearly as strange as the fact that Balaboosta pairs smoothies with its cuisine at all. They also feature a full espresso menu, matzoh ball soup, breakfast items like biscuits and gravy and house-made granola, and an impressive array of bagel options with lox, whitefish salad, and other seafood delights. It's a strange assortment of... pretty much everything, but then, like its muse the perfect little housekeeper, Balaboosta just wants everyone to feel at home.