Inner East Burnside is hardly a ped-friendly zone, but it seems like every month there's a new reason to trudge through the scary intersections, past the car dealerships and seedy storefronts: great dining destinations like Le Pigeon and the Farm Café, and salons like Wax On, not to mention the array of boutiques and galleries that have sprouted in the Doug Fir's shadow. The latest addition to the neighborhood, rontom's, is located at the corner of E Burnside and 6th, in a cavernous space where candlelit tables flicker from behind the gathered drapes in the windows. There's no sign, and no posted hours, only rontom's cryptic logo on the side of the building: the silhouette of a man with a propeller strapped to his back.
The sleek, ambiguous logo should be a dead giveaway that the owner of rontom's (Ron Tom, natch) worked as a designer before entering the restaurant biz. The high-ceilinged space contains a well-realized vision of "mid-century swank"; late-'60s cocktail party chic coupled with that decade's fascination with technology and flight. A large propeller serves as a ceiling fan (though a purely decorative one; rontom's is non-smoking, god bless 'em), while custom bar stools, a teak bar, low-slung couches and chairs, and an honest to god conversation pit reinforce the intimate, grown-up atmosphere. The menu (billing itself as "tapas... straight from Ohio") reflects the décor's kitschy-chic sensibility, focusing on hors d'oeuvres like deviled eggs, fondue, and Swedish meatballs. Though originally Tom planned on serving only small plates, OLCC regulations mandate that a certain number of "substantial" meal options be available, so the menu was bulked up with a few sandwiches and larger plates. The cutely named "California Chicken Sandwich" comes with bacon and avocado, or try the Reuben, gussied up with Gruyère instead of Swiss. Side dishes are the best bet, though; if you're starving, pair a salad with pine nuts and goat cheese with a few deviled eggs and a creamy twice-baked potato, flavored with bleu cheese and crunchy pieces of bacon. The fondue is a fun, shareable treat, and although on my visit the bread was a little stale, I was informed that the search for the perfect crusty fondue bread is ongoing. Perhaps the highlight of the menu, though, is the $1 Tofutti Cuties, a total stroke of genius. Who doesn't love a Toffuti Cutie?
While the food is perfectly serviceable, rontom's is more bar than restaurant (the drink menu includes an impressive list of local bottles, and includes Indio Vodka, Clear Creek Brandy, and Aviation Gin), and the space is geared more toward lounging and chatting than eating. There's a projector set up in the sunken, couch-lined "living room," where free movies are shown on Sundays at 6 pm. Tom talked about a possible slide show night as well, featuring photos from local artists. There's also a vast patio out back (which should be open by the time this article goes to print) where smokers can get their cancer on, and which will eventually feature picnic tables and a fire pit.
rontom's is still getting its feet on the ground, but with friendly, sassy service, impeccable design, and a location that's only going to get better, this place is going to take off. Check it out now, so you can say you knew them when.