Down East 2013 ©
With tall windows overlooking Portland’s Exchange Street, a just-slightly-upscale atmosphere, and a menu that includes everything from a Kobe beef burger to an oxtail and scamorza spring roll, Walter’s is an Old Port standby. It’s the kind of place where you can seal a deal over a leisurely lunch or get a few details nailed down and be back at the office by one. Indeed, if you’re out on an expense account, there are few better places to go: you’ll enjoy entrees that actually require the use of utensils, and the bean counters at work won’t throw a fit about the tab.
Of course, Walter’s isn’t solely a refuge for the power-lunching crowd. It draws a considerable number of women toting bags from the surrounding boutiques, as well as the occasional out-of-towner looking for something more than the wraps and salads that predominate at other Old Port lunch spots. Meanwhile, if a cruise ship is docked in town, the restaurant’s normal hum gets upgraded to a lively buzz, with passengers drawn to Walter’s as if by a magnet.
Location and atmosphere — not to mention longevity — have a lot to do with the restaurant’s popularity. Located half a block from the intersection of Fore Street on Exchange, Walter’s has served lunch and dinner since 1989. Current owners Jeff and Cheryl Buerhaus bought the restaurant in 2004 from Mark Loring, one of its founders. Native Mainers, the Buerhauses had recently returned from south Florida, where Jeff worked for chefs including Mark Militello, who popularized so-called “Floribbean” cuisine.
Back in Maine, Jeff worked for Walter’s co-founder Walter Loeman at Cotton Street Cantina and Perfetto, then found himself in a position to take over Loeman’s namesake restaurant. Over the past few years, he and Cheryl brought some of their Florida influences to the menu — more on that in a moment — and updated the décor. The goal, says Jeff, is “to have good food, but at a comfortable level — we’re not uptight at all.”
The setting is quintessentially Portland, with high ceilings, exposed brick walls, and an unpretentious approach that includes cloth napkins on bare wooden tables. The restaurant makes the most of its long, narrow space, making even a table tucked under the staircase to the second floor seem cozy rather than cramped. Servers are friendly but not overbearing, although on occasion their easygoing attitudes tend a bit more toward apathy than you might find desirable.