LFK Makes Its Debut At Last
Who would have thought that lightening could strike thrice on the convergence of State and Pine streets where a restaurant row has emerged of disparate delights?
On Monday night of this week, the long-awaited unveiling of LFK debuted after nearly a year of being under wraps. As soon as their doors opened, the neighborhood seemed to pile in, with diners and night owls alike reaching the rafters.
It joins the adjacent ranks of Petite Jacqueline and Pai Men Miyake who staked out this corner a year ago. What’s more, the neighborhood, on the cusp of the gentrified West End, is host to some of the best eateries in the city: Caiola’s, Local 188 and Boda radiate off the Square, a stretch of Congress Street that has increasingly traded in its glad rags for the glories of urban gentrification.
What is LFK? Its initials stand for Longfellow Fellowship of Knights, a reference that even Google can’t find. What you will discover is a thoroughly engaging neighborhood lounge that serves pub fare, a good beer list and master cocktails from its long-bearded mixologist behind the bar. That and good cheer goes a long way anywhere.
LFK is owned by the art scene impresarios Johnny Lombo (The Skinny) and John Welliver who’s the son of the departed Lincolnville artist Neil Welliver. His staff summarily describes him as “the guy in the newsroom cap.”
During my visit last night I chatted with Welliver and it was easy to see that they wanted to create something different from the usual Portland hangout. They have accomplished this in spades. It is the apocryphal corner bar like none other in the city.
Without question LFK is also highly idiosyncratic. Vintage Remington Rand style typewriters are scattered about the room. And when at first I saw a young man at the typewriter I thought central casting had sent him over to perform. But during the course of the evening a sundry succession of typists took turns as though belting out pages of a collective work in progress.
One forgets how noisy these machines were and if your table is next to one, as ours was, you’re struck by the clickety-clack of these old devices, which are as loud as raindrops pelting a metal roof.
It’s not a totally unpleasant sound. In fact the place grows on you big time as you begin to relax into a scene that is exciting, fun, different and unique.
For starters, LFK is all about communal dining. You sit down at tables with seating for six. It’s not unlike squeezing into the middle seat in a row of three on a crowded plane. Except this flight is a lot more amusing.
We found two chairs in between a mother and daughter out for dinner on one side and a young couple out on a date on the other.
Once settled in, though, attentive service is not necessarily on the agenda right away. Waiters come and go as they please. Eventually when we got our first round of drinks, these little annoyances began to fade easily.
The kitchen is manned by the twin brothers Amos and Ely who, according to Welliver, have cooked everywhere. I tried to get specifics but none were forthcoming.
As for the fare it’s an eclectic menu with some really tasty dishes beyond the usual burgers, chips and dips.
Prices are so cheap that the two of us rang up a tab of under $60, which included several cocktails each, two main courses and a couple of sides. The most expensive entrée is $12 for bacon wrapped meatloaf, and their colossal burgers accompanied by potato salad and pickled slaw is $9.
Other choices include dishes like marinated roasted wings, tempeh tacos, Cornish pasty, braised kielbasa and New England baked beans with braised pork belly. Sides are mac and cheese, potato salad, roasted beet salad, creamed spinach, celery salad and New England Baked Beans (described on the menu as “yum.”) and a fiddlehead salad.
According to Welliver the menu will change often and mussels and other goodies will find their way on the list. It’s a better menu than I expected, one that relies on old-fashioned themes done with flair and style
My friend ordered the meatloaf, and I chose the lamb koftas. The meatloaf is dense, smoky and very moist and easily ranks 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. The serving isa completed by very good buttermilk mashed potatoes and perfectly cooked green beans. The mushroom sauce over the loaf was first rate.
The meatballs were beautifully burnished, rich, thick with flavor and served over warm pita moistened with tzatziki and a delicious couscous salad.
We also ordered two sides: the baked creamed spinach, which was a little dry, and the fiddlehead salad cloaked in Sherry vinaigrette. It’s a great dish.
For now LFK doesn’t have a dessert menu.
As we left we bumped into Michelle and Steve Corry, chef and owners of Petite Jacqueline next door and 555 down the road, who were having a drink at the bar. They seemed pleased with their new neighbor--as pleased as everyone else in the place having a good time.
John Golden makes no bones about sharing his opinions. If you'd like to share yours, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org