Do Portlanders still get excited about a new restaurant? When it’s as warm and welcoming as Woodford F & B, with Johnny Cash on the turntable, beaming owners, friendly waitstaff, and Hemingway daiquiris, the answer is a resounding Heck Yah!. At the dress rehearsal Sunday night, before Woodford F & B goes live Wednesday, neighbors, bloggers, business owners, family and friends swung into the clean-designed space to test drive the menu.
Tasty pickled cauliflower and red onions arrived along with a Banded Horn Veridian pilsner as I settled into a custom booth steps from a five-way intersection. Hectic? More clandestine cool. This modern-day roadhouse with pitched ceilings, and art deco lighting feels like an urban cabin with film noirish, “Pulp Fiction” undertones.
I had been here just a month ago and tried hard to picture husband-and-wife team Birch Shambaugh and Fayth Preyer’s vision. They knew this former mortgage brokerage office would morph into a sleek bistro and took great pains to make it so. The crystal-like angles that shoot out from the bar make you feel like you are in the center of an architectural gem. It’s not contrived, but functional with flow. The Clash’s “London Calling” blares as guests collide at the giant community sink in the water closet. Pretension level: zero.
The winter menu breaks down like this: hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, entrees, plate du jours and beverages. We started with broiled oysters, eight of them. Arriving hot, slightly breaded and creamy, they are a perfect winter starter. Our personable and informed waiter said they hailed from Bath. Up next: Classic deviled eggs, with dijon and smoked paprika. Very elegant and satisfying little dollops.
The fish of the day comes recommended, ditto the roasted half chicken. The signature bird is doctored with a smoked paprika garlic rub and served with roasted cauliflower, Tunisian spiced greens and honey-harissa yogurt with torn mint.
“These are classic bistro favorites with a lot of room for interpretation,” says chef Courtney Loreg.
Before she cooked at Fore Street, Loreg developed a love for classic dishes at Boston’s legendary Hamersley’s Bistro. Apprenticing with trailblazing chef Gordon Hamersley set her career in motion. Other star-studded stints include Cafe Boulud. But the now-shuttered Hamersley’s left the deepest impression.
Because Woodford F & B sits at the former site of the original Valle’s Steak House, we ordered steak frites too. And so should you. True that building went down in flames, but Valle’s hospitable vibe remains. Ask to see an old menu and several vintage hardcopies appear. Updated Valle classics, like fun old-school drinks, might make on the menu soon. Steak king Donald Valle would be proud.
About that daiquiri? Of all the places that Hemingway liked to knock em back, the five-spoke intersection in Portland’s far-flung western zone would likely not be one of them. This is hardly Cuba, and far removed from Key West, but Woodford F & B occupies its own hemisphere. No cobblestones or harbor views dilute the focus. It’s the rarest of Portland destinations: a perfect neighborhood joint with a come-one come all attitude and wine on tap. Make yourself at home.
Woodford F & B opens to the public Wednesday at 5 p.m. 660 Forest Ave., Portland. www.woodfordfb.com.