He looked in Portland’s West End. Pried on and off the peninsula.
But when chef Max Brody found a 1780 colonial for sale in Buxton, the Portland chef called off the search. “It just feels right,” said Brody, on a tour of his newly purchased farmhouse on Route 22 that will transform over the next nine months into The Buxton Common restaurant.
Last home to antiques shop The Mustard House, the low-ceiling structure is getting more than a new coat of paint. Brody has a giant present for Buxtonians hankering for more than pub grub: A casual, come as you are, New England smokehouse.
“There is a captive audience here with a pent up demand. Communities like Buxton, Gorham and Westbrook have been neglected because Portland’s food scene is so vibrant,” said the Massachusetts native who seeks to change that equation.
To create a “community resource” centered on hospitality Brody is sinking some serious capital, with help from Gorham Savings Bank, to turn this historic structure into a dining/brunch hotspot.
It’s taken the 46-year-old months to garner loans, create a business plan, run the numbers and close on the property. Construction starts in July and an opening is pegged for April 2018. “After seven months I’m at the end of the beginning,” he said of the creative project.
Featuring wholesome fare such as smoked lamb, pork, chicken, sausages, duck and vegetables served under hand-hewn beams and soaring rafters is his plan. Once complete, The Buxton Common will seat 60 people, and up to 80 on a new back deck.
“It’s a big project,” said Brody, who is demolishing an attached shed and outbuilding and constructing a barn that will house a bar, seating area and an open kitchen. A network of smaller rooms in the original house will provide romantic intimacy. “I am relieved to find something that I can commit myself to,” said Brody, a seasoned restaurateur looking for more than a chef-driven concept to wow foodies.
Known in New England food circles for his farm-to-table destination, The Night Kitchen, which he ran for 10 years in Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley, Brody was waiting for the right opportunity to strike here. “I’m attracted to old buildings and places that have history.”
His mother Lora Brody is a cookbook queen and he grew up in the culinary limelight in Newton, Massachusetts. Julia Child came to dinner often and Brody eventually cooked all over the world, including running a Mexican restaurant with his brother in Taipei and working at Boston’s famed Maison Robert.
In Maine, he cheffed at the short-lived HERO in Portland, and has been a quiet force behind the scenes, biding his time menu developing and recipe testing since he moved to Portland three years ago. Putting down roots in the ruburbs, Brody is creating the Buxton Common not as a get rich quick scheme, but to sustain himself, his family and this community for the next 20 years.
The word “common” was not a slapdash choice.
“There is no place for people to go around here. I want this to be a place locals can call their own.” And afford. (Most entrees are under $20). “This is not elevated food. I want people comfortable coming several times a week.”
Not far from Smiling Hill Farm and Broadturn Farm, Brody has a local bounty to draw from. Unlike in Montague at The Night Kitchen, he won’t be behind the line.
He hopes to assemble a team that will coalesce like family. “I am not looking to hire 18- to 24-year-old line jockeys in the kitchen,” he said, but rather train and nurture students from the University of Southern Maine in Gorham and Bonny Eagle High School for years to come. “I’d love to have a septuagenarian as a host,” he said to round out his staff.
The Buxton Common, 1420 Long Plains Road opens in April of 2018.