February 2

Dine Out Maine: East Ender keeps coming up with creative food and drink

The gastro-pub has a few kitchen kinks to work out before it returns to entirely first-rate status.

By John Golden

(Continued from page 1)

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AJ Hungerford of Portland (facing camera) dines at the East Ender.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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The brick storefront on Middle Street in Portland is a popular spot for lunch and dinner.

east ender

***

WHERE: 47 Middle St., Portland. 879-7669; eastenderportland.com

HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday

CREDIT CARDS: Yes

PRICE RANGE: $2 to $22

VEGETARIAN: Yes (a few choices)

GLUTEN-FREE: Yes (a few choices)

KIDS: Welcome

RESERVATIONS: Yes

BAR: Full bar

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes (downstairs only)

BOTTOM LINE: The quintessential gastro-pub, with a lusty, varied menu of creatively prepared fare. Must-haves include the deviled eggs (with various fillings), the lobster poutine, trout fritters, the East Ender burger and a very good lobster salad sandwich. For starters and main courses, standouts include the mussels in green curry coconut milk, nachos with lobster, smoked hen, Montreal smoked brisket and hanger steak with bacon-bourbon butter. The drinks list is extensive, with local beers on tap and bottle. Specialty cocktails include key-lime martini; vodka, blood orange, ginger beer and lime; and gin cocktail with Cold River gin, saint germain, grapefruit and sauvignon blanc, among others.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service and value: * Poor  ** Fair *** Good ****  Excellent ***** Extraordinary. The Maine Sunday Telegram visits an establishment twice if the first dining experience was unsatisfactory. The reviewer dines anonymously.

My guest’s order of risotto arrived without incident. The rice was a soft shade of pink from the beet infusion and it was topped with a delicious mousse of goat cheese. My guest enjoyed it immensely.

At dinner a few days later, the experience was far better. The kitchen was fully stocked and our waitress was bright and courteous.

My dinner guest ordered the Paso Project 2009 Chardonnay ($8) from the short list of wines by the glass.

It would accompany her first course of fried calamari ($11). We both found these too bready, though the shredded pickled daikon offered refreshing relief from the heaviness of the flash-fried squid.

My first course of crab cakes ($15) was a heaping portion of two cakes that could have sufficed as a main course. It had a garnish of Thai fried cauliflower, which added nothing to the overall dish except to contribute another heavy element.

For a main course, my guest’s Caesar salad ($8) was classically prepared except that the Romaine was grilled – always a nice touch – and the dressing of white anchovies and Parmesan worked well, as did the accompanying grilled sour-dough bread.

I went with a robust dish of smoked hen in a Carolina-style barbecue sauce served with house-cured prosciutto, braised spinach and hush puppies. This was an enormous plateful. The smoky chicken was fall-off-the bone tender, but the hush puppies were dry and leaden.

For prurient reasons only, I also added a side dish of honeyed corn bread ($3). It was worth the extra calories.

For dessert we shared ice cream sandwiches. Three on the plate, the chocolate cookies held creamy vanilla ice cream within. The accompanying dipping sauce of dulce de leche was very sweet (as it’s meant to be) but overkill.

What’s inherent about gastro-pub fare is that it’s big, hearty food that needs to be washed down by good beers and spirits. This is easily accomplished at the East Ender.

And once this kitchen operates without such isolated mishaps as related earlier, their mission will be back on track.

John Golden, who lives in Portland, writes about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for local and national publications. He can be reached at:jdgmaine@gmail.com

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