When you stand at the bustling Woodfords Corner intersection and look at the funky, glass-fronted building with the zigzag roofline, what you see says a lot about you and your relationship with Portland.

If you have a long memory of the city, you might remember this spot as where the original Valle’s Steak House stood for several decades, packing in hungry crowds long before the restaurant’s triple-gable roof makeover. If you can’t recall quite that far back, perhaps you remember the mortgage company (and more likely, its gigantic clock) that stood there. Or, if your Portland memories are all recent ones, you may think of 660 Forest Avenue as what it is has been for the past three months: the home of Woodford Food & Beverage.

Birch Shambaugh and Fayth Preyer, the restaurant’s co-owners, are responsible for the building’s most recent transformation from cubicle farm to fresh, neat dining space with white wall tiles, leather banquettes, and a chunky, well-stocked bar. Importantly, the thoughtful renovation also retained key architectural features to anchor the room to its rich local history. “The building’s unique geometry strongly influenced how we approached the build,” he said.

Executive chef Courtney Loreg’s menu echoes this approach, curating culinary influences to produce a deceptively simple take on American brasserie fare. Loreg, who cooked at Fore Street and Bresca, said, “There’s a little bit of French, a little Italian – others too – but in the end, it is definitely still an American style of cooking.”

Nothing says American more than the portions – even normally small dishes like appetizers and salads arrive in quantities large enough to share. The apple and cheddar salad ($9), for example, tossed with endive and ribbons of fennel is substantial enough to make a light meal. Better still is a beet salad ($9) with the surprising addition of subtly sour preserved cherries to a base of crunchy radicchio, feather-light goat cheese mousse and tender roasted beets. Cherries and beets together? Reserve judgment until you taste – this is a combination that works, tying together several strands of flavor and texture in every forkful.

Even the burger ($16) is a foodie Rorschach test – nodding to Jewish cuisine (the brisket), Southern cooking (the grilled Vidalia), and modern Japanese baking (the toasted sesame bun, fresh from the ovens of nearby Ten Ten Pié in Portland). Add in the perfectly crisp and gorgeously seasoned French fries, redolent with a spice mix that includes ground fennel seed, and you end up with a dish that tastes exotic but feels very much like home.


We also fell in love with both of the shank dishes. The braised pork shanks ($21) bathe in a brothy stew of white beans, bacon and thyme. It is easy to overcook a foreshank, but Loreg keeps her braise long and slow. It’s a trick she repeats with braised lamb shanks ($28), nestled into a bed of soft yellow polenta and coated in a sweet and spicy glaze that derives its flavors from simmering dates, tomatoes, and smoky ancho chilies for hours. Both versions showcase Loreg’s talent for designing a menu that borrows flavors from many places, while always speaking the language of comfort food.

Braised Pork Shank with white bean stew at Woodford Food & Beverage, above.

Braised Pork Shank with white bean stew at Woodford Food & Beverage. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

Even the familiar roast chicken ($21) takes on a subtly exotic character when it is served with a harissa, yogurt and honey sauce. This is an outstandingly juicy half-bird that stays so moist because, according to our server, the kitchen “puts butter everywhere you can fit butter – on the skin, under the skin, everywhere.”

It seemed like a sin to visit a restaurant on the same site as the venerable Valle’s without ordering a steak ($22), and we were glad we did. The tangy balsamic marinade accents but never intrudes on the flavor of the expertly grilled tri-tip sirloin, and the classic horseradish cream accompaniment gives the dish a serious kick. Donald Valle himself might have appreciated this excellent steak.

The sirloin was served with enough French fries to feed two or three people, and we sat long after the other plates had been cleared, nibbling at the still-warm fries. “At this restaurant, I’ve learned never to take away a plate with French fries still on it,” our server said, as we finished the fries and our carafe of the house Côtes du Rhône ($34).

A bottle of table wine, Les Embruns 'La Croix des Saintes', Sable de Camargue Rose, France 2015. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

A bottle of table wine, Les Embruns ‘La Croix des Saintes’, Sable de Camargue Rose, France 2015. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

That carafe of wine merits a little attention of its own. The star of the restaurant’s impressive beverage program is the list of 10 house wines offered by the glass, half-liter and liter, and served tableside from bottles labeled, modestly, “Table Wine.” If the rebranding seems purposefully understated, what is inside is anything but. We enjoyed a frothy, apple-scented Italian Prosecco ($8/18/32) on our first visit – a light meal – and then opted for a fleshy and robust Austrian Zweigelt ($8/18/30) to go with another dinner featuring lots of burgers and steaks. Offering a few wines by the carafe is a traditional brasserie move, but pouring an international range is a clever twist that gives the diner options that parallel the menu’s breadth.

Dessert options change frequently, and portions are (no surprise) substantial – a bonus for tables wanting to share sweet treats like the toasted Fuji apple crisp with honey and sea salt ice cream ($8). We devoured every bite of the sticky, crunchy crisp and would have asked for another scoop of the ice cream if we didn’t have another dessert on its way. The buttermilk panna cotta ($8) came flecked with vanilla bean and announced itself with a seductive jiggle. A cranberry coulis swirled atop offered zippy balance to the cream and buttermilk; together, every mouthful conjured up both Cape Cod and Capri.


Connections like these are no accident. Woodford Food & Beverage’s mission seems to be to evoke and reference its many influences while connecting them back to something meaningfully local. At its core, it is an American bistro, but what you taste when you visit will say as much about the world as it does about Portland.

Brisket burger, smoked bacon, grilled sweet onion, dijonnaise, cheddar cheese blend, house made pickle, sesame bun served with fries and aioli. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

Brisket burger, smoked bacon, grilled sweet onion, dijonnaise, cheddar cheese blend, house made pickle, sesame bun served with fries and aioli. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

Andrew Ross has written about food in the United Kingdom and in New York, where he co-founded NYCnosh, a food website. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is an Internet researcher and higher education consultant. Contact him at:andrewross.maine@gmail.com

Twitter: @AndrewRossME

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. on May 10, 2016 to correct the restaurant’s dinner hours and reservation policy.

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