The Super Beef and the house-made onion rings at George & Leon’s. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

If owning a home is the American dream, then possessing a brick-and-mortar restaurant is the food-truck corollary. Cooking for people on the road is an adventure, the logic goes, but having a permanent place to cook is more stable and sustainable, especially in harsh weather.

But should everyone have the same goal? In Portland alone, I can point to several terrific restaurants that started life on the go: Mami, East Ender, Highroller Lobster Co. and Nura, which was my pick for best new restaurant of 2020. Each flourished as a mobile kitchen, then improved further once settled into a little patch of real estate.

Logan Abbey, owner and founder of George & Leon’s, didn’t always plan to put down roots in Westbrook, but this spring, almost three years into feeding rare beef sandwiches to Mainers from his George’s North Shore truck, he couldn’t resist the gravitational pull of the former Brea Lu’s space that had just come on the market.

“Right off the bat, Portland really responded to our truck. I had to bring on partners to run it with me because it was the only way to manage from April until the fall, especially because we were doing popups sometimes at places like A&C Grocery,” Abbey said. “But it got to the point where we had a great team, but if we kept doing the truck, these guys would have to keep looking for jobs over the winter. So this building came up, and it was the right place to do something, and it reminded me of the Greek pizza and sub shops like you’d find on the North Shore of Boston.”

Abbey added a retro, diner-style rotating dessert case filled with treats like local baker Barbara Campanele’s delightful mocha cupcakes ($6); a full cocktail bar serving beer, natural wines and drinks like the Major Shrinkage, a cucumber-infused gin-and-tonic riff ($14); and roomy booths to increase indoor capacity to 50 diners (or 80 when the patio is open).

An animatronic figure from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre greets customers at the entrance to George & Leon’s. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

He and his team even degreased the building’s ceiling (which sounds like a horrible task) before introducing a (loosely interpreted) fright-night theme to the restaurant – horror movie wallpaper and creepy red lighting in the bathroom, autographs from horror-genre actors and a life-size, animatronic Texas Chainsaw Massacre villain to greet you at the door. In celebration of the upcoming holidays, the menacing Leatherface robot currently sports a Santa hat. Next summer, Abbey promises a Hawaiian-themed wardrobe.


Outside, however, you’ll find the restaurant’s best upgrade. Wrapping around three sides of the low-slung building, designer Hugh McCormick’s hand-painted mural replays a cartoon-like scene of a super colossal beef sandwich foregrounded by a floppy-eared chihuahua-pug hybrid (the restaurant’s namesake, George, who sadly passed away a few weeks ago).

George & Leon’s interior may lack polish, but its exterior is a knockout.

Here’s where things get complicated. When I wrote the first version of this review – stay with me … I’ll explain why – I suggested that the mismatch between interior and exterior was unobjectionable, considering that George & Leon’s was really two businesses: a restaurant and a food truck. Ambiance, even for a fast-casual restaurant with counter service, is expensive. So is gas.

Another theme from that original review was that Abbey and his staff seemed to be hamstrung by their divided focus on two separate businesses. Sandwiches like the Super Beef ($16), a North Shore classic rare beef sandwich on a buttered onion roll, were actually better from the truck than they were in the restaurant. And then, on the day I scheduled a conversation with Abbey to chat about his sandwiches, the accident happened.

In October, Timmy Elliot and Oliver Borelli, two of George & Leon’s primary business partners, were badly injured in a propane tank accident in the George’s North Shore truck. Both are still recovering, and the restaurant has hosted a GoFundMe page and fundraisers to help pay some of the pair’s medical bills.

“We aren’t going to be running a truck anymore. It’s done. That’s been a lot of emotion for us. The truck was my heart and soul from the beginning, and the people who got hurt are like our family,” Abbey said. “And at the same time, we’re so happy to have this restaurant. I mean, that really was the goal, but this is not how we thought it was going to happen. With the truck, we could only do a few sandwiches, fries and onion rings. But here, we have this beautiful kitchen space and we can do anything we want.”


The Friday afternoon lunch crowd at George & Leon’s in Westbrook. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

In October, I wrote about how an expanded menu sometimes led to inconsistency and disappointment. Zatarian’s creole-seasoned French fries ($5/$8) arrive golden and crisp, as do cheese-and-bacon-filled broccoli bites ($8), but both are frozen, distributor-sourced and practically identical to dishes at dozens of other restaurants.

Fortunately, the restaurant is on firmer ground when the kitchen creates dishes from scratch, like hand-cut O’Rings ($10), made from jumbo white onions dunked liberally in a thin fry batter whose recipe comes from Abbey’s father-in-law, a former Hampton Beach fry cook.

That applies to sandwiches, as well. George & Leon’s Shroom Sub ($17), filled with brown-butter sautéed mushrooms, melted Swiss cheese and arugula; and the Chix Finger Sub ($16), loaded with house-marinated buttermilk-and-maple chicken tenders, fine iceberg “shredduce,” are original, proof-of-concept standouts that prove definitively how well the George & Leon’s team can cook.

What about the signature beef, though? Had this review gone to print in October, I would have said it was decent, with a few caveats. Twice a week, Abbey’s team use a commercial Alto-Shaam Cook & Hold oven to heat garlic-and-pepper-rubbed eye-of-round roasts low-and-slow for at least four hours. To prepare the classic North Shore “three way” beef sandwich, they shave Barbie-pink rare meat and pile it onto a crisp, flattop-grilled onion roll along with heavy mayo, white American cheese and a deluge of tangy James River BBQ sauce.

When I visited a few months back, my Super Beef sandwich tasted fine, but its lukewarm temperature was a deal breaker. I’ll eat just about anything, but chilly beef is hard to stomach (literally). I’d eaten the same sandwich from the George’s North Shore truck and didn’t remember it being served at the internal temperature of a wine fridge.

“It’s supposed to be the same temperature as your finger,” the host/server told me, placing the pad of her index finger on her cheek to demonstrate. Listen, if my fingers were that cold, I’d be wearing mittens.


I also asked Abbey about temperature control when we spoke this week. “Keeping the beef warm can be a challenge. We have to slice some ahead when we have a bunch of orders, and sometimes you have to put a little heat on it from the torch, if the sandwich is dropping below room temperature,” he said. “You don’t want it piping hot, you want it the way you’d want a steak: still warm and pink.”

Recently though, after learning that Elliot and Borelli’s recovery was progressing well, I returned to George & Leon’s for a Jr. Beef “4-way,” which is the same combination of ingredients as in the Super Beef, plus a few of the restaurant’s fantastic onion rings slipped into the bun ($12, plus $1 for the onion rings).

This time around, the sandwich bowled me over. Warm, but not hot, with a well-equilibrated bun-to-beef and beef-to-sauce ratio, this was the sandwich I remembered from the food-truck days. It was warm, pink and worth the trip.

I don’t know if losing the truck forced Abbey and his team to adapt better to cooking in their brick-and-mortar space, but I do know that the George & Leon’s team hasn’t swept the life-changing propane accident under the rug. “This was our first summer running the truck and the restaurant, and it was overwhelming at first. I think it was a wake-up call for us,” Abbey said. “I believe everything happens for a reason, and this whole (terrible) thing has reminded us that we’re eccentric, with big personalities and heart, and we care about each other. Now, we can all be in this beautiful kitchen. It was time.”

George and Leon’s Chix Finger Sub with lettuce and pickles. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

WHERE: 9 Cumberland St., Westbrook. 207-591-0280.
SERVING: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday
PRICE RANGE: Snacks: $6-12, Sandwiches: $12-17
NOISE LEVEL: Chainsaw (no massacre)
VEGETARIAN: Some dishes
BAR: Beer, wine and cocktails
BOTTOM LINE: It’s difficult to feel anything but empathy for the George & Leon’s Famous Roast Beef team. Founder/chef Logan Abbey started his business in 2020, selling North Shore-style roast beef sandwiches from his George’s North Shore food truck until he and his close-knit staff moved into their brick-and-mortar digs in Westbrook this summer. After a rocky few months of service, a propane accident destroyed the original truck, seriously injuring two staff members. Not an ideal kick-off for any business. But George & Leon’s (named for Abbey’s dog and his young son, respectively) has emerged from adversity with a renewed respect for its team and better, more consistent food served at appropriate temperatures. If you visit, order a glass of natural wine to go with your traditional Super Beef sandwich, a softball-sized monster of a sandwich packed with pink beef, James River BBQ sauce, and white American cheese. Get it as a “4-way,” if you enjoy crisp onion rings. If you’re not in the mood for beef, the homemade chicken finger sub and the umami-overloaded, brown-butter-and-mushroom sub are also top-notch options.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service, value and type of restaurant (a casual bistro will be judged as a casual bistro, an expensive upscale restaurant as such):


* Poor
** Fair
*** Good
**** Excellent
***** Extraordinary

The Maine Sunday Telegram visits each restaurant once; if the first meal was unsatisfactory, the reviewer returns for a second. The reviewer makes every attempt to dine anonymously and never accepts free food or drink.

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of seven recent Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association.

Contact him at:
Twitter: @AndrewRossME

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