Although it’s situated at one of Portland’s most bustling intersections, the interior of Woodford Food and Beverage is calm and quiet at rush hour.
Vinyl records spinning on the turntable cover up the noise outside, and generous light gives the space an unhurried, peaceful feel. The distinctively shaped building is a locals’ place, drawing diners from the surrounding Deering, Back Cove, Woodfords, and Oakdale neighborhoods. “This is the only place we ever wanted to be, doing something in our own backyard,” says owner Birch Shambaugh. Shambaugh and his wife, Fayth Preyer, who live just a few blocks away, opened Woodford Food and Beverage last January, after eyeing the location for several years. “I pestered the owner, asking him to let me know if it ever became available for lease. We always knew this was the place.”
“Our whole concept was driven by this building,” Shambaugh tells me, as we sit in one of the spacious booths. The couple completely renovated the space, which had most recently been a mortgage company office. Down came the orange paneling and out went “three inches of bad decisions on the floor,” revealing terrazzo tiles that date back to when the place was home to Valle’s Steak House’s headquarters in the 1960s. In came midcentury diner decor and furnishings to create a look that combines American roadside dining with a French brasserie. “The vision for the place mostly existed in our heads, much to the dismay of the craftspeople,” says Shambaugh. “But it came out awfully close to what we had hoped.” The room is spare but built for comfort, with diner-style booths and tables, easy for a family with kids or a group of friends. “We really designed for ourselves and the way we like to dine,” he says. Building the menu proved to be much easier. It’s a collaborative effort between the couple and chef Courtney Loreg. “Fortunately we all like the same stuff,” says Preyer. The central theme is comfort food with a distinctly French accent, striking a balance between approachable and adventurous. The heart of the menu offers such classics as deviled eggs and caramelized onion dip with house-made chips, alongside Loreg’s own pâté and roasted oysters. The burger requires two hands (and multiple napkins) to eat, the thick brisket and chuck patty piled high with smoked bacon, grilled onions, mustard- mayonnaise sauce, and cheddar cheese. With a side of seasoned fries and aioli, it’s a house favorite. Loreg brings a wide range of culinary experience to Woodford Food and Beverage, having previously cooked at Fore Street and the late, great Bresca in Portland, as well as a California winery restaurant. The owners lured her back to Maine for this project. “I was sold on the originality of it,” Loreg says. She’s got a light touch with salads, layering in ingredients such as pistachios, cheese curds, tarragon, and shaved radish for flavor and texture. Additional seasonal produce will show up on plates as summer progresses.
Shambaugh and Preyer have two young children of their own, so they have a thorough understanding of what was needed to make Woodford Food and Beverage appealing to both kids and parents. Their four-year-old daughter, Cordelia, had a hand in creating the children’s menu. But Shambaugh says a lot of kids prefer to choose from the regular menu; many have gotten their first taste of oysters or mussels at the restaurant. Their toddler son, Wayland, is a big fan of the fried Brussels sprouts.
A long, upholstered banquette separates the dining area from the big, wraparound zinc bar, which is already gaining a burnished patina. “You don’t get many opportunities to build a bar from scratch,” says Preyer. “It’s slightly reminiscent of a Woolworth’s lunch counter.” Wine and beer taps extend from an expansive central mirror; the assemblage could be mistaken for an old-fashioned milkshake machine. Preyer chooses draft wines that pair nicely with the food, offering varietals by the glass, half-liter carafe, or full carafe. The cocktail list is divided into “Classics” and “Original” categories, the latter arrived at by the couple after “many hours of research.” They’re fun variations on standards, including the Emergency Margarita, with a splash of Aperol, and the Not-A-Colada, made with Tito’s vodka and coconut crème.
As we’re getting ready to leave, Loreg brings over a plate of freshly baked cookies. It’s just
a little extra touch of the kind of warmth and hospitality you’ll find at Woodford Food and Beverage. Shambaugh tells me that one evening, the song “Stand By Me” began to play in the dining room, and it wasn’t long before every person in the place stopped eating to sing along. “It was a magical and slightly surreal moment,” he says. “We are amazed that we actually made a place where something like this would happen.”
Woodford Food and Beverage | 660 Forest Ave. | 207.200.8503 | woodfordfb.com