Hearing that Small Axe truck would be closing in favor of a brick and mortar location last year was a bittersweet moment for Meredith and myself. In their first year, a Saturday morning coffee from Tandem, breakfast at Small Axe, and a trip to the farmer’s market had become our norm, and in their second year, anytime we found ourselves remotely near Congress Square Park, you could guarantee we’d be stopping by. Their shrimp & grits and fried chicken biscuits at the Portland Flea-for-All was one of our favorite meals of 2013, and it seemed as though their breakfast and rice bowls could simply do no wrong. What would happen when they closed? Would the new restaurant deviate from the tried & true offerings that garnered – and deserved – national attention?
It turns out that all of our worrying was for naught because now that we’ve tried Karl Deuben & Bill Leavy’s reincarnation of the East Ender on our favorite block of Middle Street (read: one of the most delicious blocks in all of Portland), we realized that it’s not the truck that made the meal, but the chefs behind the grill.
Meredith and I are minimalists at heart, so the clean, open, light-filled interior of the new East Ender is a welcome sight. We stopped by for lunch this week and were happy to see familiar favorites like the cold smoked burger and the rice bowl, alongside new additions like the BLT and the fried chicken sandwich. On this trip, one of what will surely be many, Meredith ordered her beloved rice bowl with bok choy and potatoes and I went with the suggestion of our waitress – the BLT. Adding a little flavor and lair, my BLT was made with two thick pieces of pork belly in lieu of bacon, and finished with avocado and a miso mayo. I’ve been heralding the BLT at Blue Spoon as my favorite in town for years, but this one definitely gives it a run for its money. Ignoring our full stomachs, we even rallied and ordered the roasted pineapple hand pies with coconut sorbet – a delightful combination of tropical flavors not typically found in Maine.
In retrospect, we realize our lamenting over Small Axe’s closing was a little ill-founded, and now that we’ve fallen for their new menu, we couldn’t be more excited to taste what Karl & Bill cook up next at the East Ender.
All photos taken by Meredith Perdue for Map & Menu.