545 Congress St., Portland
In military parlance, a broken arrow is “an accidental event that involves nuclear weapons or nuclear components but does not create the risk of nuclear war.” So, yeah, kind of like finding a table for dinner, before a show, during tourist season, in the “foodiest” city in America — not necessarily a catastrophe, but risky business, for sure.
Broken Arrow, a new restaurant in the heart of Portland’s Arts District, is intimate, sexy, and low lit, so coy that you could almost walk by and miss it, were it not for the big crowds outside during dinner service. It’s the perfect spot for pre-concert or post–art gawking noshing and people-watching. Its website says Broken Arrow “is open inside for responsible and respectful guests” — so we got a table outside and joined the chaos of Congress Street.
The menu is composed of small plates that can be made into larger dishes, if so desired. And if you go between 5 and 6 p.m., as we did, there are happy hour drink and food specials. Actual silverware (love!) was placed on the table and we were off to our first plate of the evening.
The Whipped Ricotta ($10) was artfully served with black-olive tapenade, candied Meyer lemon peels, barely toasted sourdough, and fresh, pungent pluches of oregano. The bold flavors were mellowed by the creamy cheese, and our fingers did the clean up after the bread was gone.
Next, some dishes showcasing local summer vegetables. The Cucumber Salad ($11) was pretty straightforward, with some radish, tzatziki, lemon, and a sprinkle of Middle Eastern dried pepper, but what kept our forks moving was the judicious use of fresh and exciting herbs. Lovage? Dill? Borage? Delicious. As were the Roasted Local Carrots ($12) with a Mediterranean touch of feta, tahini, toasted pine nuts, and a golden raisin puree. Again, the confetti of fresh herbs made it even more fun to shove in our faces. Hyssop? Anise? Yum.
I simply cannot go to a local restaurant without sampling their preparation of the Maine state tuber, and was pleasantly surprised when the Maine Smashed Potatoes ($13 happy-hour price for large plate) weren’t just smashed, they were fried! It was a huge serving of crispy pratties with an unctuous, charred, “allium” aioli that I could have eaten on its own. Believe it or not, there were leftovers.
The final dish of our evening, and the most indulgent, was the Handmade Spaetzle ($14) — perfectly pan-crisped, chewy on the inside, and swathed in flavors and textures. Crunchy bits of green bean, peppery arugula pesto, earthy maitake mushrooms, and copious amounts browned butter topped with grassy pea tendrils made this one of my favorite bites of the summer. We’re going back for the large portion soon!
Carving out a culinary niche in Portland is difficult, to say the least, but Broken Arrow has hit the bullseye and does so without breaking your bank. Its plates are palate-pleasing for vegetarians and meat eaters, appetites big or small, and locals and tourists (responsible and respectful ones, that is).
Broken Arrow is open Tuesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.