Homey casual eatery sticks to the basics

East Ender on Middle St. has the feeling of home from the second you walk in the door. It’s amplified in the winter when the temperature is cold outside and the contrast – a 50 degree or more difference – makes it seem like you’re by a fireplace ready to cozy up for a while. Although, in those winter months, that feeling can be momentarily paused as you peek your head past the curtain/cold air barrier to find out if you’re going to settle upstairs or down for the evening.

We walked upstairs upon direction from the staff, accompanied by some friends. The beer, wine, cocktails list was significant while the food menu was a bit more modest – a single page with snacks, starters, entrees, and sides. I looked at the drink menu and, though they did have some nice options, I decided to stick with water. A couple glasses of wine – rose and white – and a soda were ordered by the others.

Once the drinks came, we placed our food orders, beginning with the a triple shot of starters to share. We requested Chicken Wings with chili lime rub ($7), Soft Pretzel with house mustard ($5), and Chicken Rillettes – pain de mie, house mustard, and pickles ($7). For the main course, I ordered Fish and Chips – local hake, thrice cooked fries, spaghetti squash ($17). My wife wanted the Parmesan Risotto – pan roasted Maine lobster and heirloom carrots ($24). Our counterparts each went with customized versions of the House Smoked Burger – schmaltz bun, jack cheese, ketchup and mayo, thrice cooked fries ($15) and the Mixed Greens with house vinaigrette ($5).

Wings were my first victim. As flappers go, they were medium in size and crispy enough. I liked them, though they were not particularly strong. I wondered if they could have been enhanced by a complimentary dipping sauce. Keeping with the chicken theme, I tried the rillettes next. Rillettes are seasoned meat combined with fat. Often they are made into a paste, but this was shredded chicken between thick slices of the soft pain de mie. It had tons of flavor and while it was clearly laden with chicken fat, it was far from a greasy sandwich, but rather a savory rich and deeply flavorful concoction. The mustard and pickles made it even better.

After sampling each of the chicken-based apps, I was happy to see there was pretzel and mustard left to eat. I wouldn’t have ordered the pretzel on my own, feeling self-conscious that night about wanting something so mundane at dinner, but a soft pretzel with mustard is actually one of my favorites, so I was thrilled someone took the initiative to do so. I was quite pleased with the result. The pretzel was ordinary, but the mustard was a perfect partner with strong, acidic flavor that stood out more on its own than in the rillettes.

Our entrees came out and it took me a second to realize that my thin spaghetti squash was underneath the cylindrical fish stick. Next to it were a cup of fries and some tartar sauce. The lighty crispy, flakey fish stick wasn’t heavily seasoned, but it didn’t matter much because the tartar sauce was strong enough to cover for that. However, the squash was a bit bland and could have definitely used something to make it a bit more zippy. The fries were excellent, as the triple cooking process worked very well to crisp them.

I finished my food, wishing for a little more fish, but instead having to resort to a bit of my wife’s risotto. I found it to be quite tasty – fully engulfed in cheesiness as expected with sweet lobster and carrots. It was a solid dish, nothing extraordinarily complicated, but spot on for what I expected based on the description. The burgers and salads seemed to fare well on the other side of the table.

None of the desserts jumped out at me that night, though the Profiteroles (cream puffs) with salted peanut ice cream and chocolate sauce did sound somewhat interesting. There was also Apple Crisp, Dark Chocolate Torte, and Ice Cream. In the end, we passed on sweets, paying the bill and moving on for the evening back into the cold from whence we came.

There’s more to the East Ender than just food. It has a warm vibe that is comfortable, calm, and inviting. The dishes are relatively simple and on occasion might be missing a little something, but mostly, they’re a success. And while you could have part of a dish that isn’t quite your cup of tea, it’s highly unlikely you’ll walk out disappointed. I would encourage you to pay them a visit and try a healthy sampling of the menu to get the full experience.

East Ender
47 Middle St.
207-879-7669
janet@eastenderportland.com

Stay hungry.

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