Review: LFK

Drinking and dining at portland’s newest hot spot
By BRIAN DUFF  |  August 1, 2012

A KNIGHT’S TALE Crab salad and cocktails at LFK, where Cunningham Books used to be.

One of the clever decisions made by the proprietors of LFK, a new bar and eatery on Longfellow Square, was forgoing a literary name. Inside, a bookish theme emerges — tomes and typewriters appear around the bar and tables —and an emphasis on writing would get pretentious if pushed any harder.

Time was getting lost in a book or typing up a letter meant truly getting outside of oneself and seeking connection with another consciousness. But that sort of reading and typewritten composition are dead. Now we like a book because of what it says about us to like that book. Now the thoughtfully self-obsessed write in journals by hand and the more typically self-obsessed curate their own ideal public representation on computers. A typewriter is only useful to make our narcissism more precious, like a character in a Wes Anderson movie.

Besides, no one should write at a bar. As Twain explained, "wine is a clog to the pen." So if you see someone writing at LFK, stop them — an interruption made easier by LFK's communal tables. In spirit drunken chatting is the opposite of writing, and since so much of what we have to say is forgettable, it suits us better. The LFK tables, with their tapered ends, encourage cozy little gatherings of six or so — small enough to encourage conversation, but not so small that you can't maintain some semblance of a tête-à-tête. It's dim in there, despite the big front window, with lots of dark wood. Light ekes out of old-fashioned street lamps that hang from the high ceiling. The curved bar is handsome, without overdoing it, with purple plush barstools. In its humble way, it's a great looking place.

Despite offering a full menu, LFK is more about drinking and snacking then it is about a proper dinner — something confirmed by the near simultaneous arrival of our salads and entrees. The house cocktails are $9 apiece, and it is an interesting list — original but not fanciful. One gin drink called the Introduction was refreshing, with a nice red tint from Aperol (an Italian aperitif) and an interesting undercurrent of bitter tang. The West End Mule had a kick of sour heat that was hard to reckon with the ingredients (Maker's Mark, lime, mint, and ginger beer), but was still quite pleasant. There are a number of interesting and affordable wines by the glass, and microbrews on tap.

The menu is bar-friendly and pretty cheap, with plates of meat and cheese, salads, and sandwiches of different national origins (rumor has it they are working with a pizza oven back there, and if so they are deploying it creatively). The crab salad had plenty of buttery meat, atop nice greens dressed with a peppery, oil-sweet vinaigrette. Fresh corn added more sweetness, while slices of hard cheese might have been sharper. Since they'd run out of the cured meat plate, we tried the bacon-cheddar potato salad. It's a modest version of a modest dish, with a few big pieces of bacon adding some flavor and chew, but little flavor of cheddar.

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