New restaurant openings are always fraught. In the middle of a pandemic, it can seem like you’re trying to pull off the impossible.
Old favorites like 555 and Drifters Wife have already closed their doors, so how can you possibly be successful trying to open a new restaurant like Broken Arrow right now?
It seems like the impossible has been achieved at the new Broken Arrow, which recently opened in late October. At the moment, it’s ticketed only with pre-fixed dining.
It wasn’t exactly how owners Lyle and Holly Aker saw things going when he dreamed of opening this restaurant, but that’s kind of a metaphor for 2020. Nothing about this year has been what anyone thought it would be.
But if you want to feel safe and socially distanced during COVID while trying a new, delicious restaurant that’s going to be a hot spot in Portland, this is going to be one to remember. Check out what we ate below to see why you’re going to want to book a table at Broken Arrow for yourself and to learn a little bit more about the backstory behind the restaurant.
The inspiration behind Broken Arrow
Owners Lyle and Holly Aker may not technically be from Maine, but this restaurant feels like their love letter to their new home. Lyle is originally from Massachusetts, but spent his summers as a child in Maine at Sebago Lake every year, while Holly is from California.
The pair met in Chicago while working in a restaurant together and then got engaged in Sebago Lake in 2003. It was from this moment that they decided one day, they would make Maine home.
That became closer to reality in 2013 when they made a commitment to making Maine home one way or another. It’s taken some twists and turns to get here from Chicago where Lyle was operating two restaurants, Charlatan and the Three Aces, but when the former West End Deli space became available, they jumped at the opportunity to finally make Maine their new home.
Portland: where the farm meets the sea
Broken Arrow really is an ode to Maine and New England. Listening to them both talk about their passion for this state, I got it. Being from away (as I’m from Chicago myself) I get the pull that Maine has on out-of-staters.
There is something about this state that gets under your skin and makes you unable to leave. There really is no other place like it. More than that though, Lyle said it’s a unique place to open a restaurant, and I agree.
Portland is so unique in that it has the big city feel but really, it’s still small by any city’s standards. But I think for a lot of people, especially those from away, it’s a large part of its appeal, and why so many people choose to live here.
A safe space especially during a pandemic
Opening a restaurant right now isn’t easy. Broken Arrow however, is taking every necessary precaution and then some when it comes to keeping customers safe. Ticketed dining may seem a little hard to wrap your head around, but when you’re dealing with a pandemic, this actually makes a lot of sense.
Broken Arrow could hold 47 seats but because of COVID, the restaurant is only operating at partial capacity. This is for everyone’s safety including the staff and the diners. Each reservation is designed to fit a six-course menu, which lasts 90-120 minutes.
This is to make sure diners can be socially distant between arrivals and departures. It’s like a well-choreographed dance.
All reservations are made online through Tock, which also serves as a method of contact tracing. All staff wear masks, bathrooms are cleaned and sanitized after every use, tables are only utilized twice per night, tables between diners are kept at least six feet apart…the list goes on and on for the COVID protocols they have in place.
Both the owners and management have expert training in food safety including: HACCP Certificates, Food Safety Manager Certificates, PCQI Certificates, BASSET Certified. In other words, you can feel very confident that you’ll be safe when you’re dining at Broken Arrow and you can have a pleasurable experience.
Dining as an experience and a journey
And oh, the food is beyond pleasurable! This is a way of honoring Lyle’s New England roots while elevating Maine’s classic cuisine and dishes.
Good food is all about the feeling it evokes when you take a bite. Everyone has a memory of their favorite meal that their mother or their grandmother made.
Often, just eating that meal can be enough to bring you back to those happy times. Broken Arrow aims to be an experience and a journey that you’ll want to return to, again and again.
First course: Pemaquid oysters
One thing that Broken Arrow pulls off really well is the fact that there are some things included across the board on every menu.
The menus come in 4 courses, 6 courses, and 8 courses. The Pemaquid oysters are one of those things included on every menu.
The Pemaquid oysters here are sweet and about as fresh as you’re going to get unless you pluck them out of the ocean yourself! They are also the perfect portion since you get two to enjoy.
Second course: Heirloom tomato salad
The Pemaquid oysters are followed by a bright and acidic heirloom tomato salad. There are a couple of touches in this salad that add lovely texture to it.
The roasted patty pan squash is one of these things since it’s firm and just a little bit crunchy. This adds texture and another flavor to the salad that I appreciated.
Third course: Tuna tartar
Ever had tuna tartar that’s served with potato chips on the side? It sounds a little odd but there’s something about it that works!
The tuna is silky while the potato chips are salty and crunchy. Put them together for the perfect bite. It made me stop for a minute to savor it.
Fourth course: Crispy Brussels sprouts
If you’re looking for a new way to enjoy your vegetables, Broken Arrow decided to put Brussels sprouts on grilled sourdough toast. The Brussels sprouts are crispy and paired with a creamy ricotta cheese, charred lemon honey, and pistachio.
It’s a little sweet, a little salty, and just the right size before you dive into the larger entrees of your dinner.
Fifth course: Crispy chicken with dumplings
November in Maine calls for comfort food. Chicken and dumplings is one of these quintessential comfort foods, but let me tell you, you’ve never had chicken and dumplings like this.
It’s your favorite classic but it’s become a little more classy, sophisticated, and elegant. Instead of a heavy gravy, there’s a roasted chicken au jus that lightly covers a perfectly crispy chicken.
This is paired with soft dumplings that are buttery and pillowy. Broken Arrow’s Chef Matt Jatczak is an expert at transforming classic Maine meals and making them into something new and exciting. That much is clear even from a single delicious six course meal.
Sixth course: Ribeye with brown butter and king trumpet mushrooms
Six courses doesn’t sound like it would be too much food but when you’re eating local food that’s prepared to perfection, it can be. How can you say no to a grass-fed ribeye served with brown butter, pickled shallots, and king trumpet mushrooms?
You really can’t. Have you ever had steak that’s so tender it almost feels like it’s melting in your mouth as you bite into it? That’s what this steak was like. I won’t be forgetting about it anytime soon.
Dessert: Feta cheesecake and black pepper ice cream
The feta cheesecake with black pepper ice cream isn’t part of the typical six course meal but one of the people that I went to dinner with had a birthday. So why not order cheesecake for the whole table and celebrate properly?
This cheesecake was tangy and creamy and paired with a black pepper ice cream. This was a little spicy but a lovely marriage between the sweet and peppery.
Want to see what Broken Arrow is like for yourself? Click here to book a table!