Originally published in Maine magazine, September 2021.
Lyle and Holly Aker had no intention of opening a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic, especially not when COVID-19 cases were spiking in late October. But the owners of Broken Arrow on Congress Street in Portland say financial realities forced their hand. The Akers began leasing the Arts District space, formerly the home of the West End Deli, a year and a half ago while living in Chicago and running a restaurant there. Relocating to Maine and completing the renovation took longer than expected, then the pandemic further delayed the opening.
Lyle says their intention was to open “a very normal restaurant.” But due to social distancing requirements and unpredictable demand for indoor dining, the couple decided to open with a ticketed, six-course prix fixe menu including oysters on the half shell paired with a crisp white wine from southern France, rich seared scallops cut by sips of a hoppy pale ale from Lone Pine Brewing, and tender ricotta-stuffed purses of pasta accompanied by an earthy chianti.
Customers loved not only the food but the sense of security that the timed tickets provided. The model allowed the Akers to more accurately anticipate staffing levels and food purchasing. Now, with pandemic restrictions lifted and vaccinated diners feeling more comfortable in crowded spaces, Broken Arrow is operating closer to what the couple originally intended.
The menu, executed by Central Provisions alum Josh Worrey, features dishes made with local, seasonal ingredients, so it changes frequently. “The signature of Broken Arrow will be to constantly grow, constantly change,” Lyle says. The name is an homage to the people who grow, make, raise, and catch our food, while the break in the arrow signifies the difficulties of those trades.
Inside the restaurant’s buzzy space, black clapboards and brick walls are lit by candles and vintage sconces. Diners can start their meal with oysters on the half shell that are topped with a frozen shallot ice or with a bluefin tuna crudo. The bright pink slabs of tuna are sprinkled with briny pops of fried capers alongside dots of an herbal aioli flavored with Strega, an Italian liqueur.
The influence of Worrey’s Italian heritage is seen in other dishes, like a small plate of red sauce, slow-cooked for eight hours with pork broth and served with hearty slices of sourdough bread. In another, dumpling-like cavatelli, ridged to capture more of that same slow-cooked sauce, are bolstered by the addition of spicy Calabrian chiles and tender pork shoulder.
Maine potatoes are available year-round, so I hope the fried smashed fingerlings never leave the menu. Spuds with crispy, craggy edges are piled high next to a cool, creamy charred onion and garlic spread. The contrasting textures and salinity bring to mind French onion dip and kettle chips.
In fact, much of Broken Arrow’s menu feels familiar. Lyle says they want to serve “Maine dishes like Grandma made,” but with a modern upgrade. See Worrey’s take on cassoulet, a traditional French stew of white beans, cured duck, and pork sausages. Worrey eschews duck (due to its labor-intensive preparation combined with an ongoing kitchen staff shortage) and swaps in local chicken. Local yellow-eye beans melt into a rich mash studded with chunks of pork, while cubes of sweet brown bread echo the traditional side served at bean suppers across New England.
Another ingredient popular with Mainers makes an appearance in the restaurant’s only dessert: an Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy crème brûlée perfectly crusted with a lid of burnt sugar (Lyle has dubbed it “Fat Ass in a Glass,” after the cocktail of Allen’s and milk).
Cocktails at Broken Arrow draw inspiration from all over the globe, like the Midnight Landing, a tropical mix of Jamaican rum and pineapple juice with enticing notes of herb and spice from chile liqueur and amaro. The Electric Feel mixes bright pisco and lemon juice with earthy sage-infused honey and Strega.
Between beverage manager Harper Fendler’s selection of beer, wine, and spirits and Lyle’s affinity for playing the music “a little loud,” Broken Arrow has garnered a following of chefs, bartenders, and servers. Tuesdays, when Broken Arrow offers discounts to those working in hospitality, have become one of the restaurant’s busiest nights of the week.
After the battering the restaurant industry took in the last year, the Akers are pleased to offer a place where people can feel comfortable in public again. Portlanders are ready to connect again, and they are finding that Broken Arrow, with its enticing dishes and sexy vibe, is just the place to do so.
Broken Arrow | 545 Congress St., Portland | 207.808.8938
Broken Arrow’s co-owner Holly Aker also serves as the president of the Maine Cheese Guild, an organization that promotes Maine cheeses and supports the state’s cheese makers. In keeping with Holly’s passion for Maine cheeses, the restaurant exclusively serves cheese made within the state. From the whipped Lakin’s Gorges ricotta appetizer to the Sunflower Farm Creamery goat cheese in their arugula and pickled rhubarb salad, it’s all Maine, all the time.